“Chasing Lolita, published on the 50th anniversary of Lolita’s American publication, is an essential contemporary companion to Vladimir Nabokov’s great novel. It establishes who Lolita really was back in 1958, explores her predecessors of all stripes, and examines the multitude of movies, theatrical shows, literary spin-offs, artifacts, fashion, art, photography, and tabloid excesses that have distorted her identity and stolen her name. It considers not just the ‘Lolita effect’ but shifting attitudes toward the always volatile mix of sex, children, and popular entertainment—from Victorian times to the present. And it also looks at some real-life cases of young girls who became the innocent victims of someone else’s obsession—unhappy sisters to one of the most affecting heroines in American fiction, and one of the most widely misunderstood.”
“The original spark of inspiration for this book was a little less ambitious. It came from a moment in a BBC television documentary that was originally broadcast to coincide with the release of the 1997 film version of Lolita. Adrian Lyne’s movie (the second of 2 film adaptations) had, to the surprise of many, enjoyed the willing consultative participation of Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s dauntingly accomplished son, a famously rigorous critic of any attempts to fool around with his father’s masterpiece.”
Nabokov I foi também um “lepidopterist”: especialista em borboletas e mariposas!
“Lolita and her story were just one of these dazzling inventions, completed and put away in late 1953 and at once, in its author’s mind, displaced by the next pressing project.”
“Fame is of assistance only to people who make their work, not celebrity status, the point of their endeavors. ‘It is Lolita, not I, who is famous’, Nabokov once said, when pressed, but her fame brought him wealth and independence, and if the suspicion remains that he would have preferred to have been rewarded earlier and more evenly for a lifetime of remarkable literary achievement, he was philosophical about the irony.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke defined fame as ‘the sum total of all the misunderstandings that can gather around one name’.”
1. THE REAL LIFE OF DOLORES HAZE: Just the facts
“Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who [sic] he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane, a silver-tongued¹ poet or a pervert, a tortured soul or a monster—or is he all of these!
¹ [Persuasivo, eloqüente.]
The above summary—either supplied by the publisher or staffers at the amazon.co.uk Web site on which it appears, promoting a Penguin Modern Classics edition of the novel—illustrates the difficulty of synopsizing the plot of Lolita. The book does not lend itself to literal précis. Most attempts to summarize it make it sound melodramatic or even absurd.”
“The colorful memoir is prefaced with a straitlaced introduction by the fictitious John Ray Jr., who claims to be its appointed editor. The novel’s action takes place in various U.S. locations in the late 1940s and early 1950s and presents Humbert and Lolita’s story exclusively from Humbert’s point of view and in his own often florid literary language.
So far, so good. It is when we come to summarize the book’s nature and texture that this infinitely subtle, allusive, comic, and grotesque love story defeats us. A black comedy about a middle-aged man’s obsession with a young girl is the line most frequently taken by movie listings journalists whom space compels to encapsulate the plot of either of the two film versions of Lolita in around a dozen words. Such doomed exercises recall a sketch from the cult 1970s comedy TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus where, in the setting of a televised competition, contestants are challenged to give a 15-second summary of Proust’s one-and-a-half-million word À la recherche du temps perdu.”
“today, in the age of the sound bite, the elliptical impressionism of Humbert’s account leaves the heroine of Lolita even more susceptible to grotesque misinterpretations.”
“The public, they reasoned, wanted cartoonish representatives of complicated things. Accordingly, in the popular imagination wild-haired Albert Einstein became the Wacky European Scientist, surly Marlon Brando the Mumbling Ambassador of Inarticulate Youth, pneumatic Marilyn Monroe the paradigmatic Hollywood Pinup, mad-eyed bald man Pablo Picasso the Famous Modern Artist, and so on. It was a kind of visual shorthand, and it was often accompanied by editorial to match. If this trend did not actually discourage serious debate about science, acting, stardom, and modern art, neither did it do much to promote it. In this breezy spirit Lolita would gradually exemplify the Sultry Teenage Temptress. It was a travesty from the start.
In the first place, Lolita was a 12-year-old child—not a teenager—when she first succumbed to the middle-aged man who subsequently narrated the saga of his infatuation with her. In the second place, she was not equipped, in any sense, to be an iconic temptress. The novel’s descriptions of her stress her physical appeal but only in relation to Humbert’s appetites.”
“In short, far from being overt, Lolita’s sex appeal would have been elusive to all but a pedophile with a very specific shopping list of expectations. For Humbert, the first wave of desire for Lolita derived from her resemblance to a particular girl who obsessed him when he was 14 and whose loss, he fancies, froze his sexual ideal forever, just as a snapshot freezes its subject in time as well as space.”
“It was not until a publicity poster appeared for Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film of Lolita that we first encounter a color photograph of an entirely bogus Lolita (Sue Lyon) wearing red heart-shaped sunglasses while licking a red lollipop (love and fellatio, get it?). Lolita’s sunglasses in Kubrick’s (black-and-white) film sport regular frames and at no point does she suck that kind of lollipop, so the poster makes false promises on every level. The same synthetic image subsequently graced many international paperback editions of the novel. Yet before Lolita’s first American publication in 1958, Nabokov had insisted that there should be no little girl at all on the book’s cover because he was in the business of writing about subjective rapture, not objective sexualization.”
“Tensions between fact and fiction, real names and aliases, evocation and invention, description and advocacy, confession and fantasy not only run through Lolita from start to finish but also precede and postdate the novel in a sometimes extraordinary series of foreshadowings, overlaps, and echoes.”
2. CASEBOOKS AND FANTASIES: Dolores Haze’s oft-told tale
“by casting himself alongside poets like Dante and Petrarch—not to mention Edgar Allan Poe—Humbert Humbert seeks somehow to glamorize his wretched appetites by implying that his perversion is one to which artists and visionaries are particularly susceptible.
When Humbert makes a passing reference to Dante’s ‘love’ for the child Beatrice, he is being entirely misleading, implying that Dante Alighieri was an adult when he met the 8-year-old Beatrice Portinari in 1274. Since Dante was only 9 at the time (and there is no historical record of an affair between the couple at any point anyway), this is a dishonest ploy, to say the least. His Francesco Petrarch reference is even less persuasive, asserting that Petrarch fell madly in love with Laureen when she was a fair-haired child of 12. The poet was 23 when he first became enamored of the mysterious Laura in Avignon’s Église de Sainte Claire during the spring of 1327. Although evocatively immortalized in Petrarch’s verse, historically speaking Laura remains an entirely unknown quantity. It is only some scholars’ guess that she was in reality one Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade. And even if this were true, then she was not only already married but also a mere 6 years younger than Petrarch, making her 17 at the time of their meeting in that French church.” “Humbert is, however, quite right when he says that Virginia Clemm was only 13 when she married her 27-year-old cousin, the poet and mystery writer Edgar Allan Poe, in 1836.
Poe is something of an éminence grise always present in the shadows of Lolita. Humbert appropriates his first name as a decorative addition to his own when the fancy suits him (‘Edgar H. Humbert’ is how he signs in at the Enchanted Hunters Hotel).”
“Poe’s 1849 poem Annabel Lee supplies the plot and the seaside imagery, as well as the girl’s name for young Humbert’s ill-fated affair with his half-English, half-Dutch Annabel in the fateful summer of 1923.” “In Poe’s poem Annabel finally succumbs to a fatal chill right there in their ‘kingdom by the sea’. Death also overtakes Humbert’s Annabel, but not until after they have parted, and not in the Riviera sun—not until 4 months later when she dies of typhus in Corfu.”
“Neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.” E.A.P.
“Leaving Humbert’s own very selective literary and historical apologists to one side, we may, to use a Humbertian turn of phrase, ‘tom-peep’ into the lives of a few more proto-Lolitas. The sexual appetites of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who under the name of Lewis Carroll found lasting fame as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, remain mired in ambiguity (the book was translated into Russian, incidentally, by a young Vladimir Nabokov, a daunting task for which he allegedly received the equivalent of $5).”
“Dodgson died a bachelor in 1898, his reputation intact, perhaps because his fondness for young children was more commonplace than we might like to think and existed in an ambiguous Victorian moral climate where even honest attempts to protect children were based upon a very formal concept of sexual purity. In his book Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, James R. Kincaid went so far as to link our contemporary cultural preoccupations with pedophilia back to 19th-century ‘child protection’ reforms that took the form of compulsory schooling, age of consent laws, and the formation of anticruelty societies.”
“Early in the 20th century came one of Lolita’s almost forgotten progenitors. She was not famous at first and only attracted widespread attention in recent years—and then only because of the existence of her more famous successor. Heinz von Eschwege, a German author who wrote under the pen name of Heinz von Lichberg, invented his Lolita in 1916 in a short story of that name, which, in Carolyn Kunin’s English translation, runs to a little under 350 words. The coincidences beyond the title name are surprising, even though von Lichberg’s tale is very unlike Nabokov’s and his short but convoluted narrative resembles a set of those hollow Russian dolls that keep revealing ever smaller replicas of themselves stashed within. It begins with an account of a social gathering in Germany at which a professor tells the assembled company a story drawn from his own experience (or perhaps his reveries, he freely admits). This story is characterized by dreams and supernatural trans-generational coincidences. The German professor, traveling in Spain, is introduced to an Alicante innkeeper’s daughter called Lolita, who ‘by our northern standards . . . was terribly young. . . . Her body was boyishly slim and supple and her voice was full and dark. But there was something more than her beauty that attracted me—there was a strange mystery about her that troubled me often on those moonlit nights’. The couple have a sexual encounter and a brief affair and then part, but the story is really about the narrator’s strange nocturnal fantasies that began at home in southern Germany and, in the light of his subsequent meeting with Lolita, seem to have let him glimpse mysterious
events from the history of her family, the female line of which is apparently doomed to suffer madness and death shortly after giving birth. The story is essentially a curio, but its rediscovery naturally raised the question of whether or not Nabokov—who actually lived in the same Berlin district as von Eschwege in the mid-1930s—could have read it and been influenced by it, however subliminally.”
“Dmitri Nabokov claims any influence is unlikely since his father hardly read German at all at the time. Even so it is eerie to think that Dolores Haze, conceived in Mexico, might have had a spiritual ancestor with Hispanic connections, a woman famous for her reputation for tempting men and someone for whom pregnancy would mean inevitable death.
Hindsight is a fine thing, and it is sometimes possible to see patterns and connections where none exist. The question of what, if anything, Nabokov owed to von Eschwege caused a literary stir when the first Lolita was unearthed and subsequently discussed in Michael Marr’s book The Two Lolitas. Marr, however, concluded that ‘nothing of what we admire in Nabokov’s Lolita is already to be found in the tale; the former is in no way deducible from the latter’.
A more questionable although undeniably fascinating claim of inspiration came from Charlie Chaplin’s biographer Joyce Milton, who maintained in her biography Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin that Chaplin’s 1924 marriage at the age of 35 to 16-year-old Lillita Grey was Nabokov’s real inspiration. The name ‘Lillita’ is certainly a temptation to rush to judgment (after one film appearance as Lillita McMurray, the young actress in question later variously appeared as Lita Grey and Lita Grey Chaplin).”
lilt (ENG) (subst. ou verbo) alto-astral, animado, eufórico.
“It is hard to see any real parallels between Humbert and Chaplin, apart from their shared ‘Europeanness’ and the latter’s well-known fondness for very young girls, a tendency that, like Charles Dodgson, he seemed to always find convenient to believe was essentially innocent and nonsexual.”
“Imagine this kind of thing: an old dog—but still in his prime, fiery, thirsting for happiness—gets to know a widow, and she has a daughter, still quite a little girl—you know what I mean—when nothing is formed yet, but already she has a way of walking that drives you out of your mind. A slip of a girl, very fair, pale, with blue under the eyes—and of course she doesn’t even look at the old goat. What to do? Well, not long thinking, he ups and marries the widow. Okay. They settle down the three of them. Here you can go on indefinitely—the temptation, the eternal torment, the itch, the mad hopes. And the upshot—a miscalculation. Time flies, he gets older, she blossoms out—and not a sausage. Just walks by and scorches you with a look of contempt. Eh? D’you feel here a kind of Dostoevskian tragedy?” Nabokov, Dar (The Gift)
“Almost immediately after the completion of Dar, in Paris in the autumn of 1939, Nabokov wrote his Russian novella Volshebnik (The Enchanter), which uses the first part of the above narrative premise. Unpublished, the story was assumed lost after Nabokov and his family relocated to the United States in 1940 (in point of fact the author mistakenly recalled destroying it). Unexpectedly, Volshebnik resurfaced among some papers in February 1959, and its author, more often than not a man impatient with his own failings as a young artist, found himself not entirely displeased by the rediscovered piece.
