Nabokov, Vladimir


Nabokov, Vladimir
(1899–1977)
   Born in St. Petersburg, Nabokov grew up in pre-Revolutionary Russia. He took a degree in literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1922, and thereafter lived in France and Germany, where he wrote novels in Russian. Nabokov immigrated to the United States in 1948 and switched to writing fiction in English; he also accepted a teaching post as professor of Russian and European literature at Cornell University in upstate New York. His first novels in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) and Bend Sinister (1947) were inferior to his best Russian novels such as The Defense (1930).
   Despite his literary credentials, Nabokov had difficulty in finding a publisher for his novel Lolita, which he finished in 1954, because it dealt with a college teacher obsessed with a preteen girl. The manuscript was rejected by four U. S. publishers, none of whom he suspected read it to the end, as he mentions in the afterword which he wrote for the book. The novel was finally brought out in 1955 by the Olympia Press in Paris, which specialized in erotica. Thus Lolita joined the ranks of controversial works by James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence that were initially thought to be too explicit in dealing with sexual matters at the time that they were first visited upon the reading public.
   Richard Corliss, in his book about Kubrick’s film of the novel, cites Nabokov’s letter to fellow novelist Graham Greene, in which Nabokov comments on the controversy surrounding the book at the time: “My poor Lolita is having a rough time. The pity is that if I had made her a boy, . . . philistines might not have flinched. ” Still the novel found champions in literary circles when it was published in America and in Britain in the late 1950s. In fact, Greene stoked serious interest in the book when he gave it a rave review in the London Times. Over the years, Nabokov’s novel has been reexamined and recognized as a superb, elegantly written piece of fiction. When Kubrick acquired the rights to the novel, however, it was still something of a succès de scandale. In fact, when Kubrick undertook to film it, there was much speculation in the trade press as to how he would tackle a story that deals with the perverse love of an older man for a prepubescent girl. Part of the problem was rooted not so much in the novel itself, but in the sensational reputation the book had acquired since its publication and still retained to some extent, especially in the minds of those who had never read it.
   The book is narrated by Humbert Humbert, a college professor who falls hopelessly in love with 12-year-old Dolores Haze, known to her friends as Lolita. He commits the tale to his diary (changing all the names in the story, including his own,“to protect the guilty”), while imprisoned in a psychiatric ward for the murder of Clare Quilty, his rival for the affections of the young girl with whom he was infatuated. (Nabokov always insisted that he chose that name for his heroine simply because he found it appealing, and denied that it was a veiled reference to Charles Chaplin’s second wife, actress Lillita McMurray, who was known professionally as Lita Grey. Lillita McMurray was 16 when she married Chaplin in 1924 and 19 when she divorced the hapless comedian after a spectacularly sensational divorce trial, in which she contended that she was too young to be married to a “demanding” husband like Chaplin. The press, however, played up both the marriage and the divorce as if Lillita were a pubescent “nymphet. ”) Humbert in the novel calls himself a “nympholept,” a word by which Nabokov sought to suggest the term “lepidopterist,” a butterfly specialist, something Nabokov had been for years. (As a matter of fact, there is a minor character in the novel named Vladimir Nabokov, a butterfly hunter. ) The metaphor works perfectly in the story, since Humbert, in trying to snare his butterfly, is enmeshed in the net himself and never possesses for long the object of his obsession. Furthermore, the word nympholepsy had already come to mean a frustrating attachment to an unattainable object, lending universal implications to Humbert’s plight.
   At novel’s end, Humbert meets Lolita one last time; by now she is a pregnant housewife, and he discovers that his sexual obsession for her has at last turned into genuine love. Even Lolita begins to understand that Humbert is expressing sincere love for her; still, she declines his offer to go away with Humbert, since she is committed to her husband, the father of her unborn child. Humbert goes off with blood in his eye, to murder Clare Quilty, his rival for Lolita in the past, who had taken her away from him. He wishes to kill Quilty, not because Quilty had won her away from him, but because Quilty had merely used and discarded her as damaged goods. In the end, we learn that Humbert succumbed to a heart attack in jail while awaiting trial for the murder of Clare Quilty. Critic Richard Corliss reports that Nabokov, commenting on the deeper implications of the novel, stated that “Lolita is a tragedy. . . . Further, this is at heart a novel of redemption. It is about a lust that matures, under fire, to love. ”
   Despite the difficulties attendant on making the picture, the novel fairly begged to be committed to celluloid. On one page, while eyeing the “wanted” posters in a post office lobby, Humbert says in an aside to the reader,“If you want to make a movie out of my book, have one of these faces gently melt into my own while I look at it. ” On another page he reflects, while recalling Lolita and himself engaging in horseplay, “A pity no film has recorded the curious pattern . . . of our simultaneous and overlapping moves. ” Elsewhere Humbert muses on watching Lolita play tennis and says that he regrets that he had not immortalized her in “segments of celluloid” which he could then run in “the projection room of my pain and despair. ”
   With so many cinematic references in the novel, it is not surprising that Kubrick engaged Nabokov to write the screenplay for Lolita. In Nabokov’s foreword to his version of the script, which he published in 1974, Nabokov recounts that, after Kubrick had received his first draft of the screenplay, which ran to 400 pages, the director indicated to him that the script was too unwieldy, contained several superfluous episodes, and would run for seven hours if the screenplay were filmed in that form. Nabokov accordingly made several deletions and resubmitted the revised script—shorter by half—to Kubrick. He speculated that Kubrick ultimately used about 20 percent of the revised screenplay.
   Even the published version of the screenplay, however, is not an exact replica of Nabokov’s shortened script, for he restored some of the scenes which he originally had deleted at Kubrick’s behest and in other ways altered it further. Reading through Nabokov’s published screenplay, nevertheless does give viewers some idea of why Kubrick revised the novelist’s script so extensively.
   For one thing, Nabokov includes a scene depicting the death of Humbert’s mother, to which he refers in the novel: after she is struck by lightning at a picnic, “her graceful specter floats up above the black cliffs, holding a parasol and blowing kisses to her husband and child who stand below, looking up, hand in hand. ”This is the kind of background material that helps enrich a character in a novel, but which must be sacrificed in the interest of keeping a film to a reasonable running time.
   In addition, Nabokov added other scenes to his script, such as the burning down of the house where Humbert was to have stayed before he moved in with Lolita and her mother, which are based on unused material that he had regretted discarding from the published novel, and which he therefore reinstated in the screenplay. Again, these incidents would have complicated further a film which eventually was to run a full two and a half hours in its final version.
   When Nabokov finally saw Lolita at a private screening, he recalled in his foreword to his screenplay, he found that Kubrick was “a great director, and that his Lolita was a first-rate film with magnificent actors,” even though much of his version of the script had gone unused. Alfred Appel, of Northwestern University, who had several interviews with Nabokov, told Gene Phillips that the novelist never had anything but good comments to make about Kubrick’s film of his book, largely because after the writer had spent six months working on the scenario himself he came to realize vividly how difficult adapting a novel to the screen really is. “I am no dramatist,” he confesses in his foreword; “I’m not even a hack scenarist. ” On the one hand, he felt that only “ragged odds and ends of my script had been used. ” On the other hand, he realized that Kubrick’s final shooting script was, after all, derived from his own revised screenplay, and that hence all of Kubrick’s revisions of his script were not sufficient to erase his name from the credit titles as author of the screenplay. He added that Kubrick’s inventions were, by and large,“appropriate and delightful. ”The scenes in which SUE LYON, as Lolita, and JAMES MASON, as Humbert, travel cross-country, he notes, “are moments of unforgettable acting and directing. ”The macabre killing of Quilty (PETER SELLERS) “is a masterpiece. ” He still feels, however, that had he had more to do with the actual shooting of the movie, he would have stressed certain things that were not emphasized in the film; this fueled his decision to publish his revised version of the script. He also admits that “infinite fidelity may be an author’s ideal but can prove a producer’s ruin”; and so he offers his published screenplay “not as a pettish refutation of a munificent film but purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel. ”
   References
   ■ Ciment, Michel, “Lolita,” in International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: Films, vol. 1 rev. ed. , ed. Nicolet Elert and Aruna Vasudevan (Detroit: St. James Press, 1996), pp. 588–589;
   ■ Corliss, Richard, Lolita (London: British Film Institute, 1994);
   ■ Howard, James, Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999), pp. 73–85;
   ■ Kael, Pauline, I Lost It at the Movies (New York: Boyars, 1994), pp. 203–209;
   ■ Mainar, Luis, Narrative and Stylistic Patterns in the Films of Stanley Kubrick (Rochester,N. Y. : Camden House, 2000), pp. 48–58, passim;
   ■ Nabokov, Vladimir, The Annotated Lolita, ed. Alfred Appel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970);
   ■ ———, Lolita: A Screenplay (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974);
   ■ Tibbetts, John, “Lolita,” in The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film, rev. ed. , ed. John Tibbetts and James Welsh (New York: Facts On File, 1999), pp. 134–138.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nabokov, Vladimir — ▪ American author in full  Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov  born April 22, 1899, St. Petersburg, Russia died July 2, 1977, Montreux, Switz.  Russian born American novelist and critic, the foremost of the post 1917 émigré authors. He wrote in both… …   Universalium

