Nabokovs Russian Lolita

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American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Slavic and East European Journal. American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages Nabokov's Russian Lolita Author(s): George M. Cummins Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 354-365 Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages Stable URL: Accessed: 07-04-2015 22:59 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] This content downloaded from on Tue, 07 Apr 2015 22:59:43 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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Transcript of Nabokovs Russian Lolita

  • American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Slavic and East European Journal.

    American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

    Nabokov's Russian Lolita Author(s): George M. Cummins Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 354-365Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European LanguagesStable URL: 07-04-2015 22:59 UTC

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

    JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of contentin a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

    This content downloaded from on Tue, 07 Apr 2015 22:59:43 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    George M. Cummins, Tulane University

    Vladimir Nabokov tells us in the postscript to the 1967 Phaedra edition of his Russian Lolita that he wanted his favorite American novel to be "cor- rectly translated into [his] native tongue."' If Lolita is a novel about "the American language confronting the foreign sensibility," as Irwin Weil sug- gests, then it is characteristic of Nabokov in his obsession with coreferential linguistic vision that he should turn his book into the abandoned literary idiom of an ever-present personal past.2 In the gloomy postscript to the Russian Lolita Nabokov tells us that the opulent garden of his literary past (the Russian of his Russian books) is dug out, burnt out, and gone-never to flower again. The key to his "marvelous Russian tongue" is now more like a "lock-pick" (296). "I am proud of only one thing," he continues, "with an iron hand I have restrained the demons of omission and interpola- tion" (299). In this sense the work has a strange kinship with the author's Eugene Onegin, that indefatigably clumsy, "literal" translation of Pu'kin's masterpiece. In both, the translator gives us a reading of a great classic of literature, a literal copy "rendering, as closely as the associative and syn- tactical capability of another language allows, the exact contextual meaning of the original . . and achieving some semblance of . . . construction, retain[ing] some vestige of rhythm."3 Unlike the many Englished versions of Nabokov novels and stories published over the years by McGraw-Hill- very readable, salable, and quite a different sort of translation-Eugene Onegin and the Russian Lolita are paraphrastic indices to the originals. In these works Nabokov acts as our intercessor and advocate with an inimitable prototype.

    The parallel stops here, however, since the "scientific passion" of the writer's search for contextually exact equivalents in Onegin is not fully matched in his Russianized Lolita. While Onegin has a commentary which is the true substance of the work, the new Lolita has exegesis right in the body of the text. The reader is coached in English poetry, taught the mechanics of the Bronx cheer (36) and hopscotch (12). He is robbed of much of Humbert Humbert's French; he is even "cued" to Quilty. There are numerous omissions and interpolations, albeit none of any structural

    354 SEEJ, Vol. 21, No. 3 (1977)

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 355

    importance. There are some unexplained willful distortions.4 But more important, the interlingual foundations of the original Lolita are the his- torical product of Nabokov's movement from Russian to English as creative medium. The Russian Lolita seems a backtracking inversion, an impossible completion of a circle; in a sense, a profane act of dismemberment which denudes Lolita of her fabulous Englished Russian.5

    In the Russian Lolita Nabokov sets himself the task of recreating in Russian Humbert's stylized, Americanized, francophile mannerisms-a con- juror's trick of high order, since Russian, for Nabokov, was never a unilin- gual phenomenon, alloyed as it was for him by French and English. As a young Russian writer in England in the early twenties, Nabokov found that "actually it was Cambridge that supplied not only the casual frame, but also the very color and inner rhythms for [his] very special Russian thoughts" (Speak, Memory, 266). At the outset of his Russian career Nabokov thought of himself as a "fabulous exotic being in an English foot- baller's disguise, composing verse in a tongue nobody understood about a remote country nobody knew" (Speak, Memory, 268). In fact the Russian Lolita is squarely in the tradition of the autobiography, that "re-Englishing of a Russian version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place" (12). In the new Lolita the mature Russian- American-Swiss novelist "creates" Russian as he had created English and (in Pale Fire) Zemblan. Nabokov reminds us throughout his oeuvre that to translate a word is to carry it across the magical boundaries of linguistic codes into new sets of ready-made contexts. There is a special joy in the comparison of sets of associations in time, memory, and language. To criticize the Russian Lolita as "clumsy" is to miss the chance to experience the freshly reimagined linguistic code of Lolita, and with it the encoding of an older message in the shadowed image of its former life.6

    Certain interconnected images of high metaphorical significance to Lolita have independent and natural Russian associations important to the American work. It will be shown here that very often departures from "literal" equivalents for these clusters of images are in fact poetic deviations which mimic the original while forming new Russian interrelationships. English-Russian correspondences of these verbal images will be studied in context, and some of the Russian associative values will be explored.

