Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022621, Tue, 20 Mar 2012 09:02:41 -0400

Re: Dieter Zimmer on the 56 Conundrum and Lolita Chronology
I must apologise, because I am not clear what was contributed by Dieter
Zimmer and what by Jansy Mello. That 52 is the periodic number of Tellurium
is just too good to be a meaningless "coincidence", isn't it? I think this
is Jansy Mello's contribution, in which case many congratulations to her!
And might I point out that, although as Dieter Zimmer says, "Nabokov went to
Telluride in the summer of 1951 expressly to find that special little blue
butterfly", it was on 8 August 1952 that he published his discovery (in
The Lepidopterists' News, Vol. 6, pp. 33-36)?

Jansy Mello adds: "(and it bothers me enormously having to admit that this
episode represents the author's rendering of HH's epiphany)". Am I being
presumptuous in thinking she may be bothered for the reason I gave the other
day, that it is embarrassing if Nabokov -- and not merely Humbert --
claims a "moral apotheosis" (contributed to by the sounds on the mountain trail)
following which Humbert loves Lolita "as a woman should be loved",
although as he is her stepfather this would just be another variety of incest,
with Dick as "incidental" and disposable, not to mention the little matter of
the murder Humbert rushes straight off to commit?

Of course, I agree with Bruce Stone (with whom I was trying to be cordial,
but emphatic in my anxiety lest my literal reading of "56 days ago" be
swept aside without due consideration) when he implies that the nonsense about
adding the car numbers to make 52 seems tedious and silly. But that was my
point. Why on earth would Appel propose this nonsense unless Nabokov was
putting him up to it, and pointing to a more serious (in so far as anything
in this maddening and un-put-downable writer's writings is serious) sense
in which 52 is significant (known only to the author, as Appel informs us!)?

I remember how impressed I was by Diana Butler's article "Lolita
Lepidoptera" in New World Writing (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 16, 1960, pp.
58-84), when I came across it by chance in the London University Senate House in
1961 or 1962, only two or three years after first reading Lolita. That at
least one level of Nabokov's book should be making fun of Freud by treating
sexual abuse of a young girl as a disguised symbol of enchanted
butterfly-hunting, rather than the reverse, struck me as immediately plausible.
Nabokov remarked that Diana Butler didn't know much about butterflies, which was
no doubt true as he said so, but beside the point of whether her
fundamental interpretation is correct, upon which I do not know whether he ever

Diana Butler saw Humbert's guilt -- in so far as he felt it -- at having
destroyed Lolita's childhood as symbolising Nabokov's guilt at taking the
life of his "little butterfly". In the one visit I was privileged to make to
Dmitri Nabokov in Montreux, one thing I asked him was whether his father
did, in fact, feel guilt about taking the life of a butterfly. To the best of
my recollection, Dmitri replied to the effect that his father did not play
down the gravity of taking a life but felt justified by the fact that the
butterfly was anaesthetised before being killed and, of course, by the fact
that this was a contribution to science.

Anthony Stadlen

Anthony Stadlen
2A Alexandra Avenue
GB - London N22 7XE
Tel.: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857
Email: stadlen@aol.com
Founder (in 1996) and convenor of the Inner Circle Seminars: an ethical,
existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy
"Existential Psychotherapy & Inner Circle Seminars" at
_http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/_ (http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/) for programme of
future Inner Circle Seminars and complete archive of past seminars

In a message dated 18/03/2012 02:20:08 GMT Standard Time, jansy@AETERN.US

A Chronology of Lolita by Dieter E. Zimmer March 3, 2008
_Lolita, USA - Trip Two_ (http://www.dezimmer.net/LolitaUSA/Trip2.htm)


"...A detailed inner chronology of 'Lolita' is largely a matter of
inference. There are few explicit exact dates in Humbert's account, but there are
a number of relative ones, and there are time spans. Some of them are only
approximate or plainly wrong. Yet the novel's temporal order is absolutely
sound. In fact it is so sound that it is tempting to take the few
inconsistencies one can find not as the authorial lapses they could well be but as
deliberate. This temporal order can be deduced by checking Humbert's casual
remarks on dates and durations against a perpetual calendar. .."

"...End of September to mid-November: Facing his trial, Humbert writes
Lolita, first in a psychiatric ward, then in jail (p.308). In the third to
last paragraph he says that he started to write Lolita "fifty-six days ago"
(p.308). As he probably died right after finishing his memoir, he must have
written this on the day of his death, that is on November 16. Counting back
56 days brings us to September 21, the day before he received Lolita's
letter. If he had begun writing the day after his arrest on September 26, he
would have had only 51 days at his disposal. Several critics have understood
this to imply that he never went to Coalmont but instead began penning his
memoir, at home or in a psychiatric clinic or in jail or anywhere − and
that hence all the events after September 21 must be fictional in the second
degree, an invention inside the invention. However, considering Humbert's
demonstrated laxness in summing up time, it would seem much more parsimonious
to take his "56 days" as simply one of several similar mistakes he makes."

*** I don’t care to open up another revisionist front, but it does seem
to me that the real temporal problem of the novel is a more basic one than
the missing five days (or three, as some contend). The problem is that it is
very unlikely Humbert could have written his memoir in so short a time,
whether it was 51 or 56 days. It is even more unlikely in view of the fact
that for Humbert it was hardly a time of leisure. ...It took Nabokov almost
three years of hard work to write the book and he was surely aware that he
was imposing an impossible task on Humbert when he made him write it about
forty times as fast... I personally find it tempting to believe that he
"really" is "in legal captivity" and that he "really" didn’t have more than 51
days to complete his book, but that most of it had been written before his
arrest, during the three years after Lolita’s disappearance. In this case
all he had to do in prison was to go over the whole of it once more..."
btw: This is certainly a coincidence worth noting: 52 is the atomic
number of "Tellurium".
D.Zimmer writes: "In his 1956 postcript to Lolita, Nabokov described as
one of the nerves of the novel "the tinkling sounds of the valley town coming
up the mountain trail (on which I could the first known female of Lycaeides
sublivens Nabokov)." This identifies Telluride, Colorado as the place of
Humbert's final epiphany. Nabokov went to Telluride in the summer of 1951
expressly to find that special little blue butterfly."
(and it bothers me enormously having to admit that this episode represents
the author's rendering of HH's epiphany )
_Google Search the archive_
(http://www.google.com/advanced_search?q=site:listserv.ucsb.edu&HL=en) _Contact the Editors_
(mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu) _Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"_
(http://www.nabokovonline.com/) _Visit Zembla_
(http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm) _View Nabokv-L Policies_ (http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm)
_Manage subscription options_ (http://listserv.ucsb.edu/) _Visit AdaOnline_
(http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/) _View NSJ Ada Annotations_
(http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html) _Temporary L-Soft Search the archive_
All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/