Monday, October 30, 2017


Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is centered around an explicit incestuous affair between Ada and Van that began when they were twelve and fourteen, respectively. For example, Van and Ada had heterosexual anal sex, and Ada and Lucette, Ada's even younger sister, engaged in lipstick lesbian sex. However, in addition to Ada's affair with her brother and sister, she had age-gap affairs with Dr. Krolik, a contributor to her larvarium, Percy de Prey, her neighbor, and Phillip Rack, her music teacher.

[Note: The page numbers correspond to the 1969 McGraw-Hill edition; however, Brian Boyd informed me on the NABOKV-L listserve that the 1969 edition is "misprint-strewn"; therefore, the book version of this blog will be referencing the Vintage edition.]

In terms of Dr. Krolik, Boyd annotated on ADAOnline in the afternote to chapter 8 of part 1: "The first caterpillar mentioned as his contribution to her larvarium is a Nymphalis carmen, in allusion to Lolita and the disparity between Humbert’s age and Lolita’s, as between Krolik’s and Ada’s (she is only fourteen when Krolik dies)." And in a May 20, 2016 post on the NABOKV-L listserve, Alexey Sklyarenko shared "In the summer of 1888, when Ada (b. July 21, 1872) is sixteen, Percy de Prey [...] is twenty-one and Phillip Rack is about thirty.

"In addition to Ada's age-gap affairs, Ada's 626 pages are peppered with hebephilia\ephebophilia:

1. Van's maternal grandmother Daria ("Dolly") Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski [...] Dolly, an only child, born in Bras, married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov, Commander of Yukon Fortress and peaceful country gentleman [...] (3)

2. Demon's [Van and Ada's father.] twofold hobby was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns. (4)

3. Ada and Van returned to the ground floor—this time all the way down the sumptuous staircase. Of the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite, old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699-1797, friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap. (46)

According to Boyd’s annotations, the bride is referring to Princess Sofia Temnosiniy and according to Ada’s family tree, Princess Sofia Temnosiniy was approximately fourteen-years-old when she married seventy-one-year-old Prince Zemski in 1770.

François Boucher’s Girl Reclining, 1751 

In addition, the Prince’s son, Peter Zemski, married Mary O’Reilly. Boyd wrote that “John Rea [NABOKV-L, 30 November 2004] suggests that Mary O’Reilly may also echo Mary Louise O’Murphy (or Marie-Louise or Louison Morfy or O’Morphy, 1737-1814), who became mistress to Louis XVI of France [...]. She is said both to have been [Giacomo] Casanova’s mistress first, or to have been noticed by him, and to have been at fifteen the model for [François] Boucher’s famous painting, Girl Reclining [...]”

Casanova shared in Histoire de ma vie that upon seeing thirteen-year-old O’Murphy in the nude, that he found her so beautiful that he commissioned a nude portrait of the nymphet.

It’s not clear how King Louis XV discovered O’Murphy. One theory is that he saw Casanova's commission and requested to see the original, and another theory is that she was recruited by Madame de Pompadour, the king’s official chief mistress. Subsequently, King Louis XV impregnated O’Murphy. However, she had a miscarriage at fifteen but gave birth at sixteen to the king’s illegitimate child.

4. Two other phenomena that she [Ada] had observed even earlier proved ridiculously misleading. She must have been about nine when that elderly gentleman, an eminent painter whom she could not and would not name, came several times to dinner at Ardis Hall [...] the celebrated old rascal who drew his diminutive nudes in-variably from behind—fig-picking, peach-buttocked nymphets straining upward, or else rock-climbing girl scouts in bursting shorts—"I know exactly," interrupted Van angrily, "whom you mean, and would like to place on record that even if his delicious talent is in disfavor today, Paul J. Gigment [AKA Nymphobottomus] had every right to paint schoolgirls and poolgirls from any side he pleased.Proceed." (117)

Boyd wrote in Nabokov's Ada The Place of Consciousness that prior to Ada's affair with Van, "[t]he closet she had come to "sexual contact" was with an elderly gentleman [Paul J. Gigment], a distinguished painter [...]

From Boyd’s annotations:

A painter named “Paul G-g----,” active in the 1880s and with a keen interest in the female form, and especially the young female form, nevertheless cannot help evoking Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), who in Tahiti in 1891 took the young Teha’amana as his model and, soon, mistress [...] Only Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Watches Over Her, 1892) centers on the buttocks of a girl (Teha’amana) prone on a bed [...].

Paul Gauguin's Manao tupapau, 1892

Nancy Mowll Mathews relates in Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life that thirteen-year-old Teha’amana was offered to Gauguin by her mother, that "[...] Western tourists were commonly offered young girls, usually by the girl's parents, to serve as companions [...]" (179) and that Gauguin had a "[...] genuine delight at having an adolescent lover [...]" (181)

5. An American, a certain Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk, described as an "habitually intoxicated laborer" ("a good definition," said Ada lightly, "of the true artist"), managed somehow to impregnate—in his sleep, it was claimed by him and his huge family — his five-year-old great-granddaughter, Maria Ivanov, and, then, five years later, also got Maria's daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of somnolence. (142)

Boyd related in his annotations:

In England, from the 1880s, the term incest “began to be used primarily to mean sexual relations between close kin, and particularly between fathers and daughters, or brothers and sisters. . . . Reformers now pointed to a more specific and sensitive problem: the sexual abuse of girls in the congested family quarters of the large cities. When Beatrice Webb worked in a sweatshop in 1888, she was shocked to find talk of incest commonplace (perhaps missing the irony of her fellow workers). In her diary she describes a seamstress muttering to her that the girls at the next table were a bad lot. ‘Why bless you, that young woman just behind us has had three babies by her father, and another here has had one by her brother.’ . . . In 1906 an internal Home Office memo summed up the official view in blunt terms: ‘Incest is very common among the working classes in the big towns’

The whole passage echoes Humbert’s fantasy that “with patience and luck I might have her [Lolita] produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second, who would be eight or nine around 1960, when I would still be dans la force de l’âge; indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind, was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a vieillard encore vert—or was it green rot?—bizarre, tender, salivating Dr. Humbert, practicing on supremely lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a granddad.

