Tuesday, July 12, 2016

LOOK AT THE HARLEQUINS!: From A French Nymphet to LOLITA's Doppelganger



Poirier wrote in his New York Times Book Review of Look at the Harlequins! that “After Joyce with his “portrait” of Stephen, after Proust with his “remembrance” of Marcel, there are few reasons to be surprised […] by the complicated interplay between Vladimir Nabokov and the narrator of this, his 37th book. Vadim Vadimovitch is a Russian emigré writer and a mirror image or “double” of Nabokov as man and writer” who has written his (fictional) autobiography.

In addition to Vadim and Nabokov sharing the attributes, among others, of being Russian immigrants in France before taking positions as professors in the United States, they both appear to be hebephiles. 

Vadim and Iris, his future first wife, were sunbathing on the French Riviera when Vadim spots a nymphet. “There was a child of ten or so cradling a large yellow beach ball in her bare arms. She seemed to be wearing nothing but a kind of frilly harness and a very short pleated skirt revealing her trim thighs. She was what in a later era amateurs were to call a ‘nymphet’.” As she caught my glance she gave me, over our sunny globe, a sweet lewd smile from under her auburn fringe.”  Maurice Couturier writes in Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire that Vadim is referring to Nabokov as the later era amateur.  To impress Vadim, Iris shared “At eleven or twelve […] I was as pretty as that French orphan [...] I let smelly gentlemen fondle me.” 

After Vadim moved in with Mr. and Mrs. Stepanov, he became attracted to Dolly, the Stepanov's eleven-year-old grand-daughter. Vadim wrote in his autobiography “Those were nice, nice interludes! [...] I had a box of chocolate-coated biscuits to supplement the zwiebacks and tempt my little visitor. The writing board was put aside and replaced by her folded limbs [...] she dangled one leg and bit her biscuit, to the ordinary questions one puts to a child; and then quite suddenly in the midst of our chat, she would wriggle out of my arms and make for the door as if somebody were summoning her”. Couturier wrote that Dolly “is evidently an avatar of Emmie in Invitation to a Beheading, and of Lolita herself, a true nymphet” and that Vadim “a farcical avatar of Nabokov, will wait for her to grow up before undertaking to make love to her.” 

Subsequently, Vadim becomes more and more attracted to Isabel, his twelve-year-old daughter. “One change, one gradational trend I must note, however. This was my growing awareness of her beauty. Scarcely a month after her arrival I was already at a loss to understand how she could have struck me as ‘plain.’”  The relationship between Vadim and Isabel is eerily similar to that of Humbert and Lolita except that Vadim is Isabel's biological father and unlike Humbert, he doesn't consummate his incestuous relationship. However, Couturier shared that “During his cohabitation with Bel, he is very happy and sexually aroused most of the time, but he only caresses her : 'Save for a few insignificant lapses – a few hot drops of overflowing tenderness, a gasp masked by a cough and that sort of stuff – my relations with her remained essentially innocent'”   

And the blurb for Vadim's A Kingdom by the Sea, Lolita's doppelganger, goes as follows:

Bertram, an unbalanced youth, doomed to die shortly in an asylum for the criminal insane, sells for ten dollars his ten-year-old sister Ginny to the middle-aged bachelor Al Garden, a wealthy poet who travels with the beautiful child from resort to resort through America and other countries. A state of affairs that looks at first blush--and "blush" is the right word--like a case of irresponsible perversion (described in brilliant detail never attempted before) develops by the grees [misprint] into a genuine dialogue of tender love. Garden's feelings are reciprocated by Ginny, the initial "victim" who at eighteen, a normal nymph, marries him i na warmly described religious ceremony. All seems to end honky-donky [sic!]in forever lasting bliss of a sort fit to meet the sexual demands of the most rigid, or frigid, humanitarian, had there not been running its chaotic course, in a sheef [sheaf?] of parallel lives beyond our happy couple's ken,the tragic tiny [destiny?] of Virginia Garden's inconsolable parents, Oliver and [?], whom the clever author by every means in his power, prevents from tracking their daughter Dawn [sic!!]. A Book-of-the-Decade choice.

Nabokov wrote about the sexual attraction of a step-father for his step-daughter a number of times with Lolita being his most well-known example and he continued to write about the theme until he died, which is exemplified by The Original of Laura

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