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

"The first time I read the book, I read it for all the wrong
reasons." "I was looking for the sex. When I read it
again, I found the book to be horrifying, hilariously funny,
heartbreaking and ultimately, in a kind of screwed-up way, a love story." --Adrian Lyne
Three major events dominated the "news" about Nabokov during the last six months: the centennial of his birth, Adrian Lyne's film version of Lolita, and Lolita's #4 ranking in the Modern Library Edition's list the "Top 100 English-Language Novels of the 20th Century." Celebrations around the world to commemorate Nabokov's 100th birthday began with the Cornell Nabokov Centenary Festival held Sepember 9th-11th in Ithaca, New York. The New York Times article describing this festival previously appeared on NABOKV-L. For other accounts of the festival see the online Cornell Chronicle,

and the Cornell student newspaper, which manages to misspell Nabokov's name two different ways in a single headline!
Reviews of Lyne's film in the many media outlets range from the recklessly exuberant to the condescendingly dismissive. A brief synopsis by Peter Travers in the September 3, Rolling Stone (p.108) presents a more "balanced" point of view.

"Lolita"--Girl Power

This is not to say that Lolita is free of smarm. Lyne being Lyne, the kinky purveyor of 9 1/2 Weeks and other indecent film proposals, he can't resist cheap shots, such as Swain fellating a banana and Irons playing fetishistic footsie, that owe less to Nabokov than to Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries. Still, the quality material forces Lyne to rise to the occasion. For all its flaws (and the growing certainty that Kubrick did Nabokov better), Lyne's Lolita deserves attention and raises censorship issues that make it a film worth fighting for.

The #4 ranking speaks for itself. Zembla

In an article entitled "An Embarrasment of Riches," Ruth Wallach, Acting Head of the Doheny Reference Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses the changing world of academic scholarship and Zembla, Jeff Edmunds's award winning website devoted to all things Nabokovian.

"Another example of a very specialized scholarly project is a Nabokov site called Zembla - The Nabokov Butterfly Net. It is a kind of a bibliography or catalog of topics pertaining to Nabokov, which includes original content. It is used by graduate students and faculty as a springboard for further research, although potentially it contains a finite amount of information. I would argue that unlike a print bibliography which is not always available in one's library, this site is readily available to anyone with access to the web. And it offers a different kind of information to scholars than a traditional bibliography. Lastly, it provides collaborative space. I wonder whether sites such as this will shift the scholarly paradigms for humanities research from individual to group endeavors."


Lolita attracts most of the attention but Pale Fire speaks to a different audience with increasing authority. For those interested in hypertext, Pale Fire ranks as one of the first. From the August 23, Chicago Tribune written by Jimmy Guterman,


A generation of cyberwriters--inspired by the theories of Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson and other pioneers in the field of computer science, and as comfortable manipulating the 0s and 1s of computer programming as they are manipulating nouns and verbs (if not more so)--are experimenting with creating fiction and poetry intended for the computer screen rather than the printed page.

The hypertext way of experiencing and describing events in art isn't that new. Groundbreaking alinear fictions like Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths" and Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire emphasize that, even without computer screens, we live in a hypertext world where random information dances across our consciousness and then disappears, where digressions may never link back to the main subject.

Pop Culture

An odd and improbable annotation for "Stella Blue," a Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) composition can be found at:,

a website devoted to annotations to Grateful Dead songs.

STELLA BLUE: However, there is a character in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire (1962) named Stella Blue. In the "Commentary" portion of the novel, in the note to line 627, which discusses the "great Starover Blue," and astronomer, Nabokov writes:

"The star over the blue eminently suits an astronomer though actually neither his first nor second name bears any relation to the celestial vault: the first was given him in memory of his grandfather, a Russian starover ..., that is, Old Believer (member of a schismatic sect), named Sinyavin, from siniy, Russ. "Blue." This Sinyavin migrated from Saratov to Seattle and begot a son who eventually changed his name to Blue and married Stella Lazurchik, an Americanized Kashube." (p. 236)

Cocktails are back in fashion but the martini is out of luck. In an article published on August 19 in The New York Times "Oh, for Just Plain Gin And Dry Vermouth," William Grimes describes some of the new concoctions replacing the venerable cocktail king. (Note the Nabokovian subtext even before arriving at Grange Hall.)

In Texas, the pilgrim traveling this via dolorosa will find the Martini Ranch, a Dallas establishment, whose manager said: ''The sky's the limit. If it's in a martini glass, it's a martini.'' He ain't a-kiddin, either. One of the bar's standout cocktails is the Mars Bar martini, a syrupy swirl of dark chocolate liqueur, white chocolate liqueur, amaretto and Frangelico, served in a glass whose rim has been dusted in chocolate flecks from frozen Hershey bars that have been run through a blender.

Mr. Donohoe and his allies have already lost the gin battle. Most people drink vodka martinis. And even the most strict-constructionist martini drinker has to concede that some of the rococo martinis are rather clever, like the Pixie Stick martini, a combination of pineapple vodka, sour cherry syrup, fresh lime and lemon juice. The drink, created at Candy Bar in Chelsea, is not the kind of cocktail you find in a Raymond Chandler novel, but it has a certain offbeat appeal. The Lolita, a new addition to the menu at Grange Hall, calls for 12-year-old Scotch and hazelnut-flavored sherry, a sly allusion to the real name of Nabokov's heroine, Dolores Haze. The drink, topped with a mildly salacious garnish, wins a point or two for inventiveness.