Life imitates Nabokov’s art. In 2009, it came to light the case of the billionaire Antonio Luciano, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, who bought virgins from poor parents to deflower them. He had more than twenty children out of wedlock, two of them later to become his lovers, as also the children they bore incestuously.

6. [...] trifles as tape recorders, the favorite toys of his and Ada's grandsires (Prince Zemski had one for every bed of his harem of schoolgirls) were not manufactured any more, except in Tartary where they had evolved "minirechi" ("talking minarets") of a secret make. (157)

Boyd wrote in his annotations that this may remind one of Lolita’s Humbert Humbert who said, “Idiot, triple idiot! I could have filmed her! I would have had her now with me, before my eyes, in the projection room of my pain and despair!”.

7. The Zemskis were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them [Prince Vseslav Zemski] loved small girls [...] (247)

8. In his London studio her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised) shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil. (368)

9. To put it bluntly, the boy had sought to solace his first sexual torments by imagining and detailing a project (derived from reading too many erotic works [...] namely, a chain of palatial brothels that his inheritance would allow him to establish [...] "Beauty and tenderness, grace and docility" composed the main qualities required of the girls, aged from fifteen to twenty-five in the case of "slender Nordic dolls," and from ten to twenty in that of "opulent Southern charmers." (369-370)

10. Van's sexual dreams are embarrassing to describe in a family chronicle [...] Aqua impersonating Marina or Marina made-up to look like Aqua, arrives to inform Van, joyfully, that Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child whom he is about to know carnally on a hard garden bench while under a nearby pine [...] (383-384)

11. Its new expression in regard to Ada looked sufficiently fervid to make watchful fools suspect that old Demon "slept with his niece" (actually, he was getting more and more occupied with Spanish girls who were getting more and more youthful every year until by the end of the century, when he was sixty, with hair dyed a mid-night blue, his flame had become a difficult nymphet of ten). (415)

12. Thus had Mlle Larivière's Enfants Maudits (1887) finally degenerated! She had had two adolescents, in a French castle, poison their widowed mother who had seduced a young neighbor, the lover of one of her twins. (449)

13. Idle images queued by—Edmund, Edmond, simple Cordula, fantastically intricate Lucette, and, by further mechanical association, a depraved little girl called Lisette, in Cannes, with breasts like lovely abscesses, whose frail favors were handled by a smelly big brother in an old bathing machine. (501)

14. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums—which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for ‘popping the hymen’—whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.” “Extraordinary,” said Van, “they had been growing younger and younger—I mean the girls, not the strong silent boys. His old Rosalind had a ten-year-old niece, a primed chickabiddy. Soon he would have been poaching them from the hatching chamber.” (555)

15. [...] left a message for Van, who got it only late at night when he returned from a trip to Sorcière,in the Valais, about one hundred miles east, where he bought a villa for himself et ma cousine, and had supper with the former owner, a banker’s widow, amiable Mme Scarlet and her blond, pimply but pretty, daughter Eveline, both of whom seemed erotically moved by the rapidity of the deal. (560)

16. The most hazardous moment was when he and she moved to another villa, with a new staff and new neighbors, and his senses would be exposed in icy, fantastic detail, to the gipsy girl poaching peaches or the laundry woman’s bold daughter [...] Yet he knew that by daring to satisfy the corresponding desire for a young wench he risked wrecking his life with Ada. (610)

In a 1969 New York Times Book Review, Alfred Appel, Jr. referred to Ada as an "erotic masterpiece" that put Nabokov on par with Kafka, Proust and Joyce. However, Boyd related in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years that Philip Toynbee, a British writer, opined that Ada was "an appalling piece of unremitting exhibitionism." Maybe the best thing to do is combine both opinions and refer to Nabokov's tome as unremittingly erotic."

Additional Sources:

Boyd, Brian. Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness. Cybered., 2002. 

Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life. Yale University Press, 2001.

Nabokov, Vladimir.  Ada: Or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Wyllie, Barbara. "“My Age of Innocence Girl” - Humbert, Chaplin, Lita and Lo." Nabokov Online Journal 9 (2015): 8-13.


Monday, October 23, 2017

PALE FIRE (1962)

Pale Fire is in three parts: A foreword by Charles Kinbote, John Shade's poem "Pale Fire",  and Kinbote's commentary.

1. “Otar, a pleasant and cultured adeling with a tremendous nose and sparse hair, [who] had his two mistresses with him, eighteen-year-old Fifalda (whom he later married) and seventeen-year-old Fleur”. (105)

2. Kinbote narrates how Griff, a farmer, summoned Garh, his young daughter, to be the King’s escape guide:

A rude staircase led up to a loft. The farmer placed his gnarled hand on the gnarled balustrade and directed toward the upper darkness a guttural call: “Garh! Garh!” Although given to both sexes, the name is, strictly speaking, a masculine one, and the King expected to see emerge from the loft a bare-kneed mountain lad like a tawny angel. Instead there appeared a disheveled young hussy wearing only a man’s shirt that came down to her pink shins and an oversized pair of brogues. A moment later, as in a transformation act, she reappeared, her yellow hair still hanging lank and loose, but the dirty shirt replaced by a dirty pullover, and her legs sheathed in corduroy pants. She was told to conduct the stranger to a spot from which he could easily reach the pass. A sleepy and sullen expression blurred whatever appeal her snub-nosed round face might have had for the local shepherds; but she complied readily enough with her father’s wish. His wife was crooning an ancient song as she busied herself with pot and pan. (141)

