Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hebephilia, Ephebophilia and Age-Gap Relationships in THE STORIES OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV



I didn't include a number of Nabokov's short stories in my blog post and journal article on the hebephilia\ephebophilia found in Nabokov's writings. Here's a more complete list:


In “The Fight”, a writer sunbathing on a German beach is intrigued by Mr. Kraus. The writer discovers that Mr. Kraus owns a tavern where he is assisted by Emma - “a young girl in a checkered dress, fair-haired, with pointed pink elbows”. Emma’s lover is an electrician who has a “malevolent wrinkle beside his mouth”. The writer narrates that what he likes the most about Emma, with her “small birdlike face” and “vapid” and “tender eyes” is the way that she looks at her lover “as he lazily leaned on the bar.” After Emma’s father and her lover gets into a brawl, the writer couldn’t resist consoling the young girl by stroking and kissing her kitchen scented fair hair. Interestingly, “The Fight” was also published in The New Yorker on February 18, 1985.


In “A Nursery Tale”, on his ride to work, Erwin habitually gazes through the tram's window and picks girls for his imaginary harem. However, the young man gains the opportunity for his dreams to come true after he meets Frau Monde, a Devil, who promises Erwin that he can have all the girls he wants upon “cushions and rugs” in “a villa with a walled garden” but that it's “essential and final” that he selects an odd number of girls between noon to midnight. 

The next day Erwin starts collecting slave girls. Here's a partial list:

A maiden in a white dress with chestnut hair and palish lips who was playing with her “fat shaggy pup”

“[T]wo young ladies-sisters, or even twins [...] Both were small and slim [...] with saucy eyes and painted lips.” Erwin referred to the Twins as “Gay, painted, young things.”

A girl with gray eyes with a slight slant and a thin aquiline nose that wrinkled when she laughed

A girl at a small amusement park who wore a scarlet blouse with a bright-green skirt

Four girls inside the amusement park's arcade who wore jerseys and shorts with “magnificent legs, naked nearly up to the groin” 

“A child of fourteen or so in a low-cut black party dress .” She was walking with a tall elderly man who was a “famous poet, a senile swan, living all alone in a distant suburb”.

I won't reveal the identity of the last girl, but I will share her response to Erwin, which was, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself […] Leave me alone.” Her response was due to “that which changes a man's life (i.e., penis) with one divine stroke”.

When Nabokov translated Skazka before it was published in Playboy (1974) and Details of a Sunset (1976), he aggressively titled it “A Nursery Tale” and noted in Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories that when he was translating the story he was “...eerily startled to meet a somewhat decrepit but unmistakable Humbert escorting his nymphet in the story I wrote almost half a century ago.”

In “Terror”, the poet’s mistress is described as a “naive little maiden” with “unassuming prettiness, gaiety, friendliness”. Their affair lasted almost three years until the poet departed by train only to have to return to her bedside and consequently save himself from “insanity.”

In “The Aurelian”, Paul Pilgram, a “flabby elderly man”, had a habit of ordering a drink and filling his pipe after entering the town’s “small bar”. And “[i]f the bartender’s daughter, a pretty freckled girl in a polka-dotted frock, happened to pass close enough, he had a go at her elusive hip, and, whether the slap succeeded or not, his gloomy expression never changed, although the veins on his temple grew purple.”

Early in “A Dashing Fellow” the protagonist asked, “What is better: the experience of a sexy thirty-year-old brunette, or the silly young bloom of a bright curled romp?” But by the end of the short story he exclaimed, “That old bitch. No, we like only small blonds - remember that once for all.” Nabokov wrote in A Russian Beauty and Other Stories that “A Dashing Fellow” was rejected by Rul’ (Berlin) and Poslednie Novosti (Paris) for being “improper and brutal” before it was published in Segodnya (Riga) and in the December 1971 issue of Playboy.