    The heroine's name, Dolores Haze (Dolores Gejz), joining Latin sorrow (doloroso) and a German bunny (der Hase), as Nabokov has stated, also stands for the mirage (haze) that is a nymphet for a nympho- lept.7 The idea of unfocused vision, wrongly intuited knowledge, "solip- sized" perception, or of a mist blocking the viewer and the viewed, the knower and the knowable, is a central theme in all of Nabokov's work. Hermann in Otlajanie (Despair) is certain Felix is his physical double;

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  • 356 Slavic and East European Journal

    when the "truth" is revealed he can escape his madness only by turning his book into a motion picture. But Humbert Humbert's spiritual journey leads him to a personal triumph over solipsism and to a mature love of Lolita when the illusion of her "nymphancy" is gone. In Speak, Memory Nabokov says: "When one is wide awake . . . on the highest terrace of consciousness . . . mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction." (50.) The haze-mist complex is a subtle metaphor for the perceiving consciousness and its perceived environment taken together.8

    This image is represented by a series of word-families in the Russian Lolita, the most important of which is the complex built on dym 'smoke.' Nabokov wants the reader to remember the opalescent quality of smoke: minute particles reflect more strongly short wavelengths of light and trans- mit more strongly long wavelengths. Against a dark background smoke may appear bluish, since more light is reflected than transmitted. Against a light background, smoke is brownish or reddish. One recalls Quilty's changing red and gray cars during his chase after Lolita, as well as the Humberts' blue sedan, and Lolita's auburn and russet hair. The very fre- quent use of the dym family helps make the Russian Lolita (and Lolita herself) a rainbow of chromatic and achromatic hues. The most important derivation is dymka, 'mist, haze; shroud or screen, smoke-like shroud; a light, transparent garment.' This is one of the extraordinary number of suffixal denominals in the Russian Lolita (especially nouns in -ka/-ec/-ok/ -ik/-,ik), some of them true diminutives with emotional connotations.9 Humbert Humbert, his alter ego Quilty, and Lolita (and her tombal double, Charlotte, Humbert's poor dead wife) are all associated with this word. Humbert recalls Charlotte "in a blue mist"-v sinevatoj dymke 'in a bluish mist' (277; 255). Lolita is idealized in "October's orchard-haze"-v zolotoj dymke 'in a golden mist' (188; 168).10 A metonym for Lolita is "dimpled dimness"-dymka s jamockoj 'haze with a dimple' (133; 117). Quilty's car is a "grayness"--seraja dymka (237; 216). The verbs dymit' 'give off smoke,' dymit'sja 'give off smoke, rise in puffs (as a fog)' are less frequent, but dymcatyj 'ash-gray, smoke-colored' is very common in the text, linking in the mind of the viewer the idea of visual perception to that of the block- ing or screening agent (dymka). This word is perhaps the most common epithet for Lolita: "dolorous and hazy darling"-dymbato-rozovoj dolor- ozovol golubki 'smoke-pink dolor-rosy darling' (55; 42); "dim and adora- ble regions"--dymtataja obvoro'itel'naja oblast' 'smokey, enchanting re- gions' (286; 264); "blurred beauty"-dym ataja prelest' 'smokey charm' (272; 251); "vaporous eyes"-dymlatyx glaz (205; 185); "pale eyes"-

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 357

    dymiatye glaza (134; 174). There is here a deliberate levelling of shades: pale, smokey, hazy, gray, blurred, mauve, vaporous, and dim (which is linked to the Russian by phonetic similarity). This semantic nest compen- sates for the occlusion in the meaningless Russian surname Gejz, which is nonetheless exploited by the translator in GejzoaZka 'Lo' and Gejzixa 'the Haze woman' throughout, and in the isolated opportunity in "baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mud-symbols of my passion"-maljutki-gejzery, bul'kajufcie raduinye grjazi (simvoly moej strasti) (160; 141).