He sank down on the grass near a patch of matted elfin-wood and inhaled the bright air. The panting dog lay down at his feet. Garh smiled for the first time. Zemblan mountain girls are as a rule mere mechanisms of haphazard lust, and Garh was no exception. As soon as she had settled beside him, she bent over and pulled over and off her tousled head the thick gray sweater, revealing her naked back and blanc-mangé breasts, and flooded her embarrassed companion with all the acridity of ungroomed womanhood. She was about to proceed with her stripping but he stopped her with a gesture and got up. He thanked her for all her kindness. He patted the innocent dog; and without turning once, with a springy step, the King started to walk up the turfy incline. (142)

3.  On Griff’s mantelpiece was: "a color print representing an elegant guardsman with his bare-shouldered wife—Karl the Beloved, as he was twenty odd years before, and his young queen, an angry young virgin with coal-black hair and ice-blue eyes.” (141)  


Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. Penguin, 1989.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

PNIN (1957)

Charles Poore, his in New York Times review of Pnin, summarized the book by writing:

The central character is our old friend, the absentminded professor […] an émigré of the old Russian school. He is tremendously proud of his American citizenship, enchanted with the glittering gadgetry of our culture, lonely, loquacious and heroic. He teaches classic Russian literature at Waindell […] After ten years among the cliques and cards at Waindell, Pnin has a heady feeling that he has finally achieved security of sorts. His genially acerb colleagues lampoon him mercilessly, but he finds in their own folklore grounds for a measure of hilarity. Naturally, he looks mainly to the past for the substance of his stature as a man of learning. Yet each time he changes his place of residence he acquires new insights to the ways of the not quite inscrutable New World.

1. In Phantom of Fact: A Guide to Nabokov’s Pnin, Gennadi Barabtarlo noted at least three references to Ivan Bunin in Pnin. For example, while Pnin was waiting to give a lecture: 

“In the middle of the front row of seats he saw one of his Baltic aunts, wearing the pearls and the lace and the blond wig she had worn at all the performances given by the great ham actor Khodotov […]” (27) Barabtarlo wrote: “The wry phrase “the great ham actor” can be traced back to Ivan Bunin’s The Life of Arsen’ev (1930) […]” ( 85) 

Vladimir Vladimirovich, Pnin’s narrator, related that Bunin could be found “swarming all over” The Pines with other Russian “[…] liberals and intellectuals who had left Russia around 1920 […]”. (117) And Vladimirovich related that Konstatin Ivanich shared a villa in Grasses, southern France, “with several other Russian expatriates.” (125) Barabtarlo wrote: “Ivan Bunin, who lived in Grasse in the twenties and thirties, was one of them.” (206)
Unsurprisingly, Boyd related in Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years that Nabokov “cherished” Bunin. (94) And Maxim D. Shrayer related in “Vladimir Nabokov and Ivan Bunin: A Reconstruction ” that: 

“Marina Turkevich Naumann [the author of Blue Evenings in Berlin: Nabokov's Short Stories of the 1920s] lists Bunin among Nabokov’s major Russian influences.” And that: “Several émigré critics, including, Gleb Struve, Jurij Ivask, Aleksndr Savel’ev, Michail Cetlin, Vladimir Vekdle pointed out affinities between the two writers [e.g., Nabokov and Bunin],” (396)

While Nabokov and Bunin eventually fell out of favor and Bunin’s Dark Avenues was driven, according to Shrayer, by a desire to reclaim his status over Nabokov as the foremost Russian writer (394), it’s worth taking a stroll through Dark Avenues.

Oleg Mikhailov wrote in The Works by I.A. Bunin that Dark Avenues is "the only book in the history of Russian literature devoted entirely to the concept of love" and that the classic of Russian literature is considered to be Bunin's magnum opus. 

According Alma Classics, Dark Avenues, if not the most read, is one of the most read volumes of short stories in Russia. And in a blurb, Nabokov said of Bunin in reference to Dark Avenues”: “A most powerful ‘connoisseur of colours’. One could write an entire dissertation of his colour schemes.”

Here is the opening of Bunin's “Tanya”:

“She was working as a housemaid in the house of his relation Madame Kazakov, who owned a small estate. She was just seventeen years old; her tiny figure was especially noticeable when she walked barefoot, her skirt swaying gently from side to side and her little breasts moving under her blouse […] her simple little face could be called pleasing, and her grey peasant eyes had no beauty other than that of youth.” (97) And Tanya, an orphan, was described as a “half-childish girl” with an “intoxicating scent of something rural and virginal”. (99)

Petrusha, on his way back to Moscow, had stopped to visit Kazakova in the country. In the middle of the night “He lit a match and caught sight of her asleep. She was lying on her back on a wooden bed, in a blouse and cotton skirt - her little breasts showed roundness through her blouse, her legs were bare to the knees[...] The match went out. He stood there – and gently approached the bed [...]” (99)

“He moved her legs apart in their tender warmth [...]” “[...] and he began to kiss her neck, her breast, inhaling that intoxicating scent of something rural and virginal. And she, through her tears, suddenly gave a spontaneous feminine response – strongly, and it seemed gratefully, embracing him and pressing his head to her breast.” (100) 

After subsequent sexual conquests with the nymphet, to Tanya's utter dismay, Petrusha left the country never to visit again.

“Tanya” is just one of a number of short stories in Dark Avenues that contains nympholepsy.

Avon Books' Pnin Cover
2. There is no clear indication that Pnin was an acting ephebophile: “Like so many aging college people, Pnin had long ceased to notice the existence of students on campus […] except for a girl’s comely nape here and there, he saw nobody in the Reading Room.” (61) But that didn’t stop Avon Books from publishing Pnin (1957) with Pnin on the cover, a phallic cane in one hand and his portful’ in the other, ogling three college coeds.