‘I have reread Volshebnik with considerably more pleasure than I experienced when recalling it as a dead scrap during my work on Lolita’, Nabokov wrote in a letter” “(It was not to appear until 1986, almost a decade after Vladimir Nabokov’s death, in a translation by his son, Dmitri.) The original Russian version was at last published in 1991, half a century after it was written. Unlike Lolita, Volshebnik is easily summarized: A middle-aged pedophile marries an ailing woman in order to be near her 12-year-old daughter. When the woman finally dies he takes the girl on a vacation, planning to establish a sexual relationship with her over time while dressing up this protracted seduction as a game of make-believe. In their hotel room, however, he is too impatient and fondles her once she goes to sleep. When she awakes and begins screaming, the man knows all is lost and runs panic-stricken from the hotel in suicidal search of ‘a torrent, a precipice, a railroad track’. A thundering, heavy vehicle obligingly supplies the deus ex machina and the story’s ending. Compared to the infinitely richer Lolita, Volshebnik seems a rather mechanical trifle and, although beautifully written and translated, does not make us care much about any of the participants in Nabokov’s miniature Dostoevskian tragedy. Only in the occasional fleeting detail does there seem to be any live connecting tissue to Lolita, as in the introduction of Volshebnik’s nameless nymphet (who incidentally shares Lolita’s pale gray eye color) in a park on roller skates. She is ‘leaning well-forward and rhythmically swinging her relaxed arms’”
“SAN JOSE, Calif., March 22—(AP)—A plump [rechonchuda] little girl of 13 told police today she accompanied a 52-year-old man on a 2-year tour of the country, in fear he would expose her as a shop-lifter.
The girl, Florence Sally Horner of Camden, N.J., was found here last night after she appealed to Eastern relatives ‘send the FBI for me, please?’
Her companion, Frank La Salle, an unemployed mechanic, was said by County Prosecutor Michael H. Cohen in Camden to be under indictment for her abduction.
Officers said the girl told them La Salle had forced her to submit to sexual relations.
The nice looking youngster, with light brown hair and blue-green eyes, attributed her troubles to a Club she joined in a Camden school. One of the requirements, she said, was that each member steal something from a 10-cent store.
She stole an article, she related, and La Salle happened to be watching her. She said he told her he was an FBI Agent; that ‘We have a place for girls like you.’
Sally said she went away with him, under his threat that unless she did, he would have her placed in a reform school.” Associated Press, 1950
“Nabokov uses an even more devious documentary device when he has Humbert refer to and relate another true-life crime of the day, that of G. Edward Grammar, a 35-year-old New York office manager arraigned for murdering his wife and trying to make her death look like a car accident.”
“A creative writer, Nabokov wrote in his own memoir, Strong Opinions, must study carefully the works of his rivals, including the Almighty.”
“Automobiles, it turned out, were clearly bad news in the short, sad life of Sally Horner, because less than 2 years after her liberation from Frank LaSalle’s mobile prison, she was killed in an unrelated road accident.”
“So Sally Horner’s case brought the 20th-century casebook history of real-life pedophilia up-to-date with the time frame of Lolita, even overtaking the action by a couple of years.”
“The world’s news media still intermittently highlight certain such cases. A 10-year-old Japanese girl, Fusako Sano, was kidnapped and held captive by Nobuyuki Sato for 9 years, from
1990 to 2000. Teenager Tanya Kach, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was confined against her will at the home of 37-year-old Thomas Hose from 1996 to 2006.”
“Natascha Kampusch, born in 1988 in Austria, grew up fatherless like Lolita even though her mother, Brigitta Sirny, did enjoy a fairly stable relationship with another man. When Natascha was 10 she was abducted while walking to school alone after an argument with her mother (shades of Charlotte Haze’s daily domestic battles with her daughter). Her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, imprisoned her in a small, secretly constructed room in his house for most of the 8 years of her confinement. Although she refused to discuss ‘personal or intimate details’ after she finally escaped in 2006, the tacit assumption is that Priklopil used her as a sex slave, and Kampusch did admit to a media advisor, although not in front of the TV cameras (hers was a very structured reintroduction to society), that Priklopil beat her badly from time to time. Perhaps of particular interest to those unimaginative souls who persist in seeing Lolita’s dull cooperation with Humbert’s exploitative regime as complicity pure and simple is the fact that Priklopil once took his prisoner on a skiing holiday in Vienna and would even take her shopping occasionally. The complexities of their enforced relationship are still not fully explained and may eventually yield some awkward truths, but in 2006 the case provided an eerie echo of both Sally and Lolita, neither of whom could ever have been guarded night and day, every day, but both of whom somehow lacked the spur or spirit to escape their captors until much later than they might have been expected to do. This phenomenon now has a name, courtesy of a 1973 bank siege at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden, in which the robbers held employees hostage from August 23 to August 28.”
“Natascha Kampusch’s wild escape through suburban gardens and streets, during which she completely failed to interest anyone she met in her plight, has itself a dark Nabokovian tinge of farce”
3. A VERY 1950s SCANDAL: Hurricane Lolita
“For a time, 20th-century America did have a written moral code, and although it was intended to control only the movies, it reflected much broader establishment concerns about the general threats posed by artists to society in general. It was the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, better known as the Hays Code, named for ex-Republican politician and ex-postmaster general [president dos Correios] Will H. Hays, who was appointed the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association and therefore became the nominal father of the code. The Hays Code was bold enough to set down its guidelines and exclusion zones in full literal foolishness. Although it was in operation for only 30 years or so, the code neatly set out the establishment view of what was thought admissible to depict—at least on the screen—during the period leading up to and beyond the time of Lolita’s publication.”
“Though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, producers know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.” Mais lendária que a mula sem-cabeça essa mitologia hollywoodiana ianque!
“The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.” Este é o mundo livre que venceria os comedores de criancinhas soviéticos!
“Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden”
“Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.”
“Children’s sex organs are never to be exposed.”
“His moral reign, however, happened at a time when image was deemed less important than it is now; one parenthetically wonders whether saturnine [sardônico] 50s TV personality Ed Sullivan would even get a job reading the local news in front of today’s cameras.”
“So Hays became the unlovely and unloved poster boy of a notorious code that was often booed when a summary of its principles appeared on the movie screen prior to the feature film—hardly the sign of a regulatory body in touch with the public.
The code was right about one thing, however: books, for whatever reason, were indeed somewhat ahead of movies in the frankness stakes, even if James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) did run into censorship trouble in the United States during its prepublication serialization in The Little Review magazine. The finished novel was duly banned from U.S. publication until the 1930s, when Random House finally engineered the importation of a French edition with the full knowledge that it would be seized by customs. It was, and the ensuing trial—United States v. One Book Called Ulysses¹—resulted in U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruling that the book was not pornographic and so could not be classed as obscene.”
¹ Essa forma de batizar julgamentos em que o réu ENFRENTA O ESTADO NOMINALMENTE sempre me soou como a coisa mais babaca do sistema judicial gringo. E, voilà, o irlandês deu um direto na fuça do Tio Sam!
“Scandalous writing of a less high-flown sort next tested the would-be book banners and came in the shape of Kathleen Winsor’s proto-bodice-ripper Forever Amber (1944), which immediately stimulated a popular appetite for erotic fiction. Her impressively researched book was set in Restoration England and concerned a female social climber with a pragmatic moral sense and an eye on bedding the king; it triggered several charges of pornography and calls for bans across America. The Massachusetts attorney general found in it 70 instances of sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, 10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men, and many ‘miscellaneous objectionable passages’, and so prosecuted.”
“the Massachusetts Supreme Court eventually concluded that Winsor’s historical research was thorough and resulted in an honest portrayal of the mores of the time and place in which the book was set.”
“In 1946, literary critic Edmund Wilson published his second book of fiction, Memoirs of Hecate County. Wilson was at the time a friend and supporter of Vladimir Nabokov, although eventually the two men of letters would fall out, partly over Wilson’s low opinion of Lolita. Published by Doubleday, Memoirs of Hecate County received good reviews and sold almost 60,000 copies before the Society for the Suppression of Vice [vice fuder!] brought suit against the publisher in July 1946, on the grounds of objecting to a number of frank but otherwise unexceptionable heterosexual sex scenes.”
“Will H. Hays, who died in 1954, might well have entered his grave already spinning after learning that according to Kinsey and his team at their Institute of Sexual Research, sexual orientation was a far more complex issue than The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet¹ might have Middle America believe.”
¹ “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is an American television sitcom, which aired on ABC from October 3, 1952, to April 23, 1966, and starred the real-life Nelson family. After a long run on radio, the show was brought to television, where it continued its success, initially running simultaneously on radio and TV. It was the longest running live-action sitcom in television history until It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia replaced it on May 26, 2020, when that series got renewed for a 15th season. The series starred the entertainment duo of Ozzie Nelson and his wife, singer Harriet Nelson, and their sons, David and Ricky. Don DeFore had a recurring role as the Nelsons’ neighbor ‘Thorny’.”
“Whatever the validity of Kinsey’s methods and statistics—and these were certainly controversial—the very fact that such taboos were being discussed openly seemed to cause as much outrage as the findings they unearthed. Surely America did not behave like this behind closed doors—and if it did, surely no one should ever talk about it so frankly.”
“With its lively litany of social injustice, murder, adultery, and abortion, Peyton Place would remain on the New York Times’ best-seller list for over a year and seemed to mark an emphatic rejection of any hopes of art encouraging ‘correct thinking’. One episode in Metalious’ novel originally had a character named Selena Cross murder her father because he had been sexually abusing her for years. The real-life inspiration was 20-year-old Jane Glenn, a New Hampshire girl who, in 1947, confessed to the same crime—and to burying the corpse beneath a sheep pen with the help of her younger brother. Metalious’ editor changed Selena Cross’ victim to stepfather, feeling that murder was acceptable but incest was a vice too far. This assumption finds an echo in Humbert’s own moral prioritizing when he notes from his prison cell that, sitting in judgment on himself, he would dismiss the murder charge and give himself at least 30 years for rape.
Before the American public would be allowed to read these words and the rest of Lolita, Nabokov’s book would have to make its way through a maze of obstacles. When it had done so, it unleashed a scandal to overshadow all of its recent predecessors. Since it involved scholarly, retiring 59-old Vladimir Nabokov (a man whose substantial body of fiction contained no obscene words and bore eloquent testimony to his total indifference toward books with social or moral messages), it was somehow fitting that this chronicler of unexpected coincidences and unintended consequences should find himself at the center of an international uproar about morality, social responsibility, and obscenity. Nabokov had placed at the heart of his greatest novel something that Joyce had not touched upon and Hays had not even dared to articulate in order to forbid: pedophilia.
The journey toward scandal was slow and complex. Lolita’s first publishing house, the Paris-based Olympia Press, had been inherited by Maurice Girodias from his father, who had published Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn in the 1930s. Girodias junior, falling on hard times in 1953, resolved to make money by publishing, in English, every book he could acquire that had fallen foul of Anglo-American censorship. The censor’s thumbs down was his only criterion; good, bad, or indifferent, if it had been banned, Girodias wanted it. To be fair, Girodias had also published some respectable authors (including Lawrence Durrell, J.P. Donleavy, and Samuel Beckett) and at least one notable piece of erotica, L’histoire d’O by Anne Desclos (who wrote such books either anonymously or pseudonymously as Pauline Réage while enjoying rather a good reputation under another literary pseudonym, Dominique Aury). Nabokov, however, knew little of Girodias and was guided by his French agent and friends in Paris. Since Girodias had until recently owned another imprint, a prestigious art book subsidiary called Éditions du Chêne, this further seemed to enhance his reputation as a serious publisher. So when he offered to publish Lolita, Nabokov (who had already had the novel rejected by Viking, dubbed ‘pure pornography’ by Simon & Schuster, and further rejected by 3 more American publishers) jumped at the chance.”
“The final 3 months of 1955 were stressful for the author, who, having just recovered from a serious bout of lumbago, was now having difficulty finding a publisher for his next novel, Pnin (or My Poor Pnin as it was titled at the time).”
“In December of the same year the French Ministère de l’Intérieur banned 25 English-language Olympia titles, Lolita among them.” Mal tinham sido salvos dos nazistas e já andavam tão ingratos!!
“The French press was immediately up in arms at what it saw as a betrayal of France’s traditional cultural freedom; it identified Nabokov’s book as the true cause of the blanket ban and, by January 57, had elevated the legal dispute into ‘l’affaire Lolita’.”
“France’s highly regarded publishing house Gallimard arranged to publish a French-language edition, which would be very well received—a particular fan was Raymond Queneau, a longtime Gallimard employee whose own linguistically playful novel Zazie dans le métro (1959) would transpose something of Lolita’s nymphet feistiness to another little girl, this time in a Parisian setting.”
“Lolita took off, selling 100,000 copies in 3 weeks. When Putnam’s took out an ad in the New York Times Book Review of August 21, there was no shortage of rave reviews to cite. Graham Greene, William Styron, and Lionel Trilling all praised it fulsomely, and even Dorothy Parker seemed to acknowledge that for once her tendency to deploy her vitriolic wit even when reviewing things she liked had no place here. ‘A fine book, a distinguished book—all right, then—a great book’, she wrote.”
“‘V. serenely indifferent’ was Véra Nabokov’s diary entry about her husband’s reaction to finally hitting the commercial jackpot after a lifetime of poorly paid literary toil.
Lolita was never prosecuted in the United States, a source of great satisfaction to Nabokov, who passionately loved his adopted homeland. Ironically, the many delays to publication had probably helped matters since the incremental efforts of many liberal-minded publishers had recently contributed to a more mature climate surrounding literary censorship.” “As soon as the Cincinnati Public Library banned it, Lolita immediately reached the top of the best-sellers list. When the Los Angeles Public Library was ‘exposed’ for circulating a copy, the only result was a boom in sales of the book in California. The Texas town of Lolita gravely debated whether it should change its name to Jackson, presumably in case it was mistaken for a little girl.” HAHAHAHAHA!!!