    A secondary correspondence is found in the root of marevo 'mirage, fog, looming, haze,' related to mret' 'be seen faintly in the distance, be perceived through a fog,' mara 'fog, vision, ghost,' and, etymologically, manit' 'lure.' This family has numerous friendly resonances, though it appears infrequently: "platinum haze"-v platinovom mareve (154; 135); "diamond glow through the mist"-almaznoe mrejanie ognej 'diamond glimmering of fires' (119; 103). The words mut' 'lees, haze or fog, mental fog, troubled water' and mutnyj 'cloudy, turbid' are also to be found: "burnished mist"-iz-za mrejuXsJej muti 'from behind the glimmering dank- ness' (60; 47). In this example two important secondary roots are con- joined, with just the faintest touch of coloration. Also found are t'ma 'dark- ness,' tuman 'fog,' znoj 'intense heat,' and mgla, which can mean 'mist' or 'darkness' and can be translated by a near-anagram of equal beauty, "gloam." For "watery twilight" (Humbert is dreaming of drowning big Charlotte in order to live forever with her nymphet daughter) the Russian Lolita has Eudno poddelannuju podvodnuju mglu 'marvelously simulated underwater darkness' (89; 75).

    An important corollary to "mist" as a blurred image is the "simula- crum" theme, literally podobie in Russian, translated in the Russian Lolita as libina 'mask, false appearance' (177; 157), from lico 'face.' But licina is also 'lock-plate' (recalling Nabokov's sad lock-pick to the door of the Rus- sian language), and lieinka is 'larva,' containing the idea of the Nymphid (or nymphet) facing metamorphosis.

    In "dim and adorable regions"-dymcataja obvorozitel'naja oblast' the mist theme joins that of the magic of the artist's special reality. It is the perilous magic of nymphets that makes Humbert what he is: gibel'noe o$arovanie nimfetok 'ruinous enchantment of nymphets' (136; 119). The fey and fatal spirit of fleeting boyish beauty is a potent, life-destroying witchcraft combining crowned bliss and hellfire."1 The most important root here is tar- as in cary 'magic, charms, spells,' Carodej 'magician, possessor of the evil eye,' Earovat' 'hex, enchant,' odarovat' 'charm, delight,' razonarovat' 'disenchant, disillusion,' zavarovat' 'enchant.' The "Enchanted Hunters," the name of the inn in Briceland where Lolita and Humbert first make love, and also the name of Quilty's fatal playlet which was to star Lolita, is regu-

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  • 358 Slavic and East European Journal

    larly ZaZarovannye Oxotniki (103). The Russian derivation exactly paral- lels English "entrance" or "enchant"; its Lithuanian congener keriti denotes specifically visual enchantment (by the evil eye). There is also the tempting possibility that the old Indo-European root in cary is related to Latin carmen.12 But to this central equivalence the Russian Lolita adjoins an array of secondary associations. Three independent root-families occur alongside the frequent car-: volxv 'magician,' vollebstvo 'magic'; kudesnik 'magician,' kudit' 'make magic'; vorog 'enemy, devil,' vorovit' 'prophesy,' obvorofit' 'bewitch,' obvorofitel'nyj 'devilishly enchanting,' zavorofit' 'cast a spell (on).' Also used are koldovstvo 'sorcery,' and navoidenie/navavdenie 'mirage, witchcraft, delusion; incantation.' These roots are equivalents for the English "spell," "enchantment," "fascination" and the like: "wild fasci- nation"-s hem-to dikim v zavorozennom vzore 'with something wild in the enchanted gaze' (290; 268); "as if there were some spell cast on that inter- space"-vesel'cak &arodej tocno zavorozil interval 'as though a merry magi- cian had cast a spell on the interval' (221; 200); "fey child"-zavorozennoj devocki 'enchanted girl' (127; 111). For "subconscious obsession" the Russian Lolita has podsoznatel'nogo navoidenija (169; 150), which con- joins the two themes "mist/mirage" and "magic."

    Misted enchantment is Humbert's prison. On the curves of the Hege- lian spiral of Nabokov's own life (as suggested in Speak, Memory), its "thetic" form is lust, its "antithetic" form is love, and its synthesis is Lolita itself. In numerous cases passion is semantically interwoven with magic, in particular in the word voidelenie, a Slavonicism for '(sexual) desire,' chosen for its auditory similarity to navazdenie. In the phrase "dimness of thought, darkness of passion"-v tumane mevtanij, v temnote nava1denija 'in the fog of dreams, in the darkness of bewitchment' (71; 58) "mist" (here tuman for the rhythm) is linked with the lust of enchantment. Muddied mist and lust appear in "sick with longing"-menja mutilo ot voidelenija (cf. mut' 'lees') (48; 35). Secondary equivalents include meZta 'dream' (14), which is also used for "lust" in the punning "mist and mast"-mecta i macta 'dream and mast' (20; 10), poxot' 'lechery, lustful desire,' slado- strastie 'sensualism.' Equivalents show the translator working very hard to recreate in Russian the phonetic and semantic associations of the original. For "visions of venery" the Russian has obrazy ljubostrastija, with an opu- lent Slavonicism for the learned English word (73; 59); "writhing of desire" becomes klokotanie poxoti 'rattlings of lust' (142; 125), with sound play on front vs. back obstruents (k-k-t-n-p-x-t). For "shimmering and swimming with lust in my mirror" the Russian Lolita has rasplyvalsja i trepetal ot sladostrastija (219; 199) 'dissolved and shuddered from sensualism.' This is one of the many Dostoevskian moments in Lolita and indeed in Nabo- kov's work as a whole: Quilty, plotting Lolita's escape from Humbert, is

