Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022570, Sat, 10 Mar 2012 18:01:21 -0500

The "56 days" conundrum in "Lolita"
I have not, until this week, paid much attention to the incompatibility
that has been remarked between the 56 days Humbert says he has been writing
Lolita and the date 25 September 1952 he implies for his murder of Quilty
and the date 16 November 1952 John Ray gives for his death. But I am struck
by the fact that those who write about it seem invariably to refer to a
discrepancy of "three days". Presumably this is a matter of one person's
miscounting and the rest's not bothering to count, but merely copying. For the
discrepancy is, in fact, four days, as I shall show.

If Humbert died on the day he finished writing Lolita, and if his "56
days" is correct, then he started writing on 21 September, the day before 22
September, which, according to him, was the day he received Lolita's letter
dated 18 September. But the earliest he could be placed in the "psychopathic
ward" after his murder of Quilty is 25 September. Thus the discrepancy is
four days. QED.

If the other data are correct, and Humbert has miscalculated, then he has
miscalculated by four, not three, days. He has calculated 56 when he should
have calculated 52.

Appel's notes (The Annotated Lolita, Penguin Classics 2000, notes 251/14
and 251/15) to Humbert's record of the presumably fake registration numbers
of his car left by Quilty -- Q 32888 and CU 88322 -- make a great deal of
the fact that the two car numbers add up to 52. This is so specific and
bizarre (why does it occur to Appel to add the numbers and insist that this is
significant?) that this hint must surely have come from Nabokov himself.
Appel (presumably prompted by Nabokov) points out that H.H., Lolita and Quilty
all die in 1952, and that 52 is: the number of weeks (a year's) that
Humbert is on the road with Lolita; the number of lines (13 x 4) in the poem he
writes ("Wanted, wanted. Dolores Haze.") a few pages after recording the
car numbers; and the number of cards in a pack of cards.

In note 251/14, Appel says: "There are fifty-two cards in a deck, and the
author of King, Queen, Knave still has a few up his sleeve, as he
demonstrates here."

In note 251/15, Appel says: "...it is quite impossible that either H.H. or
Quilty could realize the full significance of the number fifty-two; only
one person can, and the 'common denominator' points to the author."

But some packs of cards have 56, not 52, cards. The 56 pack augments the
52 pack with a Knight. Is Humbert's slip indicative of a confusion between
different games, or an attempt to transcend the game? His certainly seems to
be deluding himself that he is a knight rather than a mere knave.

I know next to nothing about card symbolism (some would say this is a
failing in a psychotherapist), but perhaps some expert would like to take this
up. Perhaps someone like Alexander Dolinin already has?

Anthony Stadlen

Anthony Stadlen
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existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy
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future Inner Circle Seminars and complete archive of past seminars

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