“Again America was absorbing something controversial into its popular culture instead of subjecting it to a witch hunt. Mainstream comedians all had a Lolita gag, the unspoken basis of the joke being that Lolita was a dirty book.” Imagina o DE NÓBREGA mandando essa!
“I’ve put off reading Lolita for 6 years, till she’s 18.”
“All this playfulness marked the beginning of Lolita Haze’s disparagement; the advance guard of what would prove to be a legion of faux Lolitas would soon start to emerge. Perhaps the very first was the ponytailed little girl who, incredibly, on Halloween came to the Nabokovs’ door looking for treats while dressed (by her parents!) as Lolita; the famous name was spelled out on a sign she bore and—even more sinister, since it betrayed a detailed knowledge of the book—she carried a tennis racket. Nabokov was quite shocked. If only he had known what lay in store for his nymphet.” Esses pais são o que eu chamaria de the original pranksters!
“Nabokov had sold the film rights of his book to James B. Harris and Stanley Kubrick, so now Lolita Haze and Humbert Humbert were about to make the fraught transition from what Hays had called ‘the cold page’ to embodiment by ‘apparently living people’. For a middle-aged actor to impersonate Humbert might be seen as no more than a risky professional challenge, but for a prepubescent girl to embody Lolita on-screen looked like a decidedly dangerous prospect. We may charitably assume that Nabokov’s otherwise absurd suggestion that a ‘dwarfess’ be hired to play Lolita was simply a comment designed to avert any charge of being implicated in the corrupting of a living, breathing child. He had no need to worry; others would take care of the corrupting. They had been doing it in Hollywood for years.”
4. LOLITA IN MOVIELAND 1: Little Victims and Little Princesses
“As with Dickens’s Little Nell, Little Emily, and Little Dorrit, that emotionally loaded word ‘little’ was to feature frequently in the promotional screen name of many a child actress (Little Mary Pickford and Little Blanche Sweet, for example), as well as in the titles of their films (The Little Princess, Little Annie Rooney, The Poor Little Rich Girl, and so on). Usually helming these enterprises and guiding their young stars’ careers were 40-something men about whose sexual inclinations we are entitled to wonder.”
“it was pointed out as long ago as 1920, in the movie magazine Photoplay, that the father of film D.W. Griffith seemed to have an ‘obsession with scenes in which women and girls are beaten or attacked’.” “As in the case of Alfred Hitchcock’s well-known obsessive tendency to put his ice-cool blonde heroines through the physical or emotional mill, it could be that Griffith’s fixation was nothing more than the public sublimation of dark fantasy. He is now best remembered for directing the sprawling epics Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), but Griffith also has the distinction of giving the movies their first recognizable prototype nymphet. To be sure, his version was a composite model, most often portrayed by Lillian Gish¹ and later played by actresses like Carol Dempster, Colleen Moore, and Mae Marsh, but it had been Griffith’s idea to create the character in the first place. He was certainly not alone in his interests.”
¹ Algum parentesco com Annabeth Gish? De qualquer maneira, Lillian viveu 100 anos (!) e começou a carreira de atriz já maior de idade. Dedicou ¾ de sua longa vida às telas!
“In his Foolish Wives (1922), Stroheim’s character fakes love in order to try to seduce his maid, an ambassador’s wife, and a simpleminded 14-year-old girl (reenter the damaged little girl stereotype).”
“In Queen Kelly, Stroheim directed like a man who knew that this might be his last film, and at one point Gloria Swanson had to cable Joe Kennedy, begging him to come and stop the ‘madman’ who was blowing the budget. Needless to say, Kennedy’s financial investment in the movie did not pay off, although it did allow his 32-year-old mistress to play convent girl Kelly, a lead part for which she was clearly far too old.”
“Only one actress had miraculously spanned the entire life of the phenomenon, sustaining a little girl image that began under the guidance of D.W. Griffith in 1909 and served her well for the next 20 years. She was Gladys Marie Smith from Toronto, Canada, reinvented as Little Mary Pickford for the American movies, a highly durable nymphet who, professionally at least, would have laughed at Humbert’s age boundaries of 9 and 14.” “When her legions of loyal fans were asked by a movie magazine in 1925 whom Little Mary should play next, Alice in Wonderland and Heidi were among the top choices.” “Her protracted adult depiction of a childhood that she had never personally experienced now looks rather grotesque, and her performances come over as skillful but cloying [enjoativas] and arch [velhacas, com o perdão do trocadilho]. To her credit, Pickford did not think much of them herself (‘I can’t stand that sticky stuff’), and by the start of the 30s she knew it was all over. Her fans would simply not let her grow up. When she had the temerity to bob her hair in 1929 they had been outraged.”
“By the 30s Dickensian waifs [magricelas dickensianas seria a tradução mais próxima] were on their way out. Adults impersonating children were also passé, but children impersonating adults were becoming very popular indeed. In This Is the Life (1935), 9-year-old Jane Withers mimicked Marlene Dietrich’s knowing top-hat-and-tails routine from Blonde Venus with disturbing skill.”
“One scene in the movie Gold Diggers of 1933 features a midget, Billy Barty, disguised as a child of indeterminate sex, lasciviously raising a translucent curtain that has previously been displaying only the shapely silhouettes of scantily clad showgirls.”
“The camp charm of a movie like 42nd Street (1933) is still enjoyable today, but our indulgent smile fades when the young ‘Chubby’ Chaney passionately kisses a cardboard cutout of Greta Garbo stationed in a movie theater lobby in a 1931 Our Gang two-reeler.”
“It was Shirley Temple who set the standard, whether, at 5 years old, impersonating Marlene Dietrich (incredibly redubbed ‘Morelegs Sweettrick’) in Kid in Hollywood, a 1933 Baby Burlesk short, or matching top adult dancers step for step as she became a seasoned trouper of 8 years. Temple was not a nymphet, and neither were her contemporary child stars for that matter, but her precocity still posed an unsettling question about the sexual implications of the burlesque this particular baby was putting on. It was a matter that no one dared to raise in public until 1937.
Graham Greene’s infamous review of the 1937 Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie in the urbane but obscure British magazine Night and Day cast an intentional slur on a star Hollywood promoted as the embodiment of innocent cuteness. (…) He wrote that 9-year-old Temple displayed ‘a certain adroit coquetry which appealed to middle-aged men’.”
“A swift libel suit by Twentieth Century Fox was successful and subsequently bankrupted the magazine, although it did little lasting harm to Greene, who swiftly decamped to Mexico, wrote The Power and the Glory, and, nearly 20 years later, became the first literary champion of a sensational American novel featuring a middle-aged man with a fatal taste for nymphets.
Greene’s trenchant observations about Temple’s sexualization were well founded but perhaps poorly targeted. Wee Willie Winkie was, after all, only one in a flood of similar films that adhered to a familiar convention, and it was perhaps selected for Greene’s critical attention simply because it was directed by John Ford, already regarded as a serious director. On the other hand, Greene already seemed familiar with Temple in Captain January, which boasted a less exalted directorial hand.
The child-star movies of the 30s can be partially excused because they were part of a general climate in which the sexual tensions between middle-aged men and much younger women or girls were broadly accepted as moral-free dramatic conventions of the time.”
“The Major and the Minor (1942) was something of a wild card for the period, revisiting the silent cinema’s adult-imitating-a-child convention but this time seen through the caustic eye of Billy Wilder. Wilder was an Austrian expatriate who in many ways shared Stroheim’s dark perspective but usually managed to channel it into very funny if sometimes cruel satire. The Major and the Minor revolves around mid-western innocent Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers), who needs to get home to Iowa from New York but cannot afford the train fare. Disguising herself as a 12-year-old in order to travel half price, she becomes involved with a short-sighted military man (Ray Milland) who finds himself strangely drawn to her. She feels the same, and the playing out of this apparently illicit romance lets Wilder have it both ways. The movie remains a very funny, out-of-time curio.
Otherwise, by the 1940s, the child-star syndrome had itself started to give way to a new type—adolescent girls who were sweet but not provocative, resourceful but not rebellious.” “Temple was the first to discover her babyish talent might not be automatically parlayed into puberty and beyond. She never really made it past 12 and was finished by the time she was a teenager. Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, and Deanna Durbin personified the older girl-child stereotype, more demure but certainly not without an appeal to middle-aged men” “Garland, meanwhile, brought a no-nonsense, clean-pinafore [vestido feminino] charm to many films spanning the 30s and 40s. She might have been the least sexy of that particular trio, but it was 14-year-old Garland upon whom MGM decided to bestow a crush for their 35-old leading man Clark Gable.” “Garland’s blossoming figure was strapped down and she was given diet pills, so starting her out on a lifetime of drug dependency that would end in despair and death at 47. Durbin tried to make the transition to adult actress without success, despite her considerable beauty, and her career did not last beyond the 1940s; she went on to enjoy a long life away from Hollywood. Only Taylor made the breakthrough to an adult career, leaving behind a veritable menagerie of costars—dogs, horses, cats—as well as those men of a certain age. She had always looked older than her years, and her beauty when young was legendary.”
“With the sweeter adolescent girls taking over in the mainstream family entertainment movies, it was left to these shadowy crime movies to give house room to the occasional Lolita of the day, and those characters were usually one-offs—kid sisters or daughters whom circumstance and their own sex drive put on the horns of a moral dilemma that was usually not the main concern of the movie.”
“Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn started life in Hobart, Tasmania, and was something of an adventurer before he arrived in Hollywood by way of the provincial British stage in 1935. The 1940s proved to be Errol Flynn’s golden decade, and he appeared in a series of swashbuckling period movies that included The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Adventures of Don Juan while living the life of the Hollywood playboy to the hilt. Good-looking and with a rakish good humor, he enjoyed enormous success—indeed, it would be hard to find anyone who enjoyed it more. His taste for underage girls was well known around town and eventually well known in the world’s tabloids. Two teenagers, Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen, accused him of statutory rape in 1942, but Flynn was eventually acquitted after a 21-day trial. Wives came and went, but Flynn’s taste for young girls would continue unchallenged until the end of the 1940s, when he was again involved in a statutory rape case, this time of a 15-year-old girl. Again he was acquitted. Flynn never sought to disguise his tastes, and one of the things that had counted against him in the 42 rape case had been Peggy Satterlee’s evidence that he called her ‘J.B.’ (‘jail bait’) and ‘S.Q.Q.’ (‘San Quentin quail’)—proof, it was submitted, that he knew she was a juvenile. That time he got off because his accusers were eventually shown to be less than inexperienced before they met Flynn, further evidence that men could expect to get away with more than women in such matters.
It seemed the movies’ preoccupation with children and light family comedies was beginning to wane at the end of the 40s. It may have been due to nothing more than overexposure, or it may have been that the sobering experience of World War II—even if that experience was only tasted by some through the movie theater newsreels—had encouraged a taste for grittier fare than recycled Victorian dimples and ringlets.”
“Then again, it may have been nothing more than that the postwar baby boom starting to populate America’s homes with large numbers of real children made movies starring unreal children seem suddenly less appealing.”
“Marooned in a fairytale world of studio-funded special tutors and voice coaches, and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the day, Gloria Jean gave her all to a style of sweet adolescent musical film fantasy that was in terminal decline but the production of which still represented the only reality she had ever known. She might have gotten a reality check from the star of the one bracing film she did appear in—Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), where she played the niece of morose child hater W.C. Fields—but Gloria Jean had started too late, and when the end came it came abruptly. She moved into television and then into obscurity. Soon she was earning a living as a receptionist. The sweet-voiced little movie princesses had not made it into the next decade, and Gloria Jean had been the last one to leave, and it fell to her to turn out the light.”
5. LOLITA IN MOVIELAND 2: “Pedophilia is a hard sell”
“From John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle it looked as if Monroe might progress toward a serious, if limited, acting career. Instead, about half of the 22 films she appeared in during the 50s helped to define her as the ultimate Hollywood sex goddess and one whose erotic charge was indivisible from what would become one of the decade’s chief preoccupations: childish feminine innocence wrapped up in an adult body.”
“As Clive James once noted, European movie sirens like Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren might look as if they were unashamedly thinking about sex, but ‘Monroe looked as if sex was something that might easily happen to her while she was thinking about something else’.”
“Ginger Rogers is terrific at metamorphosing into a kid, but a childish Monroe does not behave all that differently from the adult model that she was already refining in 1952 and that would soon become iconic.”
“Monroe had the 50s version of the damaged little Victorian girl syndrome and projected it with an impersonation of mental vacuity, physical vulnerability, and a constant need for a father figure to look after her. Because hers was an image based on reality, Monroe was the one who caught the public’s imagination; in real life she was a little brighter than she pretended to be on-screen and she could throw off the perilously high heels when she got home, but the deep-seated need for a daddy was genuine and would be evidenced by the men she sought and occasionally married.”
“Judy Holliday, who was to die young, reprised variants of Billie Dawn in a handful of less satisfactory films, but her signature performance as a not-so-dumb blonde still stands as a classic example of how to make a cliché live and breathe.”
“A few movies tentatively tried to absorb rock ‘n’ roll, but apart from the diverting The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) they were almost without exception embarrassing demonstrations that mainstream movies and rebellious rock were worlds apart.”