  • Nabokov, Vladimir — ► (1899 1977) Escritor ruso. En sus obras ironiza la vida cotidiana. Autor de Lolita (1955), Ada o el Ardor (1969), Glory (1971) y Mira los arlequines, entre otras …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Nabokov, Vladimir —    см. Набоков, Владимир …   Писатели США. Краткие творческие биографии

  • Nabokov, Vladimir (Vladimirovich) — (22 abr. 1899, San Petersburgo, Rusia– 2 jul. 1977, Montreux, Suiza). Novelista y crítico estadounidense de origen ruso. De familia aristocrática, tuvo institutrices inglesas y francesas. Publicó dos poemarios antes de abandonar Rusia en 1919… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich — (1899 1977)    A Russian American novelist and short story writer who experienced * synaesthesias of the grapheme colour type, meaning that he perceived coloured textures and shapes in association with letters of the alphabet. Nabokov referred to …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

  • Nabokov, Vladimir (Vladimirovich) — born April 22, 1899, St. Petersburg, Russia died July 2, 1977, Montreux, Switz. Russian born U.S novelist and critic. Born to an aristocratic family, he had an English speaking governess. He published two collections of verse before leaving… …   Universalium

  • Nabokov,Vladimir Vladimirovich — Na·bo·kov (nə bôʹkəf, näʹbə kôf , năbʹə ), Vladimir Vladimirovich. 1899 1977. Russian born American writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, notably the satirical Lolita (1955). * * * …   Universalium

  • Nabokov — Nabokov, Vladimir …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Vladimir Nabokov — (vor allem in englischer Schreibweise bekannt, eigentlich russisch Владимир Владимирович Набоков/ Wladimir Wladimirowitsch Nabokow; * 10.jul./ 22. April 1899greg. in Sankt Petersburg; † 2. Juli 1977 in Montreux) war ein russisch… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov — Vladimir Nabokov (vor allem in englischer Schreibweise bekannt, eigentlich russisch Владимир Владимирович Набоков/ Wladimir Wladimirowitsch Nabokow; * 10.jul./ 22. April 1899greg. in Sankt Petersburg; † 2. Juli 1977 in Montreux) war ein russisch… …   Deutsch Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.