by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University

Keeping up with Nabokov is a full-time occupation and alas, I am otherwise employed. What you see below is a haphazard stab at the materials. I hope it will be, if nothing else, entertaining. My thanks again to Marianne Cotugno for important assistance.


Two books elicited, in many of the reviews, extensive comparisons with Nabokov. The first is called The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester. Lanchester, the former restaurant critic of The Observer, is now the deputy editor of the London Review of Books and he has, according to David Sexton of the Sunday Telegraph, "used his expertise in both areas to brilliant effect" in this accomplished first novel. Sexton goes on to say that The Debt To Pleasure is:

Nabokovian through and through, from the mandarin vocabulary and carefully polished cadences of its sentences to its ultimate theme of the frustrated or perverted artist.

Richard Boston of The Guardian says that Winot, the novel's main character, is ...

"blood-brother to Humbert Humbert, narrator of Lolita. He also has a strong ingredient of Charles Kinbote, the crazy narrator of Pale Fire."

'This is not a conventional cookbook,' as Winot's own opening words have it, and his recipes (like this one, for blinis) often spin off at a tangent:

'Add two whisked egg whites. Right. Now heat a heavy cast-iron frying pan of the type known in both classical languages as a placenta - which is, as everybody knows, not at all the same thing as the caul or wrapping in which the foetus lives when it is inside the womb. To be born in the caul, as I was, is a traditional indication of good luck . . . Freud was born in the caul, as was the hero of his favourite novel, David Copperfield.'

The story itself revolves around memories of Winot's childhood and a journey to France with homicidal intent. It involves only a few characters, among whom Winot's brother, nanny and Norwegian cook are significant, and mainly consists of observations:

' 'Ooh, that looks nice,' she would say. 'Lovely and pink,' she would sometimes add, a weakness for the colour pink being an infallible sign of the defective taste one associates with certain groups and individuals: the British working classes, grand French restaurateurs, Indian street-poster designers and God, whose fatal susceptibility for the colour is so apparent in the most lavishly cinematic instances of his handiwork (sunsets, flamingos).'

Boston comments,
Winot is a crashing bore, but Lanchester pulls off the difficult Polonius trick of presenting a bore without being boring. His observations are sharp, his comments often rib-ticklingly droll, but he is still a crasher. But before very long we see through the mannered fashion of the narrative and realise, first that Winot is a bit cracked, then that he's crazy as a loon, next that he is actually dangerous. In fact a serial killer. But all we have to go on is Winot's account, which is palpably unreliable.

Lanchester, speaking about Nabokov's influence said:

"He's a great genius of the morally oblique, of deception. There was a point when I seemed to be thinking about him, like a lead planet, doing things I thought weren't possible in fiction.

"In his lovely book about Gogol, he says that you read Tolstoy as if a writer is seeing in three dimensions for the first time. And then when you read Gogol, it's suddenly four-dimensional! You can see around corners, and space is curved, and time's moving backwards. Nabokov was like that . . . You can't use him as a model. It would be too difficult."

Another novel, The End of Alice, written by A.M Holmes, is in part a tribute to Lolita.

Newsweek: Imagine Lolita looking like Alice Liddell in that famous photograph taken by Lewis Carroll, or like one of Sally Mann's nymphets, a pint-sized provocateur seducing Humbert Humbert by a lake in the woods of New Hampshire. Imagine Humbert Humbert with a screw loose, brutally stabbing his beloved in their motel room when she gets her first period. Imagine Humbert Humbert's voice telling the story 23 years later from an upstate penitentiary. Now you've got the setup for A. M. Homes' new novel, The End of Alice, a provocative exercise in transgressive sexuality.