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 359

    about to have a hurried conversation with Lolita at a gas station, while her stepfather struggles with his "solipsized" hallucinations. The translation here refers to the sladostrastniki of Brat'ja Karamazovy. The reader is invited to recall a parallel moment in Part One, when Humbert, riding the crest of his own conspiracy to marry Charlotte and fondle Lolita, feels a "Dostoevskian grin dawning ... like a distant and terrible sun"-usmesecka iz Dostoevskogo brezzit kak dalekaja i uvasnaja zarja (72; 58). The sun breaks through the mist of lust at the gas station as well: "With a swishing sound a sunburst swept the highway" (220).13

    Misty-eyed Humbert becomes Humbert the ape, the spider, and the octopus in his own mind and in the image of his parodic double, Clare ,Quilty. As commentators of Lolita have often noted, Quilty (guilty of killing Quilty!) is in a sense the evil "self" in Humbert. He is Lo's conniving abductor, Humbert's fellow "pervert" and nympholept, poete manqud, play- wright, journalist, and pornographer. After Lolita's not unexpected disap- pearance, distraught Humbert spends years trying to track down the fellow- sufferer who took her from him. In the end, a pregnant, doomed Lolita must tell Humbert who his monster-double really is. Clues to his identity are sprinkled throughout the text by Nabokov via his pathetic mouthpiece, Humbert the memoirist. And he had a precursor-Hermann of Despair who was also obsessed with a monstrous second self. The double is the masked private self of Humbert, who frequently calls himself a "monster" and knows full well he is a verbal clown. Quilty the buffoon calls Humbert an ape (skotina 'brute'), and both men know that "H(umber)t" recalls French ombre, a card game and a shadow.14 The self-styled "monster" characterization turns horror and pain into metaphor for Humbert. Nabo- kov says that the "first thought" of Lolita came to him from the newspaper report of a drawing charcoaled by an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, showing the bars of the poor creature's cage.

    In the Russian Lolita the doubled paradox of Humbert's "beastly and beautiful" existence is greatly enhanced by the development of the thematic root-family Cud- 'wonder,' as in the nicely wrought phrase 'udoviscnoe i Zudesnoe 'monstrous and marvelous' (137; 120). Russian derivations include eudit' 'do peculiar things, act the fool, ape,' c'udit'sja 'seem, appear,' cudesit' 'act peculiarly,' 'udo 'miracle, marvel, wonder,' vudovilve 'monster, prodigy.' The family is quite appropriate for sad, glad Humbert the nympho- lept; it is linked etymologically with kudesnik 'magician' (and thus with the enchantment theme) and with the perceptual notion inherent in the "mist" theme in vut'e 'sense, scent, flair, intuition.' Folklore cliches udo-judo bogatyr' 'wondrous hero,' cudo-judo ryba-kit 'wondrous whale-fish' are implicitly parodic Humbertian metaphors. Bulgarian juda 'nymph, fairy' may be related to Eudo--but even if it is not, the rhyme-words make a very

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  • 360 Slavic and East European Journal

    felicitous synchrony (Vasmer suggests that juda may derive from the name of Judas Iscariot, which has fitting farcical associations).15 The 'ud- nest combines miraculous monsters, madness and sorcery, strange beauty and a hidden nymphet: "between beauty and beast"-me'du 'udom i 'udoviscem 'between wonder and monster' (61; 48); "bully-bag" (Quilty at pool- side)- udoviscnaja mosvna 'monstrous pouch' (239; 218). Otherequiva- lents include zver' 'beast,' zverek 'little beast,' zverenys 'young of a beast' (referring to Lolita), zverinyj 'beastly.' Humbert's "ape ear" is zverinym cut'em, conjoining two families.