“The film’s notoriety (emblemized by an iconic still showing Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) wearing the short nightgown that would henceforth carry her name, sucking her thumb, and sleeping on a child’s crib with the slats down) was enough to prompt fainthearted Warner Bros. into withdrawing the film from national release during its pre-Christmas 1956 run. Half a century after the furor it caused, Baby Doll looks better than ever, an edgy mix of comedy and drama, adult sexual promise and adolescent teasing, shadows and sunlight, tragedy and farce, all presented in ravishing black-and-white cinematography.” “In an interesting footnote, when Pennsylvanian Carroll Baker made the trip to Mississippi to star in the film, she found that ‘baby doll’ was a universal form of address for young women there, a sobriquet that seemed to combine the familiar ‘baby’ with a built-in reminder of women’s essentially passive, not to say submissive, role.”
“One can only wonder where the Catholic Legion of Decency and all the other right-wing moral guardians were when, in CinemaScope and with a G rating, Maurice Chevalier, a musical Humbert if ever there was one, celebrated the unripe appeal of Caron’s pubescent whore-in-training with his lasciviously delivered song Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”
“The Bad Seed marks a groundbreaking Hollywood depiction of the darker side of a female child who uses her stereotypically cute looks and presumed innocence to deceive. Shirley Temple, after all, would never have played a pint-sized ax murderer.”
“Made in the same year as the first movie version of Lolita, the original film version of Cape Fear, directed by J. Lee Thompson, featured Robert Mitchum as Max Cady, a vindictive ex-prisoner intent upon exacting revenge from the lawyer who helped to put him away for attacking a woman 8 and a half years before. It contained particularly graphic scenes of Cady attacking both his enemy’s wife and young daughter. (…) Thompson was a lifelong opponent of censorship and battled spiritedly with the American censor who sought to reduce the general violence and tone down Cady’s obvious intention to rape the lawyer’s teenage daughter. Thompson had originally wanted 16-year-old Hayley Mills to play the daughter (‘because she was a very sexual girl’), but ironically enough the very sexual girl was under contract to Disney. Thompson wound up with the rather more anodyne Lori Martin instead. Although far less forthright than Martin Scorsese’s 1991 version of the story (where the daughter actually appears to be aroused by stalker Cady and at one point shares an open-mouth kiss with him), Thompson’s film, aided by a superb Bernard Herrmann score, manages to suggest extreme menace where it cannot be explicit.” “At one point Cady snatches up an egg from a counter and violently crushes it in his fist, spraying yolk and white on his victim’s chest and shoulders and then smearing the mess with the palm of his hand. Not for the first time a determined director discovered that when the censor obliged oblique methods instead of obvious ones, the result could be just as disturbing.”
“Everybody would be troubled by the one biggest—and certainly the longest-running—sex-with-a-minor Hollywood story to dominate the headlines since the passing of Errol Flynn. Started in 1977, it centered on film director Roman Polanski, and its reverberations still continue to be felt over 30 years later.” “In a piece of fatal bad timing, the family returned to Poland just before the Nazis invaded; his mother was to die in Auschwitz, his father barely survived another concentration camp, and the young Roman only just escaped the Jewish ghetto. With such a traumatic start to his life, the various tragedies that he was to encounter later are put into a salutary perspective. Even so, when, in 1969, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered in the most grotesque and sensational circumstances at their house in the Hollywood Hills, Polanski—who had been absent at the time—was totally devastated and entered a phase that saw him shuttling between the United States and Europe until, in 77, he met the 13-year-old Samantha Geimer.”
“Perhaps the most revealing of Polanski’s Freudian movies is, however, one of the least known. Variously titled What? and (in a censored U.S. version) Diary of Forbidden Dreams, this 1972 film is nothing less than a loose erotic reworking of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which young American tourist Nancy (Sydne Rome) has some very strange adventures of her own in an Italian coastal town. A disjointed film even before the censor got at it, What? transforms Alice’s rabbit hole into a strange villa peopled with nightmarish inhabitants, one of whom is a retired pimp played by Marcello Mastroianni. A scene in which he interrogates Nancy with all the logic of the Black Queen and then shackles her wrists to her ankles and whips her with a switch is the main reason this film never received a mainstream theatrical release and is still little seen; the handling of the scene is kinky and jokey, and its presence offers further evidence that Polanski’s sexual ideal was a young girl upon whom male dominance could be played out in ritualistic sex games.” Desculpem-me os criminologistas adiantados ou psicanalistas (esses sempre adiantados e sempre equivocados), mas não creio que se possa determinar condição psiquiátrica de perversão sádica e pedofílica via criações artísticas! Estamos em 2008 (data do livro) e isso deveria estar mais claro… Não há relação de causa-efeito entre Polanski diretor e Polanski estuprador, nem “raio X” da vida privada em seus filmes. Antes, como bem antecipou Vickers, o assassinato de sua primeira esposa, sim, foi macabro como uma ficção de mau gosto, esse o paralelo mais visível entre sétima arte e vida real.
“Even Polanski’s late-blooming film noir masterpiece, Chinatown (1974), turns on the childhood sexual trauma of Faye Dunaway’s character, Evelyn Mulwray.” Um dos 10 maiores filmes da História. Ainda sobre o “reflexo da vida pessoal nas criações cinematográficas”, tem aquela piada sobre um matemático que lê um romance vanguardista e pergunta ao final: “Mas o que é que isso prova?”.
“Once raped by her father (John Huston), she continues to protect the identity of a mysterious young girl called Katherine until, in response to a series of face slaps from Jack Nicholson’s exasperated private eye, she finally answers alternately, ‘My sister. My daughter. My sister. My daughter . . . she’s my sister and my daughter’.” Uma das cenas mais impactantes do cinema.
“The implication of the film’s somber ending is that he now wants to gain control of Katherine, his daughter/granddaughter, in order to repeat the abuse” Desculpem o spoiler, mas ainda assim não perderão nada do senso trágico ao assistirem!
“Polanski’s version was that Geimer’s mother had effectively entrapped him with a view to blackmail. Fearing that the plea bargain would not be honored, Polanski left the United States before trial, never to return. He is a French citizen, and France has no extradition agreement with the United States. He remains a European director who has never since set foot in the United States or any country that has extradition agreements with the United States.” Um ano depois deste livro, Polanski foi preso na Suíça, porém foi solto em cerca de 2 semanas diante de pendência documental e irregularidades por parte da justiça americana (source: Wikipédia!).
“Preteen prostitution featured in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), with Jodie Foster causing a minor stir with her portrayal of 12-year-old whore Iris Steensma.”
“Also in 1976, heavily disguised as a Hitchcockian thriller, came the ultimate daddy’s little girl movie, Brian de Palma’s Obsession. Paul Schrader’s tour de force script has a successful New Orleans businessman lose his wife and young daughter in a kidnapping when he refuses to pay the ransom and a police rescue attempt goes fatally wrong. Ten years later, he meets a girl in Italy who looks exactly like his dead wife. He becomes obsessed with her, they have an affair, and he makes plans to take her back to New Orleans and marry her. Eventually the whole Italian episode is revealed to be an elaborate revenge plan: the born-again wife is actually the daughter who, unknown to everyone, survived the kidnapping and is now intent on exacting revenge from her neglectful daddy. In a Freudian nightmare of a scene, the daughter/lover, played by Geneviève Bujold, is shown toggling between her two roles (high camera angle/low camera angle, little girl’s voice/woman’s voice) during the course of a single breathless walk along an airport corridor. In Schrader’s original script incest took place, but by the time the film was shot and edited, de Palma decided to fudge the issue.”
“In 1978, Louis Malle directed Pretty Baby, an ambivalent soft-focus movie in which 13-year-old Brooke Shields went topless as child prostitute Violet in early 20th-century New Orleans. (…) It seems safe to assume that such a movie might not be made today. The photographer, Ernest J. Bellocq (played by Keith Carradine), evokes shades of Charles L. Dodgson and his photographic studies of little girls previously discussed.”
“In the late 70s, Woody Allen was in the middle of one of his most productive periods of moviemaking. Critics sometimes argued that he kept making the same movie over and over again, a variable celebration of loves found and loves lost from the same neurotic New York perspective of an intellectual with doubts about everything, especially mothers, psychoanalysis, and Judaism. Even for the most skeptical critics however, Manhattan (1979) represented one of Allen’s most satisfying variants on the theme. With its sumptuous black-and-white photography, Allen’s love affair with New York City featured the usual character list of literati and well-heeled academics but this time introduced a new element, a 17-year-old girlfriend for Allen’s mid-40s character. This age discrepancy is a central concern of the movie, never better highlighted than in the scene where Allen, Diane Keaton, and Michael Murphy are walking down the street having a very pretentious discussion about art while the 17-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), tags along. ‘What do you do, Tracy?’ asks Keaton’s character suddenly, in the middle of talking about the latest profile she has been commissioned to write for an arts magazine.
‘I go to high school’, Tracy replies innocently.
Suppressing a smile, Keaton turns aside to Murphy and says in a barely audible undertone, ‘Somewhere Nabokov is smiling, if you know what I mean’.
No one was smiling when, 13 years later, Allen’s relationship with his girlfriend’s adopted daughter was revealed. Now the age difference was 35 years, and the good-natured, liberal Manhattan was suddenly looked at in a new light by a moralizing press and public. It remains, however, one of the few examples of an American movie—a comedy to boot—that takes an adult, bittersweet approach to such relationships.”
“Adrian Lyne’s 1997 attempt to cinematize Lolita is discussed in detail later, but in the present context it is worth noting that the thoughtful adaptation written by Stephen Schiff was greeted by a reactionary response that shrieked disapproval long before the film was completed or, in some cases, even begun. It was symptomatic of a new unwillingness to address stories focusing on pedophilia that would persist into the next millennium. The news media’s increasingly emotive and sensationalist treatment of child abuse cases in the 90s had helped to create a popular mood of national outrage at not only any actual instances of pedophilia but also at any film, TV program, play, or book that dared to explore the topic. (…) The resulting film ‘censorship’ was less a case of official proscription, more an informal outcome of a mixture of moral cowardice and commercial timidity shown by movie producers and studio executives who feared that acknowledging child abuse in a movie would automatically result in catastrophic box office returns.”
“A vengeful Lolita for the 21st century. In Hard Candy (Menina Má.com, 2005), Ellen Page plays Hayley Stark (a.k.a. thonggrrrl14) who has no intention of becoming the 14-year-old victim of the 32-year-old man who believes he is grooming her on the Internet.” Curiosamente, Ellen virou Elliot – teria algum fundo traumático em sua decisão? Foi Kitty Pride na trilogia X-Men agora clássica. W.: “Page publicly came out as a gay woman in February 2014 and subsequently as transgender in December 2020. In March 2021, Page became the first openly trans man to appear on the cover of Time magazine.”
“The twist comes early, when Hayley encourages Jeff to take her back to his isolated bachelor pad where it is she who spikes his drink and then takes him prisoner before subjecting him to a regime of physical and psychological torture based on her conviction that he is a pedophile and a murderer.” “Canadian actress Ellen Page’s stunning metamorphosis from breathless young teen to self-assured psychopath in the space of a couple of hours surely draws a definitive line under those early movies in which youngsters were admired for successfully aping the manners and mannerisms of adults.”
“‘You used all the same phrases to talk about Goldfrapp as they use in the reviews on amazon.com’ Here is a pleasing inversion of Humbert’s aloof tendency to use arcane Eurocentric cultural references, a private lexical amusement arcade that is largely meaningless to Lolita but that identifies Humbert as a man of the world, in every sense.” “Hard Candy’s inspiration apparently came from Japanese news reports of girls ambushing men seeking underage dates on the Internet. Their tactic and Hard Candy’s reductio ad absurdum of it looks, in the end, less like female empowerment and more like the sort of warfare that brings both parties down into the mud, so rendering them indistinguishable from one another.”
“When Dolores Haze sentenced Humbert to death she did it not with a noose but by accident, through her complete indifference to his late-blooming love and by divulging Quilty’s identity. The melancholic scene where she waves homicidal Dad goodbye one last time from the step of her sad Coalmont home can have only one outcome. Yet Lolita was only ever carelessly, thoughtlessly unkind, whereas thonggrrrl14 (and that snarling spelling, if nothing else in Hard Candy, would surely have been enjoyed by wordsmith Nabokov) is a self-appointed vigilante with a solemn cause, exactly the kind of political character Lolita’s creator famously abhorred.”
6. ON THE ROAD: Lolita’s Moving Prison
“Crucial to any understanding of Nabokov’s nymphet is one of the most exuberant parts of Nabokov’s novel: the year-long road trip. This 11,500 word-section comes at the middle of the book and marks the point of no return for Humbert. It also contains some of the novel’s most revealing details about Lolita herself, details that frequently emerge not in the course of one of Humbert’s typically solipsistic character assessments but very much in the margins of their 27,000 miles journey. [mais que a volta ao mundo!]”
“On the move, Lolita will not be able to make regular friends (in whom she might confide and thus betray him), and there will be no schools, psychologists, or social workers. Instead there will just be a year in limbo, disguised as a vacation for a child who has recently lost her mother in tragic circumstances.”
