Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021084, Tue, 21 Dec 2010 23:34:45 +0100

Re: Query on Nabokov and comics

Dear Kristina,

I cannot say for sure whether Nabokov was familiar with the particular superheroes you mention though I seem to remember his son Dmitri was keen on the Phantom (the Columbia series rather than the Falk & Moore comics). And then "The Man of Tomorrow's Lament" (uncollected poem, 1942) is about Superman.

I wrote about that possible connexion between Humbert and comics superheroes in my recently published book-length study of /Lolita/, /Lolita ou le tyran confondu/ (Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2010). Here is a rough translation of a page that might be relevant.

Hope it helps.

Didier Machu

?I was faced by the task of inventing America.? (?On A Book Entitled /Lolita/?) [?] That invented world of the novel, a creation more than a discovery, connects with objective reality loosely enough for Nabokov to be able to state that ?great novels are great fairy-tales.? (/Lectures on Literature/). But, inside this novel or romance, Humbert, in his own particular way, develops his own novel or fairy-tale. Was not Arthur the Enchanter?s original name (?On A Book Entitled /Lolita/?)? /The Enchanter/ and /Lolita/ were written against altogether different backgrounds, mostly if not only on account of the transatlantic journey Humbert, after the author, comes to make. Landing in postwar America Humbert does not expect the conquering hero he sees himself as can be rivalled by homegrown versions of ancient knights and valiant champions fit to the time and place. In due time though, he is to try, in vain, to appropriate their image ? or usurp it : ?Who is your hero, Dolores Haze? / Still one of those blue-caped star-men??, he asks in his doleful poem. Who is that hero, so fascinating to the avid reader of ?green-red-blue comics? ? so charming, in her own right, to the ?green-red-blue Priap? ogling her ? who indeed but an American superhero[1]?

/Blue-caped// //hero/ is a generic phrase and seems not to refer to any specific comics character. Rather than Batman (whose black cape shimmers with grey and blue) red-caped Superman comes to the mind for good reasons: to Humbert, the customer he imagines prowling around the hospital where Lolita is kept is a ?prankster?. The Prankster happens to be a perverse foe of Superman?s ? a ?pixie clown of crime?, an ?overgrown juvenile delinquent? in Clark Kent?s words. Round-headed and round-faced, that fattish prankster first appeared in 1942 in /Action Comics/. Quiltyesque in his appearance he sported a little moustache and would wear a checked coat, usually green, occasionally brown. The fiend who kidnapped Lois Lane would not think of any felony unless it involved some burlesque gag. /Prankster/ is originally an American term and it is only adequate that Quilty should be an avatar of that U.S. born trickster and bumbling clown ? especially when, sending him back where he came from, he ridicules that counterfeit Superman just landed in a ?small town? that will not be his Smallville?

But readers are even more justified in thinking of Captain America, who came into existence in 1940 and was to be active as late as 1949[2]. This star-man?s shield and chest boast a star while his attire incorporates elements of the star-spangled banner. He is the first superhero who fought Hitler and the Axis powers under the red, white and blue, long before the United States declared war to Germany and thanks are due to him for barring Nazi forces from the American territory[3]. This land is a metaphor of the child Quilty spoils him of and Humbert comes to Pavor Manor as the avenging arm of justice. Thus it is only natural that Quilty should dismiss him as a foreign invader and tyrant, more /Übermensch/ than Superman: : ?You have a funny accent, Captain.? What sounds like an offhand form of address with some slangy overtones actually refers to the comics character created by Simon and Kirby. Clearly the character Humbert tries to pose as is punctured and deflated by comics, that American cultural product then in its heyday and Golden Age, and by the New World version of the gallant knight of yore comics, and soon after Hollywood, offered to American audiences.


[1] A superhero named Starman (aka Ted Knight), dressed in red with a green cape, is active from 1941 to 1950 in /Adventure Comics/. The script makes him take part in the War only in retrospect. It it unlikely Nabokov had that character in mind. But the same issues of /Adventure Comics/ featured The Shining Knight, a knight at King Arthur?s court whose sword was given him by Merlin. He is thawed back to life after thirteen centuries to fight with England against Hitler, astride Victory, the winged horse also given by Merlin and the last avatar of that fiery red Pegasus (depicted quite realistically on Mobilgas ads of the early 50?): under those reds wings Lolita flies away...

[2] The publication was stopped in 1946 and briefly resumed in 1954 with Captain America recast as a ?commie smasher?.

[3] Other /Captains/ were active during the Second World War among comics superheroes: Marvel, Freedom, Flag, Triumph, to name but a few. But none of them made the same use of the stars and stripes, was involved to the same degree in the conflict or could rival with Captain America for sheer popularity with readers.

Kristina Sutherland <krissuthe@YAHOO.COM> a écrit :

Hi all,

I tried to do a search regarding comics and VN, and did not find what
I was looking for. I have been writing on a poem in /Lolita/ (p.
255-257), and started thinking about the "blue-caped star-men" of line

Preliminary research of Golden Age comics suggests DC Comic's Atom
(blue-caped) and Starman, and possibly Batman (his cape is often drawn
in shades of black and blue). Other possibilities include Marvel's
Captain America (no cape), and DC Comic's anachronistic Phantom
Stranger, who debuted in 1952.

Does anyone know if VN was familiar with any of these comics?

Thank you very much for any help,
Kristina Sutherland

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