    Metonymic attributes of "beastliness" are bursting bubbles (as in Quilty's bully-bag). Humbert's heart, too, "bursts" with lust and love for Lolita: "between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body" becomes mevdu moim rvulcimsja zverem i krasotoj etogo zybkogo tela (61; 48). The idea of murdering Charlotte "bubbles" in his brain; his beast's heart "bursts" with pleasure and pain. Sunbursts often signal narra- tive shifts or thematic echoes: a sudden "burst of greenery" reveals Lolita to Humbert, whom he then transforms into his resurrected girl-child by the sea, his child love of the Riviera. Metaphorical thunderclouds burst for Humbert when his oncle d'Amerique dies, leaving him a small annual income. Humbert's passion is a "bubble of paradise"; Quilty "dies" and then dies again on the stairwell, with a child-like purple bubble of blood on his lips. Any nympholept carries about him a "bubble of hot poison" in his loins. For "bubble" the Russian Lolita uses puzyr' 'bag, sac, gland; bubble' and its diminutive puzyrek. A puzyr' can be a fat little boy; puskat' puzyri 'release bubbles' is to get into trouble. Burstings are most often vspyvki, 'explosions,' a word related to pyxtet' 'puff, pant,' pyxat' 'burn, puff, exude warmth,' and more distantly, pylat' 'flame.' Another root appears in the translation of "Sunburst," a playlet listed in Who's Who in the Limelight: Prorvavseesja solnce 'the sun which has broken through,' with phallic over- tones (33; 22). But "flash," "outburst," "sunburst," "explosion," and other variations are consistently rendered by vspyska (see 78, 85, 88).

    The root pyx- 'explode, expand, burn (in gas, or, by extension, pride- fully)' is linked etymologically to pux- 'to flower, be covered with down, fluff up.' The Slavic lexicon more perfectly reflects the bursting beast in little Lolita: her flowering pubescence (perfect bliss marred by gross development) is followed by blooming adulthood, the horror of the nymph- olept. The learned English "pubescent" is stylistically marked, while deriva- tions of pux- 'flower' and pyx- 'explode' are stylistically equivalent. Lolita may be sketched metonymically as gray-eyed (with dymcatye glaza), with auburn-and-russet hair "with the swirls in the front and the curls in the back," and with a perfect prepubescent -figure. Russian equivalents for the "flower" nest are pux 'down,' puxovik 'feather bed,' pulok 'fluff,' pulistyj

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 361

    'downy,' opu'it'sja 'become covered with down, fill with feathers.' Thus "pubescent girls" are edva opulivsiesja devo'ki (157; 138). But in places "pubes" may in fact become flowers (cvety) in a "pubescent park"-v zacvetajuscem parke 'in (my) flowering park' (23; 12). Down is linked to color in "revelation of axillary russet"-oranievyj pulok u nee podmyvkoj 'orange down at her underarm' (22; 11). The root is very naturally inter- woven with pyx- when the latter is applied to Lolita: "enmeshed my glowing darling in this weave of ethereal caresses"-oputal moju zarom pysuscuju dusen'ku etoj set'ju besplotnyx lasok (47; 35). While vspyvka 'explosion' is associated with Humbert and Quilty, pux 'flower; glow, warmth' is an emblem of Lolita herself.

    Nabokov's treatment of color-especially the shades of red so crucial to Lolita-is scrupulously exact, as one might expect from this pronounce- ment: "For me, the shades, or rather colors, of, say, a fox, a ruby, a carrot, a pink rose, a dark cherry, a flushed cheek are as different as blue is from green or the royal purple of blood (French pourpre) from the English sense of violet blue.'6 The artist's perception of color is a major theme in Nabo- kov's novels: in Dar (The Gift) Fedor Godunov-i(erdyncev explains his audition colore e, Victor Wind in Pnin seeks to capture the colors of shadows. Even little Luzhin in Zaseita Luvina (The Defense) awakens on the morning of his introduction to the horror and harmony of chess to blocks of undulating hues: "an enormous red-blue-white flag swelled elas- tically, the sky showing through it in three different tints: mauve, indigo and pale blue." 17 Thematic achromatism in the Russian Lolita is in fact systematically neutralized to dym'atyj 'ash-gray.' Elsewhere Russian equiv- alents of colors in the novel are very precise. For "auburn and russet" the text has rusoj, rozovato-ryvej 'light brown/blond, rosy red' (188; 168). For "rosy rocks" it has alejus6ie skaly 'rocks glowing red' (18; 8); "rufous mountain" is jarko-ryvaja gora (158; 140); "sepia palm" is bledno-buruju ladon' 'pale brown palm (121; 105). The Latinate substratum of English has no correlate in Slavic; for "russet," "rubious," "plumbaceous" and the like Nabokov has precise contextual correspondences: "rubious" is visnevym 'cherry-colored' (119; 104); "plumbaceous umbrae" comes out as svincovye teni (shadows under Lolita's eyes) (113; 98).18 Note that the hues are faithfully translated, but the Latinate stylization of the English is lost.