3. While Pnin was inspecting the house where he would rent a room, he “peered” into Isabel’s room, the daughter of the homeowners, and “inspected Hoecker’s “Girl with a Cat” above the bed, and Hunt’s “The Belated Kid” above the bookshelf.” (34) 

Balthus (Baltusz Klossowski de Rola)
Girl with Cat, 1937
Eric Naiman wrote in Nabokov, Perversely that Hoecker's “Girl with a Cat” may have been a reference to Balthus' "Jeune Fille au Chat", which is one of Balthus’ most controversial paintings out of many of his revealing paintings and Polaroids of nymphets. In the oil on wood, a nymphet is reclining with her hands behind her head with her left foot resting on the chair, which causes her panties to be exposed below her schoolgirl skirt.

William Morris Hunt’s The Belated Kid, 1854–57

William Morris Hunt’s “The Belated Kid” is on view in the Penny and Jeff Vinik Gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Here’s a summary of the description of the painting from the museum’s website:

Hunt began this monumental image of a peasant girl and her rescued kid about 1854 […] It proved so popular when exhibited in the United States that Boston collector Peter Chardon Brooks […] commissioned a replica.

The painting clearly was inspired by Millet’s pictures of peasant children [17.1484], especially those depicting young girls diligently watching over one or two cows or sheep. In Hunt’s version of the subject, a kid that strayed and was found again is carried home by a pretty barefoot shepherdess […] While Hunt’s image echoes Millet’s images of rural labor, it is considerably more romantic in its presentation of the innocence and goodness of these hardworking peasant children.

And who was one of Nabokov's favorite painters? Based on my leading question, you may have been able to guess that it is none other than Balthasar Klossowski de Rola or simply Balthus. Nabokov shared in Strong Opinions, "The aspects of Picasso that I emphatically dislike are the sloppy products of his old age. I also loathe old Matisse. A contemporary artist I do admire very much, though not only because he paints Lolita-like creatures, is Balthus." (167) And Balthus said, translated into English, in the documentary Balthus the Painter (1996), referring to Nabokov, “I think we feel the same thing in the presence of young girls.”

4. Pnin attended a program at New Hall:

The first part of the program, three ancient movie shorts, bored our friend: that cane, that bowler, that white face, those black, arched eyebrows, those twitchy nostrils meant nothing to him. Whether the incomparable comedian danced in the sun with chapleted nymphs near a waiting cactus, or was a prehistoric man (the supple cane now a supple club), or was glared at by burly Mack Swain at a hectic night club, old-fashioned, humorless Pnin remained indifferent. “Clown,” he snorted to himself. “Even Glupishkin and Max Linder used to be more comical.” (80)

I would imagine that most readers immediately noticed the allusion to Charlie Chaplin. Specifically, Barabtarlo noted that the passage is alluding to Chapin’s Sunnyside (1919), His Prehsitoric Past (1914), and Caught in a Cabaret (1914). And Barabtarlo related: “In an interview with Alfred Appel, Nabokov admitted that he, unlike Pnin, “enjoyed tremendously American comedy – Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Chaplin.” (142)

I related in The Allure of Nymphets: From Emperor Augustus to Woody Allen, A Study of Man's Fascination with Very Young Women that Charlie Chaplin confessed that he had a violent crush on a specific nymphet and generally loved young girls. And that Joyce Milton shared in her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, that Chaplin acknowledged, “I had a violent crush on a girl only ten or twelve. I have always been in love with young girls [...]” (23)

And author and ephebophile J.D. Salinger was livid after Chaplin married Oona O'Neill. Salinger and O'Neill began an affair when O'Neill was sixteen-years-old, but after Salinger joined the Army, eighteen-year-old O'Neill moved to Los Angeles and married fifty-five-year-old Chaplin. (54-55)

Interestingly, Barbara Wyllie wrote in "'My Age of Innocence Girl' - Humbert, Chaplin, Lita and Lo" about the influence that Chaplin had on Nabokov. For example, there's an additional reference to Chaplin's toothbrush mustache in Lolita and Chaplin appeared on a movie poster in Nabokov's short story “Easter Rain” (1925). (10)

In addition, Wyllie wrote that "[...] it could be argued that the particular nature of Chaplin’s incarnation in Lolita is linked to Nabokov’s 1928 poem, “Lilith,” via The Kid, Chaplin’s silent feature of 1921." (12) And that: “of his later novels – Luzhin's collapse in The Defense (1930), the surreal pantomine of Invitation to a Beheading (1938) […] Meanwhile, Chaplin's most famous on-screen persona steps into the worlds of The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and Pnin (1957).” (10)

In The Kid (1921), a nymphet in wings, played by Chaplin's twelve-year-old future wife Lillita McMurray, who wrote a tell-all book about the marriage, is told by Sin (i.e., The Devil) to "vamp" (i.e., seduce) the Tramp (Chaplin). The winged nymphet and the Tramp kissed before her Sweetheart arrived. She and her Sweetheart, who was played by a man who appeared to be a lot older than even thirty-two-year-old Chaplin, kissed before he allowed the nymphet and the Tramp to embrace and kiss again. However, after the nymphet refused to release her embrace of the Tramp, her Sweetheart became jealous and pummeled the Tramp.


Barabtarlo, Gennadi. Phantom of Fact: A Guide to Nabokov's Pnin. Ardis, 1989.

Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Vintage, 1993.

Bunin, Ivan. Dark Avenues. Translated by Hugh A. Aplin, One World Classics, 2008. 

Chaplin, Charlie. The Kid. Associated First National Pictures, 1921. 

Ibrahim, Mo. The Allure of Nymphets: From Emperor Augustus to Woody Allen, A Study of Man's Fascination with Very Young Women. 2nd ed., Lad Literature, 2017.

Naiman, Eric. Nabokov, Perversely. Cornell University Press, 2010. 

Nabokov, Vladimir. Pnin. Vintage, 1989.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Strong Opinions. Penguin, 2012.

