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Seraphim Yefimov
Seraphim Yefimov

Real Rape Lolita ^NEW^

Sarah Weinman, an editor and writer of true crime stories, doubles up on her literary sleuthing in The Real Lolita, investigating the 1948 kidnapping and rape of 11-year-old Sally Horner by a convicted pedophile.

Real Rape Lolita

So, too, does society's tendency to blame rape victims. Weinman reports that Sally suffered taunts and stigma after returning home and flags her mother's tone-deaf statement: "Whatever she has done, I can forgive her." Weinman appreciatively cites Véra Nabokov's diary entry expressing the wish that "somebody would notice the tender description of the child's helplessness ... and her heartrending courage."

Deeply depressed, Humbert unexpectedly receives a letter from a 17-year-old Dolores, telling him that she is married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. Humbert, armed with a pistol, tracks down her address against her wishes. At Dolores' request, he pretends to be her estranged father and does not mention the details of their past relation to her husband, Richard. Dolores reveals to Humbert that Quilty took her from the hospital: she was in love with Quilty, but he rejected her when she refused to star in one of his pornographic films. Humbert claims to the reader that at this moment, he realized that he was in love with Dolores all along. Humbert implores her to leave with him, but she refuses. Accepting her decision, Humbert gives her the money she is owed from her inheritance. Humbert then goes to the drug-addled Quilty's mansion and shoots him several times.

Clegg sees the novel's non-disclosure of Lolita's feelings as directly linked to the fact that her real name is Dolores and only Humbert refers to her as Lolita.[21] Humbert also states he has effectively "solipsized" Lolita early in the novel.[22] Eric Lemay writes:

In 2003, Iranian expatriate Azar Nafisi published the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran about a covert women's reading group. In an NPR interview, Nafisi contrasts the sorrowful and seductive sides of Dolores/Lolita's character. She notes: "Because her name is not Lolita, her real name is Dolores which as you know in Latin means dolour, so her real name is associated with sorrow and with anguish and with innocence, while Lolita becomes a sort of light-headed, seductive, and airy name. The Lolita of our novel is both of these at the same time and in our culture here today we only associate it with one aspect of that little girl and the crassest interpretation of her." Following Nafisi's comments, the NPR interviewer, Madeleine Brand, lists as embodiments of the latter side of Lolita "the Long Island Lolita, Britney Spears, the Olsen twins, and Sue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita."[24]

For Nafisi, the essence of the novel is Humbert's solipsism and his erasure of Lolita's independent identity. She writes: "Lolita was given to us as Humbert's creature ... To reinvent her, Humbert must take from Lolita her own real history and replace it with his own ... Yet she does have a past. Despite Humbert's attempts to orphan Lolita by robbing her of her history, that past is still given to us in glimpses."[25]

One of the novel's early champions, Lionel Trilling, warned in 1958 of the moral difficulty in interpreting a book with so eloquent and so self-deceived a narrator: "we find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents ... we have been seduced into conniving in the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting."[26]

Many critics describe Humbert as a rapist, notably Azar Nafisi in her best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran,[47] though in a survey of critics David Larmour notes that other interpreters of the novel have been reluctant to use that term, despite its accuracy.[48] Near the end of the novel, Humbert admits to himself, as noted in the above plot synopsis, that he has committed statutory rape, which his actions were according to the law at the time of publishing. Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd denies that it was rape "in any ordinary sense", on the grounds that "it is she who suggests that they try out the naughty trick" which she has already learned at summer camp; however, consent laws for adults cannot be applied to children.[49] This perspective is vigorously disputed by Peter Rabinowitz in his essay "Lolita: Solipsized or Sodomized?"[50] In 2020, a podcast hosted by Jamie Loftus set out to examine the cultural legacy of the novel, and argued that depictions and adaptations have "twisted" Nabokov's original intention of condemning Humbert in Lolita.[51][52]

Humbert Humbert's double name recalls Poe's "William Wilson", a tale in which the main character is haunted by his doppelgänger, paralleling to the presence of Humbert's own doppelgänger, Clare Quilty. Humbert is not, however, his real name, but a chosen pseudonym. The theme of the doppelgänger also occurs in Nabokov's earlier novel, Despair.

Nabokov was fond of the works of Lewis Carroll, and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the "first Humbert Humbert".[60] Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin's relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel's comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin's life in Nabokov's book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the fictional Alaskan town of "Gray Star" while Chaplin's The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita's first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as "the silent ... but indefatigable Charlie." Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds's painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney's article notes many other parallels as well.[61]

In addition to the possible prototypes of Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Dolinin suggests[62] that the prototype of Lolita was 11-year-old Florence Horner, kidnapped in 1948 by 50-year-old mechanic Frank La Salle, who had caught her stealing a five-cent notebook. La Salle traveled with her over various states for 21 months and is believed to have raped her. He claimed that he was an FBI agent and threatened to "turn her in" for the theft and to send her to "a place for girls like you." The Horner case was not widely reported, but Dolinin notes various similarities in events and descriptions.

Sarah Weinman, the distinguished crime writer, has finally put together the true-life story of the real little girl who was kidnapped and raped - it's important not to resort to euphemisms here - and whose story was demonstrably in Nabokov's imagination when he wrote "Lolita." Her book is "The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping Of Sally Horner And The Novel That Scandalized The World." Sarah Weinman joins us from WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

SIMON: Sally Horner was 11 then 12 years old when she was kidnapped by a man who claimed he was an FBI agent who'd let her off from a shoplifting charge. He said his name was Frank La Salle. And it turned out he'd already termed for statutory rape. What did he have in mind? What was his scheme?

WEINMAN: Well, when he chanced upon Sally Horner - and she was at a Woolworths in Camden, N.J., essentially playing out a dare in order to join a girls club at school - he was two months removed from a prison sentence for the statutory rape of five girls between the ages of 12 and 14. So he caught her out. He said that she had to go away with him and tell her mother that he was the father of school friends, and they would go to the Jersey Shore for a week. So her mother Ella did agree. And she saw Sally off on the Camden bus. And Sally and La Salle went to Atlantic City and from there, commenced a 21-month cross-country nightmare that took her from Atlantic City to Baltimore to Dallas and, eventually, to San Jose, where in March, 1950, thanks to the enterprising machinations of a neighbor, she was ultimately rescued.

WEINMAN: I first read "Lolita" when I was 16, which I think is a little bit young. But it was a thrilling and disturbing read because it was the first time I really sensed that you could have an unreliable narrator, that you didn't have to sort of tell the truth in a narrative, that there could be something deeper and richer and more complicated going on. And so "Lolita" really thrilled and disturbed me. And so to understand that there was a real girl who was an inspiration for "Lolita," it made me ask the question, what did we know about Sally Horner? Had anyone reported it out? Were there relatives, family members, other people who might still be alive who knew her? I knew there was so much more that I could discover about the connections between what really happened to Sally Horner and the narrative of "Lolita" and also how Nabokov wrote about it and what he knew and when he knew about Sally Horner.

WEINMAN: Exactly. And just like Sally, Dolores didn't have very long to live, but she did escape both Humbert Humbert's clutches and the clutches of Clare Quilty and attempted to build some kind of, quote, "normal," unquote, life for herself. And that's a real victory. And so in the corresponding reality that Sally had, she did come home. She didn't have terribly long to live, but she tried to make as good a life for herself. And the fact that I could speak with her best friend, Carol Starts, later Carol Taylor, who told me how much of a formative influence Sally had in the mere year that they knew each other.


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