    Reds shade into browns, and here the Russian context becomes richer than the English: "brown, warm, drowsy, drugged"-posmuglevvuju, tepluju, sonnuju, odurmanennuju" '(sun)-darkened.. .' (81; 67); "brown and pink, fleshed and fouled"-rumjanoj i zagoreloj, vozbuidennoj i oskvernennoj 'blush-red and tanned . . .' (128; 112); "brown flower" (metaphorically applied to Lolita) -korinevyj rozan 'acorn-brown rose' (153; 134); "brown shoulder"-smuglom pleEe 'swarthy shoulder' (158;

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  • 362 Slavic and East European Journal

    139); "honey-brown" (Lolita's body)-prjanihno-koriUnevoe telo 'honey- cake/gingerbread-brown body' (127; 111).

    The Russian correspondences for "purple" form a quiet deviation from the original. Purple is the color of Humbert's royal robes, worn for a spe- cial crowned bliss (Quilty owns a bathrobe just like Humbert's). Humbert's car is blue, and Quilty has a red one, together making royal purple (Russian purpur, bagrec). Humbert's emblematic color is (H)umber(t), a reddish brown very close to Lolita's "russet." In the punning "umber and black Humberland" the Russian has lilovuju i ernuju Gumbriju 'lilac (or violet) and black Gumbria' (168; 149), with 'lilac' for "umber." This sort of substitution is regular throughout the text, as Nabokov eliminates "umber" and "(royal) purple" and counterposes a violet blue for Humbert/Quilty to Lolita's "auburn and russet." Humbert's robe is a fioletovyj xalat 'violet robe' (86; 72), losing thereby its generalized, symbolic purple (as well as its brightness) while gaining a little of the hue of "glans mauve"-lilovaja golovka 'lilac little head' (109; 94). Elsewhere the color blackens, as in "violet blue" (the color of Humbert's pills, bought to keep Lolita asleep in the motel room while he fondles her)-lilovato-sinimi patron'ikami 'lilac/ violet-blue cartridges' (96; 82). The "dark purple" band around the middle of the pills is temno-fioletovyj 'dark violet' (96; 82). The opposing chroma- tisms-purple vs. brown (nympholept vs. nymphet)-are another com- pensatory move by the translator, paralleling the introduction of dym- for "haze," and necessary for the important reason that, again, "Humbert" has no secondary resonances in Russian. The spectrum in the Russian Lolita illuminates the world for Humbert through the browns of Lolita's body, the auburn and russet of her hair, and her "smokey" eyes (dim dymZ'atost')- the color metaphors for Lolita are built on just this string of metonyms. Thus Lolita is painted in shadow and in full chromaticity (pale ash vs. red); Quilty and Humbert dwell in the ends of the spectrum (purplish and reddish blues).

    The discussion here has been directed toward a very narrow set of Russian equivalents for thematic developments in Lolita. This cluster is of mixed metonymical and metaphorical origin: colors are metonyms which take on symbolic (metaphorical) significance, or which become central emblems for Lolita, Humbert, and Quilty. Burstings, pubescence, and lust are important metonyms, and magic and monsters are important metaphors. In a sense the crowning "haze" is a complex metaphor representing Hum- bert and his world, his perception of his world and of himself. These themes have been shown to echo and imply one another and to culminate in the haze of Lolita's eyes and Humbert's mind. In each case Nabokov has chosen a fundamental Russian equivalent in order to exploit an intrinsically

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 363

    Russian development from root-meaning to extended meaning (as in dym, dymka, dymc5atyj) and to specify and develop the original generality. Yet in no case are the Russian equivalents limited to single correspondences. Each "dominant" has a rich series of secondary transformations.


    1 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Phaedra Publishers, 1967), 298. The Russian version includes the afterword to the 1958 Putnam edition ("On a Book Entitled Lolita"), a "Postscript to the Russian Edition," and a five-page "Glossary of Foreign Terms." Nabokov's disappointment (see "Postscript") is echoed in a report by Elleanda Proffer, "Nabokov's Russian Readers," in Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations and Tributes, ed. Alfred Appel, Jr. and Charles Newman (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1970), 253-60.