In “Lips to Lips”, Ilya Borisovich, a naive aspiring novelist, is writing a novel in which “elderly” Dolinin meets Irina,  “a girl in black” with a “supple young body”, at the theater. After the move to Dolinin’s flat, Irina exclaims, “Take me, take my purity, take my torment [...] because I love you.” “I suppose he’ll deflower her,” mused Euphratski “an émigré journalist”. One of the many issues with Ilya’s novel is that he too frequently uses the adjective ‘“young’ (feminine gender), replacing it here and there by ‘youthful’”.

In “Music”, Victor notices his estranged wife in the audience at the music hall. He reminisced about the time they were “talking about some trifle” when she interjected, “‘Let’s separate for a while. We can’t go on like this.’ The neighbors’ little daughter burst into the room to show her kitten (the sole survivor of a litter that had been drowned.)” Victor’s wife confessed that “The first time [that she had cheated on him] had been in the park, then at his place.” (italics mine). (I was ripped about adding “Music”, but my gut tells me that “kitten” is a Nabokovian sexual innuendo\pun.)

An excerpt from “Perfection” reads “During those first warm days everything seemed beautiful and touching: the leggy little girls playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, the old men on the benches, the green confetti that sumptuous lindens scattered every time the air stretched its invisible limbs.” The old men on the benches reminded me of the protagonist in The Enchanter who “[...] seated himself on a bench in a city park” before he spotted his nymphet.

Count Konstantin Godunov-Cherdyntsev of “The Circle” “was spending the summer at Leshino, his estate in the Government of St. Petersburg, with his young wife (at forty he was twice as old as she).”

In "Solus Rex” “Prince Fig enjoyed a kind of smutty popularity [...] The more lewdly Fig romped, the louder folks guffawed [...] A characteristic detail: one day when the prince, passing on horseback, a cigar between his teeth, through a backwoodsy hamlet, noticed a comely little girl to whom he offered a ride, and notwithstanding her parents’ horror [...] swept her away [...] the child returned after an hour’s absence, holding a hundred-krun note in one hand, and, in the other, a fledgling that had fallen out of its nest in a desolate grove where she had picked it up on her way back to the village.”

Lastly, the poet of “THAT IN ALLEPO ONCE…” had a “much younger” wife but “[...] not as much younger as was Nathalie of the lovely bare shoulders and long earrings in relation to swarthy Pushkin.” After he “held her slender young hips (she was combing her soft hair and tossing her head back with every stroke)” she informed him, “I’ve been lying to you, dear [...] Ya Igunia. I stayed for several nights in Montpellier with a brute of a man I met on the train. I did not want it at all. He sold hair lotions.”

Reportedly,  Natalia Goncharova was sixteen-years-old when she first met Pushkin before they married in 1836. I don’t have a reputable source for this claim; however, Gerschenkron related in “A Manufactured Monument?”, his review of Nabokov’s Eugene Onegin, A Novel in Verse, that Nabokov “goes to a considerable length to discuss the - possibly divided - ownership in real life of a pair of lovely feet whose beauty Pushkin sings in what Nabokov calls “Pedal Digression” (I, 24)” Gerschenkron states that the possible owner of the “lovely feet” was Maria Raevskii who would have been “only thirteen-and-a-half years old (II, 119)”. (And in a footnote, Gerschenkron intriguingly shared that in the Ukraine Pushkin “flirted with the twelve-year-old daughter of his mistress Davydova, and in Bessarabia with the thirteen-year-old daughter of a Moldavian noble.”)

“THAT IN ALLEPO ONCE…” is a line from Shakespeare’s Othello, which  is about an age-discrepant marriage between Othello, a North African general of the armies of Venice, and Desdemona, the "exquisitely beautiful" young daughter of Brabantio, a Venetian senator. Shakespeare doesn't give the exact ages of Othello and Desdemona, but Othello is described by Iago, the villain of the play, as an "...old black ram..." while Desdemona is described as a “young virgin” - a "little white lamb [with] beautiful skin, whiter than snow and smooth as the finest marble."