In Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert would have never met Lolita, if the fire did not destroy McCoo’s house:


Nobody met me at the toy station where I alighted with my new expensive bag, and nobody answered the telephone; eventually, however, a distraught McCoo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of green-and-pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had just burned down - possibly, owing to the synchronous conflagration that had been raging all night in my veins. His family, he said, had fled to a farm he owned, and had taken the car, but a friend of his wife’s, a grand person, Mrs. Haze of 342 Lawn Street, offered to accommodate me. (1.10)


In VN's story Volshebnik ("The Enchanter," 1939), Lolita's Russian predecessor, there was a fire on the eve of the protagonist’s arrival in the city where the girl lives in the house of her mother’s friends:


Дама, сидящая напротив, почему-то вдруг поднялась и перешла в другое отделение; он посмотрел на пустые свои часики -- теперь уже скоро, -- и вот он уже поднимался вдоль белой стены, увенчанной ослепительными  осколками; летало множество ласточек -- а встретившая его на крыльце приятельница покойной особы объяснила ему присутствие груды золы и обугленных брёвен в углу сада тем, что ночью случился пожар -- пожарные не сразу справились с летящим пламенем, сломали молодую яблоню, и, конечно, никто не выспался. В это время вышла она, в тёмном вязаном платье (в такую жару!), с блестящим кожаным пояском и цепочкой на шее, в длинных чёрных чулках, бледненькая, и в самую первую минуту ему показалось, что она слегка подурнела, стала курносее и голенастее, -- и хмуро, быстро, с одним только чувством острой нежности к её трауру, он взял её за плечо и поцеловал в тёплые волосы. "Всё могло вспыхнуть", -- воскликнула она, подняв розово-озарённое лицо с тенью листьев на лбу и тараща глаза, прозрачно-жидко колеблемые отражением солнца и сада.


The protagonist’s empty wrist watch (it has no hands) brings to mind Hourglass Lake in Lolita. When a snowflake settles upon his wrist watch, John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) says “crystal to crystal:”


He consulted his wrist watch. A snowflake settled upon it. "Crystal to crystal," said Shade. (Kinbote’s Foreword)


In the penultimate line of the penultimate stanza of Eugene Onegin (Eight: L: 13) Pushkin mentions magicheskiy kristal (a magic crystal):

Промчалось много, много дней
С тех пор, как юная Татьяна
И с ней Онегин в смутном сне
Явилися впервые мне —
И даль свободного романа
Я сквозь магический кристалл
Ещё не ясно различал.


Rushed by have many, many days

since young Tatiana, and with her

Onegin, in a blurry dream

appeared to me for the first time —

and the far stretch of a free novel

I through a magic crystal

still did not make out clearly.


When VN wrote Volshebnik, he through a magic crystal still did not make out clearly the far stretch of Lolita.


In the list of Lolita’s classmates in the Ramsdale school that Humbert Humbert learnt by heart are Vivian McCrystal and Aubrey McFate (1.11). In the last stanza of EO (Eight: LI: 8) Pushkin says that fate has snatched much, much away:


Но те, которым в дружной встрече

Я строфы первые читал...
Иных уж нет, а те далече,
Как Сади некогда сказал.
Без них Онегин дорисован.
А та, с которой образован
Татьяны милый идеал...
О много, много рок отъял!
Блажен, кто праздник жизни рано
Оставил, не допив до дна
Бокала полного вина,
Кто не дочёл её романа
И вдруг умел расстаться с ним,
Как я с Онегиным моим.


But those to whom at amicable meetings

its first strophes I read —

“Some are no more, others are distant,”

as erstwhiles Sadi said.

Without them was Onegin's picture finished.

And she from whom was fashioned

the dear ideal of “Tatiana”...

Ah, much, much has fate snatched away!

Blest who left life's feast early,

not having to the bottom drained

the goblet full of wine;

who never read life's novel to the end

and all at once could part with it

as I with my Onegin.


In his essay “On a Book Entitled Lolita(1956) VN says that in Paris he read Volshebnik to a group of friends:


I read the story one blue-papered wartime night to a group of friends—Mark Aldanov, two social revolutionaries, and a woman doctor; but I was not pleased with the thing and destroyed it sometime after moving to America in 1940.


Two social revolutionaries mentioned by VN are Vladimir Zenzinov (who died in 1953) and Ilya Fondaminsky (who perished in a German concentration camp). Dr. Kogan-Bernstein was Jewish and, unless she managed to flee to the USA, she too was probably martyred by the Nazis.


Musli-ud-Din Sadi (who said “some are no more, others are distant”) was a Persian poet of the thirteenth century. In The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) Quilty, as he speaks to HH, uses the phrase “as the Persians say:”


“Where the devil did you get her?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: the weather is getting better.”

“Seems so.”

“Who’s the lassie?”

“My daughter.”

“You lieshe’s not.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: July was hot. Where’s her mother?”


“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with me tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.”

“We’ll be gone too. Good night.”

“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night. That child of yours needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?”

“Not now.”

He struck a light, but because he was drunk, or because the wind was, the flame illumined not him but another person, a very old man, one of those permanent guests of old hotelsand his white rocker. Nobody said anything and the darkness returned to its initial place. Then I heard the old-timer cough and deliver himself of some sepulchral mucus. (1.28)


In “The Enchanter” the protagonist’s attempt to take advantage of the sleeping orphan in a hotel room is thwarted when the girl wakes up.


Pushkin’s dal’ svobodnogo romana (the far stretch of a free novel) brings to mind Mona Dahl, Lolita’s schoolmate and confidant at Beardsley College. In his Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript John Ray, Jr., says that ‘Mona Dahl’ is a student in Paris.


Btw., in the heading subject of my previous post, “Virginia McCoo, Vivian McCrystal, Aubrey McFate & Mona Dahl in Lolita” there is a misprint: before Lolita “in” was omitted.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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