Friday, April 02, 2004

I've been following with some interest this allegation that Nabokov's Lolita was actually plagiarized from a trashy 1916 German novella by Heinz von Eschwege, later to become a Nazi.

Lovers of the novel -- by which I mean daily readers and posters (like me) to the NABOKV-L listserv -- are in two camps over the news.

One: not possible. Although the tri-lingual genius lived in Berlin, he likely would not have had an opportunity to see the book and couldn't have read it if he had.

Two: maybe, but so what. It wouldn't be the first time a great writer appropriated a trashy plot and gave it his own magic; look at Shakespeare.

Today's listserv brings an interesting note from Maurice Couturier, leading French authority on Nabokov and editor of the Pleiade edition of his novels. According to Couturier, the name Lolita did not originate with von Eschwege; rather, there were "a number of French books published before Lolita which contained the name of that famous nymphet in their titles (though no doubt Nabokov never read them), like Isidore Gès's En villégiature. Lolita published in 1894, René Riche's La Chanson de Lolita published in 1920 which obviously refers to Pierre Louÿs's Chanson de Bilitis (1894) which itself celebrated nymphets...

"Two years before the novel came out in France, Chriss Frager published a novel entitled Cette saloperie de Lolita (1953), and since then the name has resurfaced in countless works of doubtful literary value like Julien Roussillon's Les viols de Lila ou Lolita (1980), Michel Brice's La Lolita du TGV (1992), Orsalina's Lolita Latex (1992) and even in the title of a book for children, Lolita la tortue by Elizabeth Schlossberg (1995). In French "literature", the name seems to have been applied to two kinds of characters: highly perverse prostitutes or saucy little girls.

"Has the name cropped up as much in other literatures, the Spanish one included? I wonder. Let us not forget that Humbert was originally a French speaker!"

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