Poore, Charles. Books of the Times. The New York Times, 7 Mar. 1957,

Wyllie, Barbara. “‘MY AGE OF INNOCENCE GIRL’ — HUMBERT, CHAPLIN, LITA AND     LO.” Nabokov Online Journal, IX, 2005. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Plot Summary from Amazon: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is […] about the mysterious life of a famous writer. Many people knew things about Sebastian Knight as a distinguished novelist, but probably fewer than a dozen knew of the two love affairs that so profoundly influenced his career, the second one in such a disastrous way. After Knight's death, his half brother [V.] sets out to penetrate the enigma of his life, starting with a few scanty clues in the novelist's private papers. His search proves to be a story as intriguing as any of his subject's own novels, as baffling, and, in the end, as uniquely rewarding.

1. V went through Sabastian’s books that “were numerous, untidy and miscellaneous.” (44) In addition to an Anglo-Persian Dictionary, one of the books on the shelf  was Alice in Wonderland

I related in The Allure of Nymphets that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who went by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll and who was the famous author of Alice in Wonderland, allegedly wanted to marry eleven-year-old Alice Liddell. (53)

2. After dinner, Sabastian would go back to his room or “to the little cinema […] where a Wild Wild West film would be shown, or a Charlie Chaplin stiffly trotting away from the big wicked man and skidding on the street corner.” (51) 

I related in The Allure of Nymphets from Joyce Milton's Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin that Charlie Chaplin developed a crush on twelve-year-old Maybelle Fournier, he met Mildred Harris when she was fourteen-years-old and impregnated her when she was sixteen. Furthermore, he was smitten with fifteen-year-old Hetty Kelly and impregnated Lita Grey when she was fifteen-years-old. (24)

3. In an effort to track down the last woman whom Sabastian had a love affair with, V. visits Pahl Palich Rechnoy, who said of Mme de Rechnoy, his ex-wife – an eccentric and flamboyant teen:

I knew she was another fellow's mistress and all that, but I did not care. Her idea of life was drinking cocktails, and eating a large supper at four o'clock in the morning, and dancing the shimmy or whatever it was called, and inspecting brothels because that was fashionable among Parisian snobs, and buying expensive clothes, and raising hell in hotels when she thought the maid had stolen her small change which she afterwards found in the bathroom.... Oh, and all the rest of it — you may find her in any cheap novel, she's a type, a type. And she loved inventing some rare illness and going to some famous kurort, and...' (168)
Later, Mme Nina Lecerf self-described Mme de Rechnoy as “still very young” (179) and “a mere slip of a girl” when she married Pahl Palich Rechnoy and that the only man Mme de Rechnoy “[…] really loved was a married man and that was before her marriage […]” (180) [Emphasis mine.]

4. By the time V. meets Mme Nina Lecerf (Mme de Rechnoy), she is under twenty-eight (180) but her husband is a “middle-aged rather common-looking Frenchman” (189) and after Mme Nina Lecerf (Mme de Rechnoy) asked V., “How do you like my husband?” He replied that her husband must be “[…] much older than she.” (190)

5. And in Sabastian’s, The Doubtful Asphodel, his last novel and masterpiece, “An old man sobs and is soothed by a soft-lipped girl in mourning. [And] [p]rofessor Nussbaum, a Swiss scientist, shoots his young mistress and himself dead in a hotel room at half past three in the morning.” (202)

Monday, October 16, 2017

VOLSHEBNIK [written] (1939) [THE ENCHANTER (1985)]

Plot Summary: Arthur, a middle-aged writer, is enticed by Maria, a twelve-year-old nymphet. Arthur strategically marries Maria’s ill mother and after the mother dies, Arthur takes his nymphet on a road trip where, to their utter dismay, he displays his phallus.

Nabokov wrote in a letter to Walter Minton, the president of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, that Volshebnik was “a kind of pre-Lolita novella [written] in the autumn of 1939 in Paris.” Nabokov thought the he had destroyed the novella, but he found it when he was "collecting material to give to the Library of Congress." (15)

The setting and time period isn't clear, but Nabokov mentioned in the author's notes that the protagonist “was a central European, the anonymous nymphet was French and the loci were Paris and Provence.” (12)

1. The forty-year-old protagonist was picky about his nymphets. He wasn't attracted to school girls who were husky, skinny, had acne or wore glasses. (23) He was attracted to "[a] violet-clad girl of twelve [...] [with] russet curls (recently trimmed) [...] large, slightly vacuous [light gray] eyes [...] warm complexion [...] pink mouth [...] [and] summery tint" (27) whom he noticed while he sat on a Paris park bench. 

2. Subsequently, using the seduction technique of stalking that Soren Kierkegaard exemplified in The Seducer’s Diary, "[t]he day after, and the days that followed, he sat in the same place" (33) to be near the nymphet whom he "would have given a sack of rubies, a bucket of blood, anything he was asked" (37) to be with.

3. When the nymphet's mother demanded, "Off the bed! What's the meaning of this?" Hurriedly concealing the soft skin of her underside and the tiny wedge of her taut panties, she rolled off (oh, the liberties I would allow her! he thought). (37-38)

4. Interestingly, Nabokov wrote then when the nymphet gave a "vigorous toss" to "her brown curls", she was displaying “flirtatiousness” (51), which is what professional pickup artists would consider to be an Indicator of Interest (IOI). 

5. But that wasn't the only IOI that the protagonist received. The nubile maiden "in front of everyone, touched his shaven cheek with her cool, unhurried lips: once over the champagne glass to congratulate him [upon becoming her step-father], and then at the door, as she was saying good-bye." And as he was “arranging his things in her former room where, in a bottom drawer, he found a little rag of hers that told him far more than those two incomplete kisses.” (54)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

DAR (1938) [THE GIFT (1963)]

Plot Summary: After the Bolshevik Revolution, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev and his family immigrate to Berlin where he develops as a writer and develops a love affair with fellow émigré Zina Mertz.