“It is perhaps tempting to think of this tour—in however debased a form—as being in the general spirit of the Great American Road Trip, that iconic celebration of freedom, optimism, and exploration expressed by driving across a geographically varied nation.” Com efeito, um dos maiores mitos ou lendas urbanas do conto de fadas americano.
“As Lolita’s self-appointed jailer, Humbert is in his own way as much a prisoner of their odyssey as she is.”
“Henry Miller’s dyspeptic tour of 40s America, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, amounts to little more than a litany of complaints about capitalism, mass media, rapacious industry, easy credit, misinformation, and what Miller called ‘the divorce between man and nature’.”
“Humbert and Lolita’s tragedies are personal ones, not symbolic ones. Nabokov loved America and was distressed by those critics who saw malice or contempt in Humbert’s ironic observations about their ‘lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country’. Taylor Caldwell, for instance, praised Lolita but saw it as aiming its destructive fire at the ‘puerile materialistic and sickening fun of the perpetually adolescent American people’.
If Lolita’s road trip has any spiritual cousins, they can be found neither in the political invective of Miller’s prose nor in the morose beauty of Frank’s intentionally bleak photographs but rather in the canon of film noir, where it was almost always personal tragedies that provided the impetus.”
“The widescreen color landscapes that would characterize the next generation of Hollywood road-movie fugitives—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, or Thelma and Louise—were something different again.”
“Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road was put together and published at approximately the same time as Nabokov’s Lolita. Both books were begun in 1950. Nabokov’s was completed by the start of 1954 while Kerouac’s would not be ready for press until 1957. Stylistically worlds apart, both novels ended up hitting the headlines in the United States at about the same time.”
“Kerouac’s famous book conflated and lightly fictionalized the 1946-50 real-life road trips undertaken by the author and his inspirational buddy Neal Cassady. (By revealing coincidence, Cassady’s interest in an underage girl was one of the things that Kerouac’s circumspect Viking Press editor Malcolm Cowley chose to excise from the manuscript.) Recasting Kerouac as Sal Paradise and Cassady as Dean Moriarty, On the Road expressed in loose, spontaneous prose all the excitement and adventure inherent in breaking the taboos of the day through a series of wild automobile trips dedicated to unrestrained indulgence in sex, drugs, and experimental spirituality. Lolita, by contrast, featured not only elegantly structured prose (the kind Kerouac and Cassady considered sterile) but also a more strategically considered itinerary, one that was designed to divert and restrain a child while camouflaging the sort of taboo breaking that even On the Road’s editor balked at seeing in print.”
“the motel cabins change, but the car always stays the same. Long after Lolita has left Humbert, it is in the recesses of the car that painful souvenirs will turn up unbidden: a 3-year-old bobby pin discovered in the depths of the glove compartment after he has found and lost Lolita for the last time filled Humbert with particularly acute pain.”
“With no new vehicles to buy it was quite usual for 40s cars to put in uncommonly long service with one owner, gradually becoming familiar, battered, and even anthropomorphized extensions of their occupants.”
“Despite Humbert’s bored lack of interest in the American popular music of the day, we learn, by inference, that Lolita favors Jo Stafford, Tony Bennett, Sammy Kaye, Peggy Lee, Guy Mitchell, and Patti Page. This mix does not sit particularly well with Humbert’s assertion that she likes ‘hot, sweet jazz’—these were, after all, mainstream pop musicians, several of whom had hits with smooth metropolitan versions of country songs. Although his loose grasp of genres is quite plausible, Humbert’s boredom with popular music is frustrating; it would somehow have been nice to learn that Lolita sings along to, say, Patti Page’s Confess, and surely even Humbert himself might have found amusing traces of Little Carmen in Peggy Lee’s cheerfully racist ditty Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me), another jukebox favorite of 1948. We are also told that Lo likes square dancing (no hot, sweet jazz there either), although it is far from clear how Humbert’s strict isolationist regime would allow her to participate in what at the time was essentially a couples community event usually organized by local dance clubs. Perhaps she simply admires square dancing as a spectator.”
“Nothing will dispel Humbert’s fear that he will be found out. Even his enduring confidence in the anonymous privacy of the motel cabin proves misplaced when one night he discovers that their sexual activities must be clearly audible in the neighboring room from which there comes, too late, a clearly audible cough. Yet despite such reminders of the danger he courts, Humbert persists with their aimless tour as the seasons change and Lolita grows slowly more indifferent and then hostile toward him.”
“Nabokov similarly listened to schoolgirl conversations on buses, pouncing on what, even to a man with his prodigious linguistic skills, must sometimes have sounded like a wildly exotic patois.”
“As their Great American Road Trip draws to a close, Lolita is 13 years old, 8 pounds heavier, 2 inches taller, sexually active, reluctantly accomplished at trading physical favors for treats, and well established in the habit of crying herself to sleep on a nightly basis.”
7. TAKE ONE: “How did they ever make a film of Lolita?”
“The 1962 film of Lolita was to give the world its first physical incarnation of Dolores Haze. There were some 800 applicants for the job, and sifting through them took producer James B. Harris and director Stanley Kubrick so long as to threaten to delay the start of shooting. Meanwhile, Vladimir Nabokov was vacillating about becoming involved in the reimagining of his own novel for the screen. Director Kubrick and producer Harris had bought the rights to the book from Nabokov for $150,000 (plus a share of the profits) in 1958, and their first attempt to get the author to write a screenplay had come in July 1959; it amounted to nothing. Although tempted, Nabokov turned them down after a discouraging meeting in Beverly Hills during which Kubrick’s concern about censorship—a concern that was in the end to handicap the film considerably—prompted his suggestion that the screenplay might somehow imply at the end of the story that Humbert and Lolita had been secretly married all along. It was an absurd and unworthy idea, but the author’s initial rejection of the screenwriting job stemmed not just from fears of this sort of compromise but from misgivings about his own role. A novelist, not a scenarist, Nabokov was the first to admit that he had comparatively little aptitude for writing for what he called the ‘talking’ screen.
‘I am no dramatist’, Nabokov conceded in the introduction to his eventually published screenplay, going on to say that if he were he would be a tyrant who demanded control of every single detail of the production, from costumes to sets.”
“Despite declining the initial offer, in late 1959 the chronically insomniac author had subsequently been amused to find himself idly cinematizing certain scenes from his novel in ‘a small nocturnal illumination’. When, early in 60, a renewed and improved offer with the promise of a freer hand came from Harris and Kubrick, he accepted. His fee was to be US$40,000 plus an additional US$35,000 if he received sole credit for the script.
On March 1, 1960, Nabokov met with Kubrick at Universal City to map out some scenes in ‘an amiable battle of suggestion and counter-suggestion’. Then on March 9, both men met the frontrunner for the all-important role of Lolita. She came in the shape of 17-year-old actress Tuesday Weld. Nabokov called her ‘a graceful ingénue but not my idea of Lolita’. For once the novelist with a reputation for selecting the exact word to convey his precise shade of meaning had seemingly made a bad choice. Whatever else she was, Susan Ker Weld, initially nicknamed Tu-Tu, and later Tuesday, was not ingenuous. She was born in New York in 1943 and her father died when she was 3. Although the fascinatingly named Lothrop Motley Weld had come from a wealthy Boston family, his widow and 3 children were left with very little money after his death. Susan started working as a child model at an early age and soon became the family’s sole breadwinner. At 9 she suffered (she later claimed) a nervous breakdown, at 10 she began smoking and drinking, at 11 she started to have sex, at 12 she acted on TV, and at 13 she appeared in a small part in Hitchcock’s movie The Wrong Man. She then attempted suicide after embarking on a series of disastrous affairs with a series of much older men, including 44-year-old Frank Sinatra; she was 14 at the time of that relationship. Here—or so the cynic might think—was the perfect proto-Lolita, at 17 already so sexually experienced that she might safely be considered immune to any further corruption if she impersonated Nabokov’s nymphet. It turned out Weld herself felt much the same way but came to a different conclusion. ‘I didn’t have to play Lolita’, she claimed. ‘I was Lolita.’ So she turned Kubrick down, announced a move away from teen roles altogether, and went to study at the Actors Studio. She went on to have sexual liaisons with Elvis Presley, Albert Finney, Terence Stamp, George Hamilton, Gary Lockwood, and a number of other male actors considerably older than herself. Her movie career eventually turned out to be uneven and largely disappointing, even though she did earn some credit for appearing in a number of offbeat or risky movies. Among these were George Axelrod’s bracing satire of teen culture Lord Love a Duck (1966) and Noel Black’s chillingly effective Pretty Poison (1968), a kind of contemporary variant of Bonnie and Clyde in which Anthony Perkins’s lethal sociopath proves no match for Weld’s deceptively innocent-looking all-American high schooler. Eventually her career disintegrated, and despite a 1984 appearance in Serge Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Tuesday Weld is most usually remembered as a feisty, gap-toothed, 1960s teen sex kitten, a living precursor of the popular Lolita stereotype. But what if she had played Lolita, one wonders? Would her own wild young life have fused with Lolita’s fictional one to inject some authentic whiff of sex and experience into the role? Or would things have turned out much the same as they eventually did in Kubrick’s film? We cannot know, but it seems a pity that this always-interesting actress was not the first to flesh out Lolita for the screen. She might have been good.”
“By September 25, 1960, the question of casting had been settled without any further consultation with Nabokov. On that date, at Kubrick’s Beverly Hills house, the director showed the author some photographs of Sue Lyon (‘a demure nymphet of 14 or so’ was Nabokov’s neutral verdict) whom, Kubrick assured him, could easily be made to look younger and grubbier for the part.” “After Kubrick cast her, Lyon issued a conventional kind of Hollywood press release with a few innocuous details about herself: she was ‘just an ordinary, typical sort of grown-up American girl’, she claimed, and playing Lolita, she felt certain, would not change her. As things turned out, it was an optimistic prediction. At 14, Sue Lyon had a pretty face and a shapely figure that combined to give her an intermittently adult look, albeit one so bland that Kubrick had felt the need to reassure Nabokov that this blonde teenager could somehow be dirtied up to resemble his tomboyish, chestnut-haired little girl. She never was, and in most scenes of the film she would look closer to 21 than 12.”
“When exactly is Kubrick’s Lolita set? The 40s of the novel? Apparently not. The 50s? The early 60s? In terms of sexual behavior (and quite a lot of other things) these were very different decades, so it is extremely strange not to have the period clearly identified from the start. Kubrick’s film looks strangely adrift in both time and space. While the novel was happy to ‘fictionalize’ place-names as part of its conceit about protecting the innocent, the locales Nabokov created were all diligently observed, and in terms of geography and dates, the book is extremely precise and specific. Those scholars who have taken the trouble to deconstruct Humbert’s many schedules and itineraries have found the novel’s internal topography and calendar to be carefully planned”
“In the course of the film it slowly emerges that Kubrick seems to have set the action about 10 years later than the novel—although deducing even this much requires some distracting detective work on the part of the audience.”
“Lolita was shot in and around Elstree Studios a few miles north of London.” “This results in the complete absence of any authentic sense of place. In another pragmatic ploy, Kubrick cast an informal repertory of expatriate Canadian supporting actors (Cec Linder, Lois Maxwell, Jerry Stovin, Shirley Douglas, Isabelle Lucas) and so introduced accents that, while not those of old England, hardly suggested New England either. Of course, such practices were not uncommon in low-budget movies of the time, but they were more likely to be seen in modest British supporting features than a high-profile MGM production.”
“The embossed legend on the cover of Humbert’s pivotal diary clearly reads ‘This Year’ instead of an actual year (1947, we are specifically told in the novel). Lolita’s begging letter to Humbert is dated with the month and day, yet it too omits the year. Again, this looks like an intentional ploy to be vague. No authentic contemporary popular music is featured at any point in the film, despite Lolita’s jukebox mania that Nabokov so lovingly addressed in the book—all that research into the names of late 40s pop singers. All we get is a rather syrupy Nelson Riddle score, a vapid song, specially written and best forgotten (There’s No You), and an insistent instrumental theme tune that rings out randomly from a radio, a band at the prom, and other places—music in a vacuum to match the ersatz locations. Inevitably, though, there are one or two period clues. Lolita plays with a hula hoop on the Ramsdale lawn (the hula hoop craze dates from 1957) and joins Charlotte and Humbert at a drive-in to watch the Hammer movie The Curse of Frankenstein, also 1957 vintage. [primeiro filme de horror a cores – mas obviamente preto e branco nos frames de Lolita…]”
“The film opens with the book’s climax: Humbert’s tragicomic murder of Quilty. We do not know why this urbane English-sounding man (James Mason) has come to a stranger’s ornate and cluttered house to commit a murder, but commit it he does after a series of comic delaying tactics from his victim, played—overplayed, some would say—by Peter Sellers. Buying time, a drugged or drunk Quilty assumes the identity of Spartacus (a nod to Kubrick’s previous film) while wearing a dust sheet as a toga and orchestrates a surreal, one-sided Ping-Pong match. He goes on to approximate the twangy accent of the archetypal old Western sidekick—a Gabby Hayes or a Walter Brennan—to read aloud an accusatory poem that Humbert hands him. The poem is a parody of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, and this arcane literary touch, lifted from the novel, surely sits uncomfortably in a mainstream movie. Quilty then puts on boxing gloves and immediately takes them off again when Humbert begins firing his pistol in an unintentional echo of the amateurish marksmanship in the Western movies that he, Charlotte, and Lolita once sat through. Quilty goes on to pretend to compose a song at the piano before making a run for it and finally gets fatally shot while cowering behind a large framed reproduction of an 18th-century portrait of a woman.” “A close-up of the bullet-riddled painting marks the end of a spirited opening sequence that nonetheless denies us any hint of the gory and surreal horror of Quilty’s death as depicted in the book. Nabokov portrays him as an assassinated tyrant, a fallen king who is ‘bleeding majestically’ in his slow retreat to the master bedroom, suddenly developing ‘a burst of royal purple’ where his ear had been. Here his death is, literally, stylized out of sight.”
