Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027025, Wed, 25 May 2016 11:35:07 -0700

Re: Bas and bots in Lolita
On Nabokov, bot-flies, Joyce, parasitism and modernism, see

Parasitism and Pale Fire 's Camouflage: the King-Bot, the Crown Jewels and
the Man in the Brown Macintosh <http://muse.jhu.edu/article/170876>

Comparative Literature Studies, Volume 41, Number 2, 2004
<http://muse.jhu.edu/issue/9155>, pp. 185-213

On Wed, May 25, 2016 at 2:52 AM, Didier Machu <didier.machu@univ-pau.fr>

> Dear List,
> I have a query regarding a passage early in *Lolita*, about Monique, the
> young prostitute Humbert encounters in the Madeleine district:
> Stopping before a window display she said with great gusto: ‘*Je vais
> m’acheter des bas!*ʼ and never may I forget the way her Parisian childish
> lips exploded on ‘*bas*ʼ, pronouncing it with an appetite that all but
> changed the ‘aʼ into a brief buoyant bursting ‘oʼ *as in ‘bot**ʼ*.
> The overall meaning is clear: Monique, a meretricious nymphet avidly eager
> to make use of her “*petit cadeau*,” is thus about to turn into a woman,
> buying stockings instead of going bare-legged—or wearing the (sloppy) white
> socks of bobby-soxers yet to come.
> But I am puzzled by the last few words. I cannot decide whether *bot*
> should be read as French or English. Translators – when they do not drop
> the end of the sentence altogether – seem to have been of different minds
> on this point. In any case no Parisian accent is the matter here.
> If *bot* is French, the allusion would be to « pied-bot » (club foot) and
> there are quite a few hints or references to Byron in *Lolita*, and some
> to other, fictional or mythical, club-footed characters, gods, devils,
> wizards. And some link could be made between a club foot and stockings.
> If the word is English, what comes to mind is the larva of the botfly, a
> repulsive parasite of mammals, endemic to South-Central America. A title
> chanced upon by Humbert in the *Briceland* *Gazette* reads: “The size of
> certain parasites is one sixth of the host.” And the metaphor of the
> organism feeding on a host is far from rare in naturalist Nabokovʼs
> pages, e.g., in *Lectures on Literature*, hydatid Hyde seen as Jekyllʼs
> parasite, or, of Pninʼs research whose aim matters less than the quest: “a
> new organism is formed, the parasite so to speak, of the ripening fruit.”
> And, of course, Sybil sees Kinbote as “a king-sized botfly” and the
> *king-bot* is mentioned in the Index, under Botkin.
> Could the two hypotheses be conflated? Could one say that *bot*
> [« pied-bot »], as a metaphor of Byronʼs abnormal drive, is the bot
> [larva] hosted by Humbert and ultimately developing into a book that lives
> beyond his death while the girl he has carried within himself dies when
> delivered of a stillborn baby? I may be over-interpreting: a new organism
> is formed…
> Didier Machu
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