    2 Irwin Weil discusses the problem of multireferential codes in translation in "Odyssey of a Translator," in Nabokov: Criticism, 263-83; see 272 for remarks on Lolita. In the same collection, George Steiner, "Extraterritorial," 119-27, discusses the literary provenance of Nabokov's late English style. Similar prob- lems in Eugene Onegin are studied by Clarence Brown, "Nabokov's Pushkin and Nabokov's Nabokov," in Nabokov: The Man and His Work, ed. L. S. Dembo (Madison, Wis.: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 195-208.

    3 Quoted in Brown, 198. Nabokov's remarks about the Onegin translation can be found in Strong Opinions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973), 230-66. In his Eugene Onegin, rev. ed. (Bollingen Series LXII; Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), Nabokov has made an even more "literal" translation.

    4 A few examples suffice to show what Nabokov has done. "I was a child and she was a child" is marked as drawn from Poe in an insert: vse Edgarovyj peregar (9). Charlotte's phrase "worse than a woman you kept" is omitted (87). The episode with the police car stopping Humbert's blue sedan during a spat with Lolita is omitted (154). The reference to Goethe's "Erlkinig" is fully explained for the convenience of the Russian reader (221). This is characteristic of Nabo- kov's textual aids to subtext and foreign allusion. Both Browning and Stevenson and their works are fully identified (188). Freud is carefully etched (111).

    5 For Nabokov's comments on Hegelian rhythms in his life and art, see Speak, Memory, rev. ed. (New York, 1966), Chapter Fourteen. Critical remarks on the subject are contained in Carol T. Williams, "Nabokov's Dialectical Structure," in Nabokov: The Man and His Work, 165-82.

    6 D. Barton Johnson, "Synesthesia, Polychromatism, and Nabokov," in A Book of Things About Vladimir Nabokov, ed. Carl R. Proffer (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1974), 84-103, analyzes the Russian audition coloree of Fedor in Dar and that of Nabokov himself in Speak, Memory. He shows that the Russian letter/ sound correspondences to the prismatic colors of the rainbow are mirrored (dis- played in reverse order) by the English correspondences, as in primary and secondary rainbows. The act of turning Lolita into Russian is, for Nabokov, a "consciously elaborated symbol of the creative process" (95).

    7 See Alfred Appel, The Annotated Lolita (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970), 330. The literature on Lolita is extensive; a checklist of the most important works

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  • 364 Slavic and East European Journal

    may be found in L. L. Lee, Vladimir Nabokov (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1976), 161-65. Appel's annotations and in particular his essay "Lolita: The Springboard of Parody," in Nabokov: The Man and His Work, 106-43, remain among the most important.

    8 See Williams, in Nabokov: The Man and His Work, 182, on "webs of sense" spanning two equipoised worlds. It is noteworthy that "haze" as a metaphor for vision as psychological perception appears in the second chapter of King, Queen, Knave (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968). Here Franz, awakening in the "upper level of a dream" which turns out to be "reality," steps on his eyeglasses, turning Berlin into a blur of colors. To assure himself of his own reality he touches his collar stud, "to him the only proof of his existence." Deprived of vision and perceptual orientation, he meets Martha and Dreyer in an ontological "mist." The same metaphor appears in Nabokov's first American novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (New York: New Directions, 1941): "The maddening feel- ing that the right words, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the misty distance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamour- ing for them on this side of the abyss" (84).

    9 Humbert's diary is his dnevni'ek, and the blue sedan in which Humbert and Lolita tour America is called sedancik. Mary Lore calls Quilty "your brother"- va' bratec, and Humbert calls Charlotte "the woman"-vdovu'ka 'little widow.' Nabokov uses the -ok/-ik/-Eik/-ce denominal (the true diminutive, with pejora- tive or "affectionate" connotation, as well as that of modish politeness) to do all sorts of work in the Russian Lolita, including the expression of "subtle, half- uttered thoughts, the poetry of mind, flash-like echoes of the most abstract notions, and the swarming of monosyllabic epithets" (Russian Lolita, 296). The profusion of Russian formants with their wealth of contextual nuances is a weapon of a different cast from that of English lexical epithets like "little," "cute," "cozy." Yet they must serve to convey Lolita's rapid jargon as well as Humbert's hoarse passion and comic irony: "drip" is dripcik, "goon" is tipvik, and "chum" (Humbert's gun, which he will use to kill Quilty) is druvok. The -ka formant in particular is a semantic syncretism: snevinka, spinka, lody 'ka are not diminutives; nimfetka 'nymphet' was originally a diminutive, but is for Humbert a sub-species of little girl. Nominal formants of all varieties abound in the Russian Lolita: "big Haze and Little Haze" are Gejzixa i Gejzocka, "swell kid" is molodcina, the knees of a lover gamboling in the woods with his moll are kolenis6e, Miss Pratt is Pratsa, Gaston Godin, Humbert's chess partner, that "good man," is simpatjaga.