1. In The Gift, after Fyodor would spend the greater part of the day on an indigo beach in the public garden, a book in his long tanned fingers” he would “go to give a lesson – to a businessman with sandy eyelashes, who looked at him with a dull gaze of malevolent perplexity as Fyodor unconcernedly read him Shakespeare; or to a schoolgirl in a black jumper, whom he sometimes felt like kissing on her bent yellowish nape”. (60)

2. When Fyodor’s mother extended him some spending money, he had contemplated procuring a young German prostitute: "‘I have a suggestion to make,’ said his mother gaily as they parted. ‘I have about seventy marks left which are quite useless to me, and you must eat better. I can’t look at you, you’re so thin. Here, take them.’ ‘Avec joie,’ he replied, instantly envisioning a year’s pass to the state library, milk chocolate and some mercenary young German girl whom, in his baser moments, he kept planning to get for himself.” (96)

3. "[...] Othello with the famous black tragedian Aldriged [was staged]."

4. Fyodor moved in with the Shchyogolevs after he eyed a “very short” dress on a “little table”. “Here’s my [step] daughter’s room,” [Shchyogolev] said, pointing to two doors on the left and right […] Fyodor passed his eyes over the table, a bowl of nuts, a sideboard…By the far window, near a bamboo table, stood a high-backed armchair: across its arms there lay in airy repose a gauze dress, pale bluish and very short”. (144)

5. Eventually, Fyodor secretly met with Zina Mertz, the step-daughter of Shchyogolev and the daughter of Marianna Nikolavna, and she shared with Fyodor that she met her fiancé “when she was sixteen, three years before, he being twelve years older than she”. (184)

6. And “Once, when [Boris Ivanovich] had noticed some written-up sheets of paper on Fyodor’s desk, he said, adopting a new heartfelt tone of voice: “Ah, if only I had a tick or two, what a novel I’d whip off! From real life. Imagine this kind of thing: an old dog—but still in his prime, fiery, thirsting for happiness—gets to know a widow, and she has a daughter, still quite a little girl—you know what I mean—when nothing is formed yet but already she has a way of walking that drives you out of your mind—A slip of a girl, very fair, pale, with blue under the eyes—and of course she doesn’t even look at the old goat. What to do? Well, not long thinking, he ups and marries the widow. Okay. They settle down the three of them. Here you can go on indefinitely—the temptation, the eternal torment, the itch, the mad hopes." (186)


Nabokov, Vladimir. The Gift. Translated by Michael Scammell, Vintage, 1991. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Here’s part of Amazon’s plot summary for Invitation to a Beheading: “[…] Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. [a thirty-year-old teacher] is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude," an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws, who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.”

1. The plot summary failed to mention Emmie, the “silky-blonde” twelve-year-old daughter of Rodrig Ivanovich, the prison director. (41) who would hide in Cincinnatus’ cell. At the abrupt end of her first visit, the nymphet: “[…] on the threshold, she abruptly stopped […] perhaps blowing a kiss, or perhaps concluding a pact of silence – looked over her shoulder at Cincinnatus [...]” (43)

2. Cincinnatus’ lawyer entered the cell “ruffled and sweaty” “I lost a cufflink,” he exclaimed, panting rapidly like a dog. “Must have – rushed against some – when I was with sweet little Emmie – she’s always full of mischief […]” (29)

3. Subsequently: “At one spot, where an unexpected and inexplicable sunbeam fell from above and glowed mistily as it broke on the eroded flagstones, Emmie, the director’s daughter, in a bright checkered frock and checkered socks—a mere child, but with the marble calves of a little ballerina—was bouncing a ball, rhythmically against the wall. She turned, brushing a blond lock from her cheek with the fourth and fifth fingers of her hand, and followed the brief little procession with her eyes. Rodion gave a playful jingle with his keys as he passed; the lawyer lightly stroked her glowing hair; but she was staring at Cincinnatus, who gave her a frightened smile. Upon reaching the next bend of the passage, all three glanced back […]” (36)

Couturier wrote in Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desirethat Cincinnatus was “sexually aroused” by Emmie’s “marble calves of a little ballerina”. (178)

4. During a follow-up visit by Emmie to Cincinnatus’ cell (153-154):

Cincinnatus stroked her warm head, trying to raise it. She snatched his fingers and began pressing them to her quick lips.

“What a snuggling pet you are,” said Cincinnatus drowsily. “That will do, enough now. Tell me …[when will I be executed]”

But she was seized by an outburst of childish boisterousness. The muscular child rolled Cincinnatus about like a puppy. “Stop it!” cried Cincinnatus. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

“Tomorrow,” she said suddenly, squeezing him and gazing at him between the eyes.

“Tomorrow I’ll die?” asked Cincinnatus.
“No, I’ll rescue you,” Emmie said pensively (she was seated astride him).
“That’s very nice indeed,” said Cincinnatus. “Saviors from all sides! This ought to have happened sooner—I’m nearly insane. Please get off, you are heavy and hot.”
“We’ll run away and you’ll marry me.” “Maybe when you are a little older; only I already have one wife.”
5. Emmie “darted out” to Cincinnatus’ “firmly grasping him by the hand, dragged him [into the director’s apartment] after her. All her movements betrayed excitement, rapturous haste.” (173) “Pfui, you naughty child!” said the director’s wife to Emmie with a slight German accent.(174)

M’sieur Pierre, who was stirring his tea, demurely lowered his eyes. (174) [...] “Emmie sat down at the table […] and brushing her neighbor with her elbow. Her neighbor [M’sieur Pierre] continued to sip his tea, holding the spoon protruding from it between second and third fingers, but inconspicuously, reached under the table with his left hand. “Eek!” cried Emmie as she gave a ticklish start, without, however, taking her mouth from the melon.” (175)

6. Cincinnatus’ father was an “unknown transient” (16) who had impregnated Cecilia C., Cincinnatus’ mother “one night at the Ponds when she was still in her teens” (16). During a cell visit, Cincinnatus asked his mother to tell him the “legend” about his father. Cecilia implored: “It’s true, I don’t know who he was – a tramp, a fugitive, anything is possible…But why can’t you understand…yes, it was a holiday, it was dark in the park, and I was still a child., but that’s beside the point.” (136) 

Couturier, Maurice. Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire. Palgrave
        Macmillan, 2014. Kindle Edition.  