Art Spiegelman, known for the comic book masterwork, Maus: A Survivor's Tale, founded a series called Neon Lit. The series takes postmodern novels and translates or adapts them into the comic book format.
The first book in this series was Paul Auster's City of Glass, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. Then we did the Gifford. And now Spain. Rodriguez is putting the final touches on his adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley. And Mary Gaitskill has just completed a brilliant script for the next book, Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark.
Martin Amis

A well known Nabokov fan, Martin Amis comments on Nabokov's effect on his writing in an interview excerpted from the Paris Review (number 146).

Can you talk about the influence of other writers or poets? I know one of them is Saul Bellow.

I would say they are more inspirers than influences. When I am stuck with a sentence that isn't fully born, it isn't yet there, I sometimes think: how would Dickens go at this sentence, how would Bellow or Nabokov go at this sentence? What you hope to emerge with is how you would go at that sentence, but you get a little shove in the back by thinking about writers you admire.

I was once winding up a telephone conversation with Saul Bellow and he said: 'Well you go back to work now,' and I said all right, and he said: 'Give 'em hell.' And it's Dickens saying: 'Give 'em hell.' Give the reader hell. Stretch the reader.

A Typo

The Hindu Goddess LALITA has three aspects, as virgin (Bala), mother (Tripurasundari) and crone (Tripura Bhairavi). She is the waxing Moon. She represents love and sexuality. Lalita means "She who Plays."


One can only imagine how terribly Nabokov would have hated the opening paragraph and the further implications of an article, written by Wendy Moonan of The New York Times, on August 21, "Seeing Beauty In the Bug On the Wall,"

Salvador Dali used to take live beetles to lunch with him at the St. Regis. He kept them in a clear plastic box on the table and watched, riveted, as they navigated mounds of sand. He found them more interesting than his companions. Vladimir Nabokov loved butterflies and was expert at catching them; he gave them names like Karner Blue and Satyr I and II. He may have taken his cue from the Surrealist André Breton, who mounted boxes of butterflies on the walls of his Paris apartment in the 1920's. Victorians, like the British aristocrat in the film "Angels and Insects," invited young men who had scoured the globe for natural specimens to their homes.

Suddenly, bugs are fashionable. "There's this real fascination with the natural sciences now," Mr. Taylor said. "They were always interesting to collectors, but now it's the masses."

Links and Bobolinks

In the March 1997 Los Angeles Magazine, Lawrence Weschler makes an interesting comparison between Gidget and Lolita in an article called "From Hitler to Hollywood." The article traces the fortunes and fates of German émigrés who landed in Hollywood after WWII.

Open The Door, Homer

A connection to "Open The Door, Richard!", a popular novelty song, recorded by artists such as Jack McVea and his All Stars, 1947 (Jukebox Lil JB-607).

Yesterday evening I watched at [sic] a movie, titled "Lolita," directed by Adrian Lyne, a great cinema-man, and played by Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffith, Dominique Swain. This is a new movie and as far as I know it is not shown at the cinemas in the US yet. Irons, the stepfather of Lolita (Dominique, at age of 14) fells [sic] in love with her, an ensest [sic] relationship, well, I know this is not the right place to criticize the movie, what I want to know is that, somewhere in the movie, Lolita plays a 78 rpm record and song goes on as "open the door Richard... open the door Richard..." Well, the story of the movie belongs the years of early 1940s. Any relation with Dylan's "Open The Door Richard"? Ankara, Turkey

"Open the Door, Richard" was recorded in the 1940s by the great R&B musician Louis Jordan, sometimes referred to as "the Grandfather of Rock'n'Roll" due to his influence on Chuck Berry, often called "The Father of Rock'n'Roll."

Jordan's song was so popular and so well known that in the 1950s it gave rise to an "answer" song by the New Orleans guitarist Smiley Lewis (with Huey "Piano" Smith on piano) called "I Hear You Knocking." This too was a major R & B hit.

Richard Penniman, a.k.a. Little Richard, working the clubs in New Orleans in the 1950s, got hit with so many requests for "Open the Door, Richard" and "I Hear You Knocking"--for obvious reasons--that he recorded a Rock'n'Roll "re-response" song called "Keep A Knockin' But You Can't Come In." It also became a top-selling record.

Letters to the Editor: For the Love of Power, Wall Street Journal; New York, Sept. 17, 1998:
Perhaps another apt comparison is between Bill Clinton and the fictive Humbert Humbert, the nymph-seeking exploiter of Nabokov's Lolita. Both are erudite men who love game-playing. Both undervalue and exploit others for their own self-interest. Both are concerned with the "show," the performance, not with ugly reality. Both are in thrall to their passion. Both are trapped by their passion; they may know what they are doing is wrong, but they cannot conquer their character flaws. Life imitates art, after all.
The above puts a timely spin on the following tidbit I received from a NABOKV-L subscriber (many thanks JA).

I noticed the following in my July 1998 catalog from Thompson Cigar Co. I've enjoyed reading your Nabokov collations, and thought perhaps you might find it useful:

The item is "vanilla and regular flavored Lolita cigars." The text reads: "What Lolita wants is a person who a appreciates a truly good smoke. Take your choice of savory vanilla-flavored or regular Lolitas." They cost $17 for a box of 25.


Another tip from a NABOKV-L subscriber:

Thought you might like to know of an excellent article forthcoming in the journal Criticism entitled "The Cinematic Art of Nypholpesy: Movie Star Culture and Nabokov's Lolita." It will be out in the Winter 1999 issue.

The author is Elizabeth Power.

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