“Much has been omitted, some of it disastrously. We do not see or hear anything of Annabel Leigh, and we learn hardly anything at all about Humbert’s lifelong obsession with nymphets.”
“Here she is at last: Lolita made flesh. What, contemporary audiences might have asked themselves, was all the fuss about? Sue Lyon simply looked like a slightly more sophisticated version of Sandra Dee, the blue-eyed blonde who, in her Gidget persona, was the epitome of naughty-but-nice late 50s teen sex appeal. Certainly Kubrick had a vested interest in making his Lolita look as old as possible on the grounds that a teenager was less likely to fall foul of the Production Code Authority than might an ostensible 12-year-old. In keeping with the general calculated vagueness of the film, however, Lolita’s age is never actually given at all on-screen.”
“In response to its rhetorical tagline ‘How did they ever make a movie out of Lolita?’ the June 14, 1962, New York Times review supplied a neat and obvious answer: they didn’t. Instead, ‘they made a movie from a script in which the characters have the same names as the characters in the book, the plot bears a resemblance to the original and some of the incidents are vaguely similar’, Bosley Crowther wrote. ‘But the Lolita that Vladimir Nabokov wrote as a novel and the Lolita he wrote to be a film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, are two conspicuously different things’.”
“In truth, Nabokov can hardly be said to have written the finished film’s screenplay at all, although he certainly wrote a screenplay, a version of which was eventually published in 1973.”
“Knowing the difficulties Kubrick eventually experienced in faking a plausible Ramsdale in England, one can only smile at the alarm he must have felt upon being required by Nabokov’s prologue to simulate the following: the French Riviera, Paris, a voyage into New York Harbor (Humbert, ‘Dramatically Standing on a Liner’s Deck’, sees ‘The towers of New York looming in the autumnal mist’), and a nursing home, a library, and assorted exteriors for the retrospective parade of European nymphets. Kubrick’s solution was to cut the entire prologue and, after Quilty’s murder, begin the story in flashback with Humbert’s arrival at Charlotte’s house 4 years earlier.”
“Nabokov, who regarded Kubrick as an artist, was initially very disappointed when he finally saw the movie that used only odd scraps of his screenplay (rumor has it that Kubrick and Calder Willingham cooked up the eventual screenplay between them, but Kubrick would never be drawn on the matter, and it was Nabokov who was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay).”
“Revisiting Lolita now, the viewer may find that Sue Lyon comes out of it rather well, delivering the best and least stagy performance, but the plaudits belatedly given to James Mason’s Humbert, Shelley Winters’s Charlotte, and Peter Sellers’s Quilty seem more generous than accurate. Winters was certainly in top form as the overbearing, sexually frustrated, culturally pretentious Charlotte, but in the end her character comes over as nothing more than a grotesque at whom it is easy to laugh but about whom it is hard to care. Mason, meanwhile, is forced to underplay Humbert with a good deal of dry comedy, as if taking part in a dark sitcom. In the end his Humbert comes over as a good-looking but ineffectual rogue who suffers from occasional bouts of bad temper as he seeks to seduce a pretty teenager while living in a decidedly tense domestic situation.” “Deprived of the novel’s inner voice and hamstrung by a timid script, the actor cannot begin to hint at take one Humbert’s haunted past, his eviscerating humor, his awful sexual obsession, his calculating cruelty.” “There is little doubt that Kubrick’s decision to give Quilty so much screen time and Sellers so little direction imbalances the film badly. A figure that should be a malign, shifting shadow keeps taking center stage and doing cabaret turns.”
“He shot Killer’s Kiss himself on location in New York City in 1955, and although it obviously suffered from a very low budget and was forced to use largely unknown actors, most of whom were destined to stay that way, it does contain some fine visual material with bright, monochrome vérité footage of Times Square and dramatic waterfront skylines offsetting the mean warehouses and hotel room interiors. Kubrick explored film noir again in his next picture, the celebrated 1956 racetrack heist movie The Killing, and again seemed very much at home with it. It is a shame that he did not revisit the genre—even in a spirit of parody—for his treatment of Lolita, a novel that positively bristles with both literal and oblique references to such films”
“Lyon’s brief 1950s TV apprenticeship seems to have prepared her well to give what is the film’s only truly unaffected performance.” “Ironically, it is in such automobile sequences that she seems closest to Nabokov’s Lolita—because it is those sequences that represent the film’s most conspicuous betrayal of the book after its denial of pedophilia. Incredibly, the novel’s epic road trip, that beautifully evoked yearlong, looping journey to nowhere that forms the centerpiece of the novel, is effectively omitted from the film altogether. Gone is the vast promise of the U.S. highways, the idiosyncrasies of the roadside lodgings, the elegant irony of a perpetually moving prison set in a limitless landscape, and the full rotation of the seasons through August 1947 to August 1948. It is replaced with two shorter trips, each with its own specific destination and each staged here in a series of static tableaux showing Lolita and Humbert sitting in their studio-bound car with only back-projected scenery for context. The first trip is from eastern summer camp to Idaho, where Beardsley College awaits them (the institution has been transplanted from its eastern location in the novel, presumably to enable this revised cinematic schedule); the second is from Beardsley to points south, in what Humbert believes to be a mutually agreed bid to escape to Mexico, although this trip has actually been surreptitiously proposed and stage-managed by Clare Quilty. Here, though, on Elstree’s virtual road, Sue Lyon’s Lolita is at her most plausible and sympathetic. The enclosure of the car, with both passengers in the shot, gives Lyon and Mason a chance to spark off each other at close quarters without distractions. Freed of those aging fashion accessories, Lyon even looks closer to her actual age as she sucks on a soda straw, chews gum, pulls faces, and alternates between bright acquiescence and whining protestation with a palette of expressions that ranges from diffuse prettiness to slack-mouthed vulgarity—probably a pretty good approximation of what Nabokov had in mind. But because we don’t fully grasp that Mason’s Humbert is a pedophile, we can only really see these scenes as conventional father/daughter sparring matches, not unlike those traditionally practiced on-screen by everyone from Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor to Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. This couple may be sharing motel bedrooms, but the audience might be forgiven for thinking that the most intimate thing that happens there is what was shown behind the film’s opening credits: Humbert solicitously painting Lolita’s toenails.
Stanley Kubrick’s perennial defense of the absence of sex in his Lolita was that in the early 60s censorship simply made it impossible to do justice to Nabokov’s theme. His justification, often repeated and paraphrased, was ‘because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did’. Yet, as Elizabeth Power pointed out in her 1999 article ‘The Cinematic Art of Nympholepsy: Movie Star Culture as Loser Culture in Nabokov’s Lolita’, ‘Other contemporary and even earlier films suggest that Kubrick’s placement of blame on censors is not particularly accurate or convincing’. It is true to say that, by the 1960s, pedophilia was very occasionally starting to be acknowledged in mainstream films. Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss demonstrates the early difficulties of depicting it. A serious but wildly expressive filmmaker rarely given to understatement, Fuller has his heroine, reformed call girl Kelly (Constance Towers), discover her society fiancé molesting a little girl in his own home. The film deals with the moment of discovery so oddly that at first it is hard to understand what is going on. A little girl emerges from a corner of the living room and runs out dutifully as if to play. Only then do we see Kelly’s grim-faced fiancé also emerging from the shadows. We are left to infer what was going on from Kelly’s hysterical response, which involves clubbing and killing her intended with a heavy telephone. Awkwardly presented as the scene is, The Naked Kiss does at least try to address the hot issue head-on and, in doing so, is one of several films of the time to undermine Stanley Kubrick’s routine defense of the complete absence of sex in his Lolita by citing the censor as an immovable force. The Naked Kiss was made in 1963 and released in 1964. Two years later, Kubrick’s Lolita, actress Sue Lyon, would give a far sexier performance as a jailbait teen Charlotte Goodall to Richard Burton’s disgraced preacher in John Huston’s movie of Tennessee Williams’s The Night of the Iguana.”
“Taking a broader view of Kubrick’s work, the director seemed to have a pathologically uneasy relationship with the forces of censorship, whether applied externally or, more usually, by himself. He effectively withdrew his own Fear and Desire (1953) from circulation by buying up all known prints. He blocked any rerelease of A Clockwork Orange (1971) in Britain after its initial showing there, allegedly because of fear of copycat crimes of violence; it was then not seen in Britain for 30 years and only reemerged after Kubrick’s death. Despite scant evidence of undue censorial interference with any of his work prior to Lolita, he seemed hamstrung by worry about the censor even before the screenplay was written. His line seems to have been not that the censor demanded cuts but that he himself did not venture to risk a confrontation. A difficult and complex man, Kubrick has been the subject of many studies, but the rest of his odd movie career lies outside the orbit of this book.” “In what Nabokov might have called a thoughtful Hegelian synthesis, Kubrick’s final movie, the disastrous Eyes Wide Shut, involved the elaborate replication of Manhattan streets on the lot at Elstree Studios. This time it was rather more persuasively done.”
“Ten years later, Sue Lyon’s life was a mess. It emerged that even the innocuous press release she had issued on getting the part had been a lie—this normal American girl had come from a deeply troubled background. Now she claimed her mother had driven her father to suicide when she was just 10 months old. Penniless, they took in lodgers, one of whom tried to rape 8-year-old Sue at knifepoint. She first had sex at the age of 12, became a model, and at 17 entered into the first of 4 marriages. She was diagnosed as bipolar and put it all down to Lolita. Sue Lyon may have been dramatizing and transferring blame for her bad luck, bad judgment, or bad behavior, but then again she may not. In the days when she still talked about her Lolita experience at all she said, ‘I defy any pretty girl who is rocketed to world stardom at 15 in a sex-nymphet role to stay on the level path thereafter’. By the time Adrian Lyne’s film of Lolita came out in 1997, Lyon, it seems, could no longer even consider the dreaded name rationally. ‘I am appalled they should revive the film that caused my destruction as a person’, she told Reuters news agency in a by now rare public statement. Lyne’s film would be no revival, it would be a completely fresh cinema treatment of the novel, but Lyon was beyond such distinctions in her hatred of Lolita, the poisonous name of her nemesis.”
“The book Zazie dans le métro, as mentioned in chapter 3, was written by Raymond Queneau, who greatly admired Nabokov’s Lolita and gave his own child heroine her looks as well as her mix of innocence and cheerful vulgarity. Visiting Paris, provincial Zazie wants nothing more than to ride the metro of the title, the city’s subway system, but it is immobilized by a strike. So she shakes off her dubious guardian, a female-impersonator uncle, and explores Paris on foot. The book makes playful use of phonetically spelled French slang, much of it vulgar, in an episodic, literary tale that Malle’s 1960 color movie recast as a fast-moving farce with silent movie gags and Road Runner references instead of the linguistic allusions. Malle cast young Catherine Demongeot as Zazie. Demongeot, it has to be said, would have made the perfect Lolita: 12 years old, chestnut hair, slangy speech, mischievous and rebellious, she is also sexually neutral in a way that means any middle-aged man shown to be attracted to her would be immediately identified by his singular craving and not excused as having a more conventional appetite for pretty young girls. Demongeot (who would jokily reprise her Zazie role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme est une femme one year later) is perhaps the ideal screen Lolita who never was.”
“It would be 35 years before the next movie of Lolita appeared. In that period the Lolita brand would take off in a giddying multiplicity of directions. Yet the enduring irony of Stanley Kubrick’s film was that it in no way added to the popular myth of Lolita as promiscuous seductive teen.”
“A further irony: a complete absence of sex was one of the few criticisms that could not be leveled at Lolita’s next two incarnations, both of which would be on the stage. A legendary lyricist felt he could do justice to the story in a musical setting, and then one of America’s leading playwrights took it on himself to pay his own theatrical tribute to Nabokov’s heroine. Subsequently, each might have had grounds for joining with Sue Lyon in identifying Lolita as a force for evil.”
8. DRAMATIC ART: Lolita Center Stage
“The novel Lolita, heavily dependent on a narrator’s internal monologue, does not seem to lend itself well to stage presentation—even less so than film presentation, which leaves open the possibility of voice-over. It does present one advantage over a film treatment, however: the cinema’s troubling demand that only a little girl can plausibly play Lolita is potentially eased.” “Without close-ups, a theatrical performance does not necessarily need a very young girl, just one who can play young; this freedom also makes the later depiction of a 17-year-old Lolita a lot easier.” “The first attempt to put Lolita onstage, however, did not take advantage of this option with regard to age. It was one misjudgment among many in what was to become a resounding commercial (if not an artistic) disaster. Helmed by talented people, this venture was doomed to fail before it began. It was Lolita, the musical.”
“Lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was a Harvard-educated man, a student friend of John F. Kennedy who had progressed through Harvard’s Hasty Pudding musicals to become a writer of continuity scripts for the long-running NBC/CBS radio show Your Hit Parade.”
“Nabokov had only been persuaded to give his approval to the project because, as in the case of Stanley Kubrick, he was always sympathetic to those whom he considered serious artists even when he knew little about their chosen medium. Nabokov had already demonstrated, with his elephantine screenplay for Lolita, that he had no real idea how films were written, let alone made; now his often-admitted lack of appreciation for music disqualified him from assessing anything but Lerner’s impressive track record of writing intelligent, literate musical books.”
“Richard Burton turned down the role of Humbert, so British Shakespearean actor John Neville (much later of The X-Files [um dos velhos do círculo conspiratório do Smoking Man]) was cast in the key role.” “The reviews were so bad that producer Norman Twain closed immediately for a complete overhaul. Annette Ferra, the 15-year-old originally cast to play Lolita, was replaced. They would try out again in Boston, premiering at the Shubert Theatre on March 15, 1971, for an intended run of 3 weeks. The cast now included a new Lolita, 13-year-old Denise Nickerson.” “The revamped show won some qualified plaudits from the critics in Boston, mainly for Lerner’s lyrics and John Neville’s Humbert, a portrayal apparently distinguished not only by a good performance but also by a strong vocal contribution. Dorothy Loudon’s Charlotte was colorful enough to be sorely missed when she died at the end of the first act. The public, however, did not really miss her because they never came in the first place. Lolita, My Love closed after only 9 poorly attended performances and never made it to New York.” “The show lost $900,000.” “What remains of Lolita, My Love? The poor quality audio recording, probably taken from the soundboard during rehearsals, still exists.”
“In the end, Lolita, My Love disappeared into the well-populated Hall of Shame of failed musicals, along with the now-legendary Carrie, a musical version of the Stephen King/Brian de Palma horror-fest that faithfully included the film version’s opening shower room scene in which Carrie is taunted for being terrified by the onset of her first period.”
“Perhaps, after all, the show was as good as it could have been, but the faulty foundation upon which it was built was the assumption that the public was ready for a musical about a child molester. The presence of a 13-year-old leading lady probably made it an even more distasteful prospect for its presumed audience.”
“A happy-ending footnote was that, in contrast to Sue Lyon’s experience, the Curse of Lolita did not ruin Denise Nickerson’s life; after a good run in film and TV (including a stint on The Brady Bunch), she moved to Colorado and became an accountant. In the same year Lolita, My Love flopped she also appeared in the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and was thus fondly remembered by a whole generation not as a sexualized child in a musical but as Violet Beauregarde, the gum-snapping kid who turns into a blueberry in Roald Dahl’s famous morality tale.”
“Albee’s body of work already included The Zoo Story (1959), The American Dream (1961), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), so his reputation seemed secure, and few had demurred when he was dubbed one of the few genuinely great living American dramatists.
Albee’s Lolita made its debut at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City on March 19, 1981, almost exactly 10 years to the day after Lolita, My Love folded in Boston.”
“this time Lolita was played by 25-year-old Blanche Baker, whose mother, Carroll Baker—at about the same age—had played Tennessee Williams’s Baby Doll Meighan. [ver acima]”
“Donald Sutherland, the Canadian movie star who had not acted on stage for 17 years but who could offer an approximation of the British accent he mastered during his extended 60s sojourn in London, was Humbert Humbert.”
“it was a total disaster.”
“Retracing the texture of an ephemeral event like a theatrical performance over a quarter of a century later is not an exact science. We have the reviews (in this case universally damning), but we cannot revisit what they were reviewing. We do, however, have Albee’s published play, presently included in volume 3 of his collected works. A caveat from the author suggests that, as with most of his plays, he has, in new collections, tweaked a few things with the benefit of hindsight. (This was a liberty upon which Nabokov would have frowned; once the piece was written, that was it as far as he was concerned—it was time to burn the rough drafts and alternative versions and move on.)”
“Its most daring device is that of introducing a detached authorial voice, embodied by the character of A Certain Gentleman who provides an ironic, Olympian commentary on the proceedings, often bantering with exasperated Humbert (who is given to complaining about the way the action is turning out and even the quality of the writing) and generally reminding the audience that this story has a puppeteer for an author. This is a strangely dated 60s device redolent of those fleetingly modish TV plays that would reveal the camera crew to remind the audience that it was watching a TV play, or new-wave movies like Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris, where the mechanics of moviemaking self-consciously intrude at every turn.”
“Humbert obliquely mocks the author’s decision to give Annabel a surname that so obviously evokes Poe’s doomed heroine; he finds the device of Charlotte coming upon Humbert’s incriminating diary corny.” Divertido.
“The robe falls, Lolita is naked onstage, and her popular reputation as a brazen tramp is further advanced. The plot grinds on, more or less faithful to the letter of the novel but missing its bittersweet spirit entirely; fellatio and cunnilingus are simulated; the epic road trip (now meaninglessly inflated to 500 days) is included but can only be suggested by fragmented scenes in stylized motel rooms; Clare Quilty is represented in a manner that apes Peter Sellers’s disruptive chameleonic turns in Kubrick’s movie; Lolita leaves, Humbert grieves, and the play ends as does the book with Quilty’s murder and Lolita’s death in childbirth.”
“‘No one who saw the execrable production the play received on Broadway could penetrate through to the homage I was paying to Nabokov’, wrote Albee in a 2005 introduction to the play.”
“(Blanche) Baker, chosen after a long talent hunt for prepubescent sexpots, is disappointing as Lolita. She begins as a little girl with a lollipop and swiftly becomes a brat with a staff sergeant’s mouth and no trace of dreamy allure.”
“Albee, it seemed, was now yesterday’s man, a remnant of the 60s completely out of place in the new, Reaganite 1980s.” Stephen Bottoms
“The film based on Albee’s play was never made, although the contract held good and Albee’s camp actually collected on Adrian Lyne’s 1997 film that bore absolutely no relation to Albee’s drama. The intended opera, slated to be co-written by Leonard Bernstein, also failed to materialize after the drubbing the play received. Eventually, however, another opera did surface, this time rather unexpectedly in the Swedish language. Having seen how Alan Jay Lerner and Edward Albee fared, one might have expected Rodion Schedrin to demur, but late in 1994 the Russian composer premiered his 4-hour opera of Lolita at Stockholm’s Royal Opera. Due to another wrangle with the Nabokov estate (Schedrin had written the libretto but neglected to secure the rights), it was not possible to perform it in Russian or English, so it was translated into Swedish. There were 8 Stockholm performances spread across December 1994 and January 1995, and critics found little to admire in Schedrin’s words or music, although soprano Lisa Gustaffson’s portrayal of Lolita was praised, as was the production in general and John Conklin’s boldly stylized stage design, replete with imaginative icons, symbols and logos of 50s America.”
“These extreme examples of dramatic disaster would seem to suggest that no sane person would ever again try to put Lolita on the stage. Yet it is in the nature of theater to revive and rework past failures to see if it was the times or something more intrinsic that defeated them first time around.”
“In 1999, the 100th anniversary of Nabokov’s birth, the International Theatre Workshop tackled it at Lower Manhattan’s Gene Frankel Theatre. In the opinion of Zembla, an admirable Web site for Nabokov fans, Russian director Slava Stepnov’s vision of Lolita here was ‘less about sex and pedophilia than . . . about being a slave to one’s own ego’.”
“A 2003 Oxford University student version also produced for Edinburgh was adapted by Aidan Elliott and had Lolita ‘clambering all over Humbert with an offensive and almost comical lack of subtlety’ according to one critic.”
“Dmitri Nabokov has praised a ‘truly fine’ Milan theatrical production of Lolita by Luigi Ronconi that was based not on Albee’s play but on Stephen Schiff’s screenplay for Adrian Lyne’s 1997 film.”
9. THE SPIRIT OF FREE ENTERPRISE: Every foul poster
“Lolita, although too young to be socially aspirational in that particular way, does seem to have inherited her mother’s touching trust in the heady promises of lifestyle magazines and adds an insatiable consumer’s appetite for the dreams such magazines promote. America’s golden period of consumerism might still be 2 or 3 years in the future, but even during the relative austerity of the late 1940s, the constant allure of consumer goods and services is already a potent force in Lolita’s young life. Modern kids usually want the same toys, clothes, and gadgets that their friends have, but Lolita’s constrained circumstances meant that she did not even have friends for much of her meager childhood.”
“Rachel Bowlby, in her essay ‘Lolita and the Poetry of Advertising’, writes: ‘It is Lolita who is the poetic reader, indifferent to things in themselves and entranced by the words that shape them into the image of a desire that consumption then perfectly satisfies. Appearing under the sign of <novelties and souvenirs>, anything can be transmuted . . . into an object of interest, worth attention.’”
“It all began with that 1962 movie poster featuring a stylized Lolita sucking a scarlet lollipop and peeping over the lenses of sunglasses equipped with red heart-shaped frames. Her flirty gaze is contained, top and bottom, by the out-of-focus horizontals of a car window frame (although these were sometimes airbrushed out in the innumerable variants used for international posters and paperback book covers). Fashion photographer Bert Stern, who took the picture, seems to have toyed with the idea of making Sue Lyon into an adolescent Marilyn Monroe, an aim more obvious in another color shot from the same sessions.”
“At the time, Stern was already fascinated by Monroe, of whom he would soon take some 2,500 photographs in a 3-day session shortly before she died in 1962.”
“heart-shaped glasses and other items were to become a loose trademark vaguely suggestive of very young, sexually available girls. In this way a counterfeit Lolita fashion was founded upon an accessory that had nothing whatever to do with the Lolita that Nabokov had realized in such precise detail and diligently accoutred with all those faded blue jeans, plaid shirts, tartan skirts, gingham frocks, and sneakers. Worse was to come.
Nabokov was still alive when, to his amused revulsion, life-size Lolita sex dolls first became available, fully equipped with the appropriate apertures. Now, in the 21st century, the Bratz range of sexy, Barbie-with-attitude dolls for girls is rarely discussed without some passing reference to Lolita.”
“Both commentators took the view that targeting very young girls was mainly a commercial decision undertaken by companies who were running out of female teenage consumers and who saw not only an immediate impressionable preteen market to exploit but also a valuable recruitment platform for tomorrow’s teenage customers.”
“It has also lent itself to fashion styles and trends as far removed from 40s Ramsdale as Mars or Venus.”
“British artist Graham Ovenden’s series of Lolita paintings and prints from the mid-70s caused a minor scandal when they were first exhibited, but they were defended as art rather than pornography, just as Nabokov’s book had been—although in this case perhaps with less demonstrable justification. A vague adherence to certain locales of the novel (Lolita at the Lake, for example) and Ovenden’s obvious skill as a draftsman could not change the fact that his artfully undraped Lolita owed rather more to some Pre-Raphaelite erotic stereotype (long luxuriant hair, a fey self-absorption) than to Dolores Haze. Some of Ovenden’s other works, such as those depicting Lewis Carroll’s Alice or 5 seminude contemporary girl children only identified by their first names, seemed to reinforce a legitimate suspicion that a graphic talent and the fame of others were being used to legitimize a personal obsession. Another Briton, David Hamilton, also courted controversy in the 70s with his numerous soft-focus nude photographic studies of girls in their early teens. Despite a credible early career as a 60s fashion photographer for Vogue, Elle, and other upscale glossy magazines, Hamilton always remained a suspect cultural figure in the United States and Britain, and his reputation was not helped when he directed a clutch of soft-core porn movies of which Bilitis (1977) remains the best known.”
“New York City–born photographer Jock Sturges has also faced repeated charges that his work was child pornography masquerading as fine art. In 1990, his studio was raided by the FBI, who confiscated much of his work and equipment. The offending images were of children of both sexes, most of whom were characterized by their nakedness, their physical beauty, and the kind of untroubled, eyes-straight-to-the-camera gaze that in itself seemed to be challenging and confrontational to the forces of conservatism.”
“Many of his images were certainly of very young girls, and in their studied informality, it could be argued that they were hardly any less contrived than Charles Dodgson’s Victorian tableaux. The difference was that these were pictures of modern young girls who were growing up in a knowing culture of sophisticated magazines, movies, and TV commercials, the beneficiaries of late 20th-century health care and nutrition posing naked on the recognizable beaches of west coast America or France. Without the distancing effect of yesterday’s technology and dated visual manners—dubious excuses to be sure—to some this looked like conceited pornography. To others it was a celebration of the female body’s beauty at its most striking. After a year, that FBI raid resulted in a grand jury throwing out the child pornography case. The public trial of a photographer, who had been born in the year of Lolita’s Great Road Trip, had given a new generation, too young to remember the public outcries about Nabokov’s novel, a minor child pornography debate of its own.
Sally Mann’s photographs incited similar divisions in the late 80s, particularly with her second published collection of pictures, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women.” “Occasionally cropping her subjects in ways that might invite the charge of fetishizing certain body parts, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women seemed to up the ante by going out of its way to draw attention to the blurriness of the line between childhood and adulthood, innocence and experience, pornography and art. When her next collection turned the lens on her own children, it caused a new outcry. Immediate Family (1992) contained what Art in America critic Ken Johnson called ‘luminously beautiful black-and-white images of mysteriously elfin children’, while other observers considered it further evidence of Mann’s fondness for sexualizing children, now with a suspicion of incest thrown in.”