Nabokov, Vladimir. Invitation to a Beheading. Translated by Dmitri Nabokov, Penguin, 2012.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

OTCHAYANIE (1934) [DESPAIR (1965)]

In Despair, Hermann Karlovich, a businessman and aspiring writer, meets Felix whom he opines is his doppelgänger. Plotting to collect insurance money, Hermann kills Felix, but his murder plot turns out to not be perfect.

Hermann, who is the narrator, shared: “At school I used, invariably, to get the lowest mark for Russian composition […] when rendering ‘in my own words’ the plot of Othello (which was, mind you, perfectly familiar to me) I made the Moor skeptical and Desdemona unfaithful.”

As a reminder, Shakespeare’s Othello is about an age-discrepant marriage between Othello, a North African general of the armies of Venice, and Desdemona, the "exquisitely beautiful" young daughter of Brabantio, a Venetian senator.

Shakespeare doesn't give the exact ages of Othello and Desdemona, but Othello is described by Iago, the villain of the play, as an "old black ram" while Desdemona is described as a "little white lamb [with] beautiful skin, whiter than snow and smooth as the finest marble."

Othello and Desdemona feared that, due to Othello's race and age, they wouldn't get the blessing of her father; thus, they eloped. Roderigo, a young jealous admirer of Desdemona informed her father, "but in the wee hours of the morning your daughter left your house [...] to go into the rough embrace of a lustful Moor."

Thus, it was assumed that Othello seduced Desdemona. It was unconscionable that the marriage was Desdemona’s idea. Desdemona's father even suggested that Othello used magic, trickery and/or drugs to seduce Desdemona. He said, "Are there magic spells that can lead young virgins astray? It's obvious to everyone that you you've tricked her, drugged her, or kidnapped her."

And Brabantio asked, "And you want me to believe that despite her young age and proper upbringing she fell in love with a man she'd be afraid to look at?" Iago opined, "To keep things hot, she'll need someone with a handsome face, someone close to her in age, someone who looks and acts like her."

After Desdemona convinced her father that it was her idea to marry Othello, he was forced to give their marriage his blessing; however, that didn't prevent Iago and Roderigo from doing everything within their power to end the age-discrepant marriage.

Brabantio, Roderigo and Iago, would have really been shocked by Desdemona’s assertiveness if Shakespeare would followed Hermann’s rendering and made Desdemona an “unfaithful” nymphet so soon after she lost her virginity to the Black general. 


Nabokov, Vladimir. Despair. Penguin Classics, 2010. 
Shakespeare, William. No Fear Shakespeare: Othello. Translated by John Crowther, 
        Spark, 2003.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Plot Summary: Albinus, a Berlin based art critic, is captivated by Margot Peters, a sixteen-year-old cinema usher. After Albinus and Margot begin their sexual affair, Albinus introduces Margot to Axel Rex, a New York City based painter. Unbeknownst to Albinus, Margot and Rex were once an item. Subsequently, Margot and Rex reignite their age-gap love affair to the demise of Albinus.

1. Here is the opening sentence of Laughter in the Dark: “Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was a rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.” (7) 

2. Interestingly, Elisabeth, Albinus' dear wife "as a small girl, had been secretly in love with an old actor who used to visit her father [...]" (69-70)

3. Here are some details about Margot:

A. "When she was barely sixteen [...] she learned to dance, and now and then went with the shopgirl to the "Paradise" dance hall where elderly men made extremely frank proposals [...]" (27)

B. Margot was introduced to Rex via Frau Levandovsky. Margot initially declined, "Oh, there's no need for that yet. I'm only sixteen, aren't I? [...]" (31) "Fool," repeated Frau Levandovsky. "He is thirty, clean-shaven, distinguished, with a silk tie and a gold cigarette case holder." (31) Ultimately, Margot lost her virginity to Rex.

C. Margot was so distressed after Rex abandoned her that she spent the night with two Japanese "gentlemen". They gave her 350 marks for her services. (The nymphet only asked for 200.) (38)

D. Margot met "a fat old man with a nose like an overripe pear ". After he paid for her room until November and gave her enough money to purchase a fur coat, "she allowed him to stay for the night". However, he died shortly after they met. (38-39)

Subsequently, Margot met Albinus, eventually was re-introduced to Rex at one of Albinus' parties, where the chit and Rex reunited to the ultimate dismay of Albinus. 

Laughter in the Dark (1969)

Laughter in the Dark was adapted into a 1969 film. Here's the IMDb plot summary: "A married middle-aged art critic and 16-year-old Margot begin an affair and develop a troublesome mutually parasitic relationship." Margot was played by 19-year-old Anna Karina.


Nabokov, Vladimir. Laughter in the Dark. Penguin Books, 1989. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

PODVIG (1932) [GLORY (1971)]

Here’s the Goodreads plot summary for Glory:

Glory is the wryly ironic story of Martin Edelweiss, a twenty-two-year-old Russian émigré of no account, who is in love with a girl who refuses to marry him. Convinced that his life is about to be wasted and hoping to impress his love, he embarks on a "perilous, daredevil project"--an illegal attempt to re-enter the Soviet Union, from which he and his mother had fled in 1919. He succeeds--but at a terrible cost.