    10 For ease of reference the English citations are drawn from The Annotated Lolita, indexed in parentheses to the left of the corresponding page of the Russian Lolita.

    11 For a study of Nabokov's language see Peter Lubin, "Kickshaws and Motley," in Nabokov: Criticism, 187-208.

    12 See Max Vasmer, Russisches etymologisches W6rterbuch (Heidelberg: Winter, 1958), III, 304.

    13 The image of the mirror here is appropriately Dostoevskian, since Dvojnik- a novel Nabokov admires-served as a partial source for Ot5ajanie, itself an early study for Lolita, with its mannered, maniacal, and "solipsized" narrator. Nabokov had sketched a plot for Lolita in his last Russian novel, Dar. In the "Gogol" chapter of this work Zina Merc's crude and nympholeptic stepfather fantasizes about the Humbert household of Lolita (Part One): "Tut moano bez konca opisyvat'-soblazn, veZ'nuju pytoiku, zud, bezumnuju nadeidu. . . .uvstvuete

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  • Nabokov's Russian Lolita 365

    tragediju Dostoevskogo?" (Vladimir Nabokov [V. Sirin], Dar (New York: Izd. im. texova, 1952), 209-10). Dostoevskian parodies abound in Lolita. See The Annotated Lolita, 1xiv, and William Rowe, Nabokov's Deceptive World (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1971).

    14 See Appel, "Lolita: The Springboard of Parody," in Nabokov: The Man and His Work, 106--43, especially 130 and 142.

    15 See Vasmer, III, 468. 16 See The Annotated Lolita, 362. D. Barton Johnson, 99-103, noting that Nabokov's

    earliest memory is a synesthetic one, suggests that psychological synesthesia is the central mechanism in Nabokov's great power of recall.

    17 Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense, tr. Michael Scammell (New York: Capricorn Books, 1970), 43.

    18 It is interesting that Siegolev also sees the shadows under Lolita's eyes (see note 13 above), but, lacking Humbert's multilinguistic backgrounds and self-conscious pose, he sees only a nymphet who is blednen'kaja, legon'kaja, pod glazami sineva (Dar, 209). Humbert, like Leskov (see Dar, 83), has a Latin feeling of blueness.

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    Article Contentsp. 354p. 355p. 356p. 357p. 358p. 359p. 360p. 361p. 362p. 363p. 364p. 365

    Issue Table of ContentsSlavic and East European Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1977) pp. 307-450Front MatterDoes Russia Have a Tragic Epos? [pp. 307-317]A Defense of Sof'ja in Woe from Wit [pp. 318-331]Babel' as Colorist [pp. 332-343]Language and Style in Solenicyn's August 1914[pp. 344-353]Nabokov's Russian Lolita [pp. 354-365]Satirical Devices in Marin Dri's Play The Miser[pp. 366-377]On the Derivational Pattern of the Bulgarian Verb [pp. 378-384]Sourcebooks in Russian Culture: A Review Article [pp. 385-394]ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 395-396]Review: untitled [pp. 396-398]Review: untitled [pp. 398-399]Review: untitled [pp. 399-401]Review: untitled [pp. 401-402]Review: untitled [pp. 402-403]Review: untitled [pp. 403-404]Review: untitled [pp. 404-406]Review: untitled [pp. 406-408]Review: untitled [pp. 408-409]Review: untitled [pp. 409-410]Review: untitled [pp. 410-411]Review: untitled [pp. 412-413]Review: untitled [pp. 413-415]Review: untitled [pp. 415-417]Review: untitled [pp. 417-418]Review: untitled [pp. 419-421]Review: untitled [pp. 421-422]Review: untitled [pp. 423]Review: untitled [pp. 423-426]Review: untitled [pp. 427-429]Review: untitled [pp. 429-431]Review: untitled [pp. 431-433]Review: untitled [pp. 433-434]Review: untitled [pp. 434-436]Review: untitled [pp. 436-438]Review: untitled [pp. 438-440]Review: untitled [pp. 440-441]Books Received [pp. 442-444]

    News and Notes [pp. 445-450]Back Matter