“A fair-minded reviewer might have disentangled this cultural muddle, but Blundell (who does not let the fact that she never even read all of Lolita prevent her from offering the absurd assertion that its author concluded that the molestation of girls turns them into sexy, self-sufficient women) simply co-opts Mann’s images as an excuse to air her own feelings about child abuse. Her review is worth dwelling on only because it is typical of many responses to this particular subject. When it comes to discussions of child abuse, sociological or artistic, there always seems to be people for whom the very idea is so incendiary that they cannot wait to begin with their own moral conclusion and then work backward to try to make the facts support it. They always seem content never to have read the book or seen the movie or play that is central to the debate; moral certainty, it seems, makes the gathering of supporting evidence unnecessary.”
“One of Lolita’s more high-profile instances of commercial fame has come from having her name adopted by a Japanese youth fashion. Lolita Fashion in general connotes a frilly fantasy in which Japanese teen or preteen girls dress in a wildly stylized approximation of Western Victorian or Edwardian girls, often complete with lacy parasol, teddy bear, and Little Bo Peep hat or frilly headdress—Alice Liddell on LSD. More famous still is the Lolita Fashion subcategory Elegant Lolita Gothic, usually shortened to Lolita Gothic, ELG, Loligoth or GothLoli. Extrapolating conclusions from all of this is inherently problematic, since delving into Japanese popular culture at all is fraught with pitfalls for most Western commentators. It seems even the most innocent assumptions about shared societal values cannot be made when it comes to Japan. In the present context it may be plausibly argued that Japan actually sanctions, or at least broadly tolerates, a national male obsession with schoolgirls. The sexual politics of the Japanese Gothic Lolita phenomenon is therefore something of a minefield.”
“In Japan that look has been traditionally based on a school uniform of the sailor fuku style (white blouse, blue collar, red tie, short blue pleated skirt), although an auxiliary range of fetishized school outfits also exists in the various forms of navy blue one-piece swimsuits, gym clothes comprising tight white top and navy blue tights, and schoolgirl variants of traditional Japanese martial art clothing. On the face of it, this would seem to be comparable to American male fantasy fetishes for schoolgirl, Girl Scout, or cheerleader outfits. Yet in Japan the Lolita Gothic fashion phenomenon—which might at first be considered nothing more than another variant of the school-age girl fantasy—is also part of modern Japanese youth’s own fondness for Visual Kei and CosPlay, role-playing that uses elaborate costumes, hairstyles, and makeup to create fantasy personae.
Attracting boys as well as girls, Visual Kei finds a distant Western echo in the British glam rock era of the 70s, a movement that spawned David Bowie, Queen, and Roxy Music. It was mainly androgynous-looking males who dominated, but the symbiosis between the music and the elaborate theatrical costumes adopted by performers and fans alike seems to prefigure Visual Kei. Certainly there has been a Japanese rock music connection in the form of bands such as Rentrer en Soi and MUCC (ムック), who adopted role-model outfits to inspire their fans to imitate and compete.
By being part of the Visual Kei movement, Lolita Fashion and Lolita Gothic have therefore come to represent a particular form of self-expression for young Japanese girls that seems poised between the traditional role-playing of Kabuki and the elaborate sartorial confection of the geisha, which—at least in the form of oiran geisha—has clear associations with prostitution. So here is a stylized hybrid movement of rebellion and self-expression based on an image that seems to derive from a Japanese male erotic stereotype and is therefore overloaded with cultural and sexual references that leave journalists groping for plausible sound-bite descriptions. French maid meets Alice in Wonderland. Shirley Temple meets Morticia Addams. Victorian frills with glam rock platform shoes. Baby Doll as a Black Sabbath groupie. No words can quite do justice to the impact of Japanese Lolita Gothic, not least because it very much depends upon whom it is having an impact. Lolita Gothic has been adopted by young Japanese women whose slight physiques tend to evoke childlike or even doll-like associations—although these associations tend to exist mainly in the minds of Westerners.”
“Courtney Love, in her early days with alternative rock band Hole, was occasionally hailed as the first bona fide American Loligoth, but despite her contrived look of depraved innocence, achieved through torn baby doll dresses and makeup that looked as if it had been applied by a 9-year-old with little mirror experience, Love was no elfin Japanese girl, so the overall effect came out rather differently.
Yet Lolita Gothic has been successfully exported through other media, ever since it seeped into the iconography of Japanese manga (comic and newspaper cartoons), anime (animation), and bishōjo (a type of video game¹ based on interaction with stylized young girls depicted in the styles of manga and anime).”
¹ O autor se equivocou, pois jogos são só uma parte do conceito. Wiki: “Although bishōjo is not a genre but a character design, series which predominantly feature such characters, such as harem anime and visual novels, are sometimes informally called bishōjo series. The characters and works referred to by the term bishōjo are typically intended to appeal to a male audience. [Sailor Moon – que carrega bishoujo no título original e é formalmente considerado shoujo anime – seria focado em homens ou mulheres?!] Since one of the main draws of these series is typically the art and the attractive female characters, the term is occasionally perceived negatively, as a genre which is solely dependent on the marketability of beautiful characters rather than the actual content or plot.
The word bishōjo is sometimes confused with the similar-sounding shōjo (‘girl’) demographic, but bishōjo refers to the gender and traits of the characters it describes, whereas shōjo refers to the gender and age of an audience demographic – manga publications, and sometimes anime, described as ‘shōjo’ are aimed at young female audiences.”
“All of these media trade in variants of the Lolicon (and how Nabokov, the lover of portmanteau words, would have squirmed to hear that one),¹ the Lolicon being a sexually explicit graphic depiction of a stylized prepubescent girl character. The traditional Lolicon has huge eyes, a preteen physique, skimpy clothes, and some (usually) pastel accessories of childhood (hair in beribboned bunches and bangs, popsicles, toys, and so on).”
¹ Lolita + complex
“Bishōjo, the video medium, has met with most resistance to export because of the overtly sexual and sometimes pornographic nature of the player’s possible interaction with the characters. Manga and anime, usually more mainstream, have therefore been the leading channels by which this particular life of Lolita has become well known outside of Japan.
What does the Loligoth phenomenon add to the sum of misunderstandings that have accumulated around Lolita’s name? If in Japan its resonances are singularly domestic, in the West it has perhaps vaguely reinforced the idea of Lolita as a proactive coconspirator in her own exploitation. The spectacle of young girls publicly affecting costumes that contrive to blend the childlike with the enticing—and doing it, however unconsciously, in Lolita’s name—only strengthens the general suspicion that somehow Dolores Haze was asking for it. It is an unworthy but widespread suspicion and one that finds its logical conclusion in the ultimate commercialization of Lolita’s name: the Internet trade in pornography where 3 trips of the tongue down the palate—Lo-Lee-Ta—signify the sexual exploitation of underage girls who are often coerced to simulate enjoyment of their ordeal.”
“The world of Internet Lolitas is in fact a rather more complex one than it may seem at first glance. As with everything else, the Internet has complicated traditional perceptions of how information is delivered and received. In the pre-computer days when Lolita was first conjured into being in Nabokov’s neat hand on a series of index cards (an analog cut-and-paste system of the author’s own devising), trafficking in pornographic material of any sort was still a comparatively risky business for both supplier and consumer, involving shady bookshops, mail-order services, and the black market. As a movie like Hard Candy demonstrates, by 2006 Internet pornography had bred sophisticated new protocols involving grooming and impersonation, bringing with them new generations of clued-up children and adults as well as a highly efficient transglobal distribution channel so complex that policing it has been reduced to a series of high-profile law enforcement gestures rather than any real control.”
“By the early 70s, much of Western Europe was taking a far more liberal attitude toward pornography, the trend being led by Denmark, which, in 1969, had legalized the production of all kinds of erotic material. The earliest child pornography movies were marketed under the name ‘Lolita’ and were made by a Copenhagen-based company called Color Climax. It is estimated that a minimum of 36 10-minute films were produced under this catchall title between 1971 and 1979. Pornographic magazine spin-offs drew upon these movies for still photographs. The ‘Lolita’ films featured young girls, typically between the ages of 7-11, being sexually abused mainly, but not exclusively, by men. Meanwhile, in the United States, the commercial production and distribution of child pornography also began to flourish in a parallel climate of (comparatively) lax national law enforcement, often with linkups to European producers, sharing material and sometimes even sending images from the United States to Europe for initial publication prior to importing the resulting magazines. Amsterdam became the hub of this publishing trade, and it featured material with names that included Lollitots, Lolita Color Specials, and Randy Lolitas.”
“One of the more grotesque by-products of today’s Internet distribution of child pornography is that a large proportion of it actually dates from 20 or 30 years ago, those old movies and still images now having been digitized. (…) For those abused children who are still alive, those filmed episodes from their grim childhoods are still being efficiently cataloged and sold.”
“Perhaps this is a good point at which to recall that in 1949 Quilty throws out adoring Lolita because she flatly refuses to participate in his pornographic movies. ‘I said no, I’m just not going to (blow) your beastly boys, because I want only you’, Lolita tells Humbert at their last meeting, explaining why Quilty dumped her.”
“Of course, had Lolita’s name remained the fairly common Spanish diminutive it had been before Nabokov bestowed fantastic fame upon it, the pornographers would simply have found another generic label to identify their images of molested and beaten kids. But perhaps it is grimly fitting that those traders in abuse should have knocked off a name so mellifluous and rich in associations, since the theft is appropriate to the practice it describes: the stealing of childhoods to realize dark adult fantasies.”
10. TABLOIDS AND FACTOIDS: The Press and Lolita
“Tabloids in the United States date from the launch of the New York Daily News in 1919, a paper today locked in rivalry with the New York Post, which, under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has taken on many of the characteristics of the famously cutthroat British tabloids.”
“The Pall Mall Gazette was founded in London in February 1865 by Frederick Greenwood and George Smith and began as an interesting example of life imitating art. It was the actualization of a fictitious paper dreamed up by William Makepeace Thackeray for his 1850 novel The History of Pendennis. That novel explored Thackeray’s favorite theme of the green but ambitious youngster on the make, an idea he also used in Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The real-life Gazette’s original tone had been unashamedly elitist, fully in keeping with Thackeray’s editorial prescription (the Pall Mall Gazette would be ‘written by gentlemen for gentlemen’, Pall Mall being a London street famous for its exclusive gentlemen’s clubs). In 1880, however, the actual Gazette passed from conservative to liberal ownership, and between 1883 and 1889, under editor William Thomas Stead, it became a vigorous campaigning newspaper. The fully illustrated publication now covered human interest stories and became much more accessible, featuring banner headlines and short paragraphs. Traditionalists deplored what they saw as the degradation of news journalism, and there was particular resistance to Stead’s fondness for ‘the interview’, a journalistic innovation that, a rival complained, indiscriminately gave voice to any ‘politician, religionist, social reformer, man of science, artist, tradesman, rogue, (or) madman’ whose ramblings might offer titillation to readers.
Then in 1883 the Pall Mall Gazette published a series of articles on the subject of child prostitution, a practice that it labeled ‘the white slave trade’. Sales of the paper increased from 8,000 to 12,000. Two years later, Stead joined with Josephine Butler and Florence Booth of the Salvation Army for an exposé of child prostitution that was to represent the Gazette’s finest hour. In July 1885, Stead arranged the purchase, for a sum of around $8, of Eliza Armstrong, the 13-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep, in order to demonstrate how easy it was to procure young girls for prostitution. Stead then published an account of his investigations under the rather biblical title of ‘Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’ and made it a Pall Mall Gazette extra. Although his motives were clearly benign and the purchase of the girl obviously an intrinsic part of the exposé, the editor, along with accomplices, was charged and briefly imprisoned for procurement. Even so, the storm of publicity he stirred up was instrumental in forcing a change in the law that same year, and the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16. It was a remarkable demonstration of the power of the popular press. Stead had, in effect, turned a patrician publication into a tabloid that not only attracted many more readers with its human interest stories and accessible layout but also demonstrated that it was not afraid to take on the establishment.” “Ironically, today’s traders in child pornography and prostitution have little to fear from the hollow cries of moral outrage about pedophilia from the pragmatic descendants of the Pall Mall Gazette. Current tabloid editors, both British and American, know a sensational story when they smell one and have long since mastered the art of pandering to the worst instincts of a prurient readership while piously sermonizing in the margins. Few editors are willing to go to prison for practicing what they preach.”
“the boundary between factual reportage and titillating documentary-style fantasy was defined by the existence of publications like Real Confessions, Real Romances, and Crime Confessions; these were fact-derived entertainment.”
“the word ‘factoid’ was coined by Norman Mailer in his 1973 Marilyn Monroe biography to denote a ‘fact’ that does not actually exist before being reported in a magazine or newspaper”
“Post-Lolita, the newspapers found they had a new shorthand label—and they could not have wished for a better one. ‘Lolita’ was short, distinctive, easily pronounced, and rapidly acquired a meaning that was internationally understood—or rather misunderstood.” “This Lolita was a factoid, a fabrication presented by the print media as a fact, thus acquiring a bogus new reality of its own.”
“At the time of this writing, half a century since the first American publication of Lolita, the world’s current number one female tennis star, at least as far as the press is concerned, is the California-based