1. The very first sentence reveals that after Martin’s grandfather, “a robust Swiss with a fluffy mustache”, immigrated to Russia, he got a job as a tutor and married his youngest tutee. (1)

2. A “despondent” middle-aged ship passenger said in reference to Alla, a twenty-five-year-old poetess, “not bad, that broad”. Alla married at eighteen but didn’t remain faithful to her husband for more than two years. (29) “A Grand Duc languished because of her; [and] Rasputin pestered her for a month with telephone calls.” (30) But, despite the age-gap between Alla and her suiters, she’s not a nymphet; however, she gave Martin a copy of “[…] Pierre Louÿs’s  Les Chansons de Bilitis in the cheap edition illustrated with the naked forms of adolescents, from which she would read to him, meaningfully pronouncing the French […]” (30)

Les Chansons de Bilitis (1894) [English: The Songs of Bilitis) is a collection of erotic lesbian poetry. Unsurprisingly, nymphet lipstick lesbians are featured. For example, in "The Accommodating Friend" (46):

The storm had lasted all night. Selenis of the lovely hair had come to spin with me. She stayed for fear of the mud, and, pressed tightly each to each, we filled my tiny bed.

When young girls sleep together sleep itself remains outside the door, "Bilitis, tell me, tell me whom you love." She slipped her thigh across my own to warm me sweetly.

And she whispered into my mouth: "I know, Bilitis, whom you love. Close your eyes, I am Lykas." I answered, touching her, "Can't I tell that your are just a girl? Your joke's a clumsy one."

But she went on: "Truly I am Lykas if you close your lids. Here are his arms, here are his hands" ... and tenderly, in the silence, she flushed my dreaming with a stranger dream.

3. In the mornings, Marie, the niece of the old chambermaid, would come to help with the household chores. She was seventeen, very quiet and comely with cheeks of a dark-pink hue and yellow pigtails tightly wound about her head. Sometimes, while Martin would be in the garden, she would throw open an upstairs window, shake out her dustcloth, and remain motionless, gazing [...] Martin would go up to the bedrooms, determine from the drafts where the cleaning was going on, and would find Marie kneeling in meditation amidst the gloss of wet floorboards; he would see her from behind, with her black wool stockings and her green polka-dot dress. She never looked at Martin, except once—and what an event that was![...]He resolutely vowed to start a conversation with her, and to give her a furtive hug. (45-46)

4. On evening after dinner, Martin sat in the drawing room with the piazza's door open while candles burned in the chandeliers and read "a small volume" of Guy De Maupassant's Bel Ami.(48) 

Bel Ami is about Georges Duroy, a journalist, who seduces women and a nymphet to obtain an influential position in Paris. For example, he convinces Susan, the young daughter of the owner and chief editor of the Vie Francaise, to inform her parents that she desires to marry Duroy. 

"[...] The thing must come from you and not from me. You are a spoilt child; they let you say whatever you like [...]" (432)

"[...] If you are determined, very determined [...] to be my wife, my dear, dear little Susan - I will - run away with you." (433)

"If the little girl had a little courage, he was going to succeed at last. For three months he had been enveloping her in the irresistible net of his love. He was seducing, captivating, conquering her. He had made himself loved by her, as he knew how to make himself loved. He had captured her childish soul without difficulty." (434)

5. Martin met a prostitute: “A girl under an umbrella […]” After they entered a dark taxicab: “She covered her face with her hands, giggling”. And before they began their transaction, Martin “[…] gazed lovingly at her bare, childish shoulders and blond bob […]” (55) Nabokov doesn’t reveal the prostitute’s age, but the fact that she was referred to as a “girl”, she “giggled” and had “childish shoulders” is revealing.

6. During the civil war, in Southern Russia, Irina, then a quiet, plump, normal though melancholy girl of fourteen, was on a train with her mother: they had had to be content with a bench in a freight car crammed with all sorts of riffraff, and during the long journey two rowdies, ignoring the protests of some of their pals, palpated, pinched, and tickled the child, saying monstrous obscenities to her. Mrs. Pavlov, wearing the smile of helpless horror, and doing her best to protect her, kept repeating, “Never mind, Irochka, never mind—oh please leave the child alone, you should be ashamed of yourselves—never mind, Irochka——” (149-150)

7. After Martin checked his bag and purchased a ticket for the evening train, he got a seat in the station’s café where he ate fried eggs and read a “vicious review of Bubnnov’s lastest book Caravella.” After he ate and lit a cigarette, he noticed “[a] young girl at the nearest table [who] sat writing, and wiping her tears. She looked at him for an instant with dim wet eyes, pressing her pencil against her lips, and, having found the word she sought, scribbled again, holding her pencil the way children do […] He paid for his meal and, planning to follow her, began waiting for her to get up […] She remained sitting for a long time while somewhere beyond the windowpanes trains were leaving, and Martin, who had to get to the Latvian consulate before closing time, decided to give her just five minutes more, and go. The five minutes passed. “All I would do would be to ask her to meet me for a drink in the afternoon—only that,” […] Another minute passed. “All right, forget it,” said Martin, and, throwing his raincoat over his shoulder in the English manner, made for the exit.

8. While seated in a leather armchair in a hotel’s lobby, Martin noticed “two mulatto girls with unusually thing legs”. Suddenly, Darwin, “with throaty ejaculations, slapped” Martin on the shoulder. “You scoundrel,” mumbled Martin happily, “you scoundrel, I’ve been looking for you since morning.” Martin and Darwin didn’t discuss the girls because they “[…] felt embarrassed and could not find a subject of conversation; [but] they kept poking each other, grinning and rumbling.” (197) 


Louys, Pierre. The Songs of Bilitis. Translated by Alvah C Bessie, Dover, 2010. 
Maupassant, Guy de. Bel Ami & Une Vie. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2015. 
Nabokov, Vladimir. Glory. Translated by Dmitri Nabokov, McGraw-Hill, 1971.