The Moscow Times, ran an article in February of 1996, pointing out the "Russianess" of Nabokov's English:

Although Nabokov's English cannot be called anything less than perfectly fluent, it is nonetheless not completely perfect. It bears the subtle, but indelible stamp of Russian. While reading Pnin, I was particularly struck by one feature of Russian that I had never paid much attention to before, but which is clearly one of the reasons why so many English-speakers fall so hopelessly in love with the language and why Russian drives so many translators to tears. On the first page of the novel, for example, Nabokov describes his hero as "ideally bald, sun-tanned, and clean-shaven." What strikes me here is the word "ideally," which--I would argue--no native speaker of English would use in this situation. A person can be completely bald or perfectly bald, but not ideally bald. Nabokov also mentions Pnin's "sloppy socks," which were "soberly colored." This propensity for creating combinations of nouns and adjectives or adverbs and adjectives that are simultaneously natural and jarring springs from Nabokov's Russian.


Stanley Kubrick , in The Film Director as Superstar admitted that he regrets bowing to the studio censor and The Legion of Decency while making his film of Lolita

"I didn't sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert's relationship with Lolita, and because his sexual obsession was only barely hinted at, many people guessed too quickly that Humbert was in love with Lolita. Whereas in the novel this comes as a discovery at the end, when she is no longer a nymphet but a dowdy, pregnant suburban housewife; and it's this encounter, and his sudden realization of his love, that is one of the most poignant elements of the story. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did."

David Mamet in the May 5, 1996 Los Angeles Times :

I know these folk, the beloved thugs of the ongoing aesthetic Morality Tale which, to us in the Arts, is our Hero-Journey, I know these Mamelukes of Mammon have only gone out and bought a decorator. I know that. And I know Hitler hired Leni Riefenstahl, and she made a couple of compelling flicks, but hey! But how dare they, once again? And what can it do to my sensitive soul to see examples of both the Saturday Evening Girls and Newcomb College on the sideboard of a man who watched the dailies of my films in his limo, while talking on the phone--to see a wheat-tangerine Heriz on the floor of the man who said of my (rejected) script for Lolita: "You made him look like a pedophile?"
From the WWW

Below you will find a briefly annotated list of Websites which are in some way connected with Nabokov:


Information about what appears to be a new musical rendition of Lolita. Author's email address noted.
Harper Collins audio web page. An audiotaped reading of Lolita is here available for purchase. "Actor James Mason masterfully reads the witty, poetic prose as his rolling British tongue humorously renders Nabakov's characters and settings in colorful three-dimension." -- Booklist HarperAudio. ISBN 1-55994-634-2; $12.00; Canada, $15.95; 1 hour on 1 cassette. (website no longer exists)
Penguin 20th Century Classics. Online Ordering information for several Nabokov books.
Satire Press--David Levine--literary cariactures. A caricature of Nabokov is available at this site

LITERATURE AND CRITICISM (website no longer exists)

French poem called Lolito-Lolita text
The text of Humbert's Wanted poem.
(website no longer exists)
Tiutchev poem "Dusk" translated by VN.
(website no longer exists)
The Upas Tree by Pushkin translated by VN.
This website is devoted to classic reviews from the Atlantic Monthly. Lolita as reviewed in 1958 by Charles Rolo .
A "glosssy" web magazine, Salon features articles about art and culture from a pop-modern perspective. An article about Nabokov entitled "My Inspiration--The Sorcerer of Cruelty" is included in this issue. (website no longer exists)
History of hypertext as it relates to cinema. Excerpt and disussion of Pale Fire.
An informal critique of NABOKV-L, written for a class assignment
(website no longer exists)
An unflattering, possibly spurious story about Nabokov at James Laughlin's house in Utah. Titled "Self Absorption".
Trollita--a loose parody of Lolita written by a Hobart Hobart.
(website no longer exists)
The undeveloped website of a self- styled "literary anarchist" who calls himself Sirin and his website VNN Virtual Nabokov Network.


Plans to mark VN Centennial reported in The St Petersburg Press
Full details of Kubrick's Lolita from the Internet Filmography.
The Times-Picayune

February 29, 1996, Thursday


Through the St. John Shade Tree Committee, several tree planting projects are now under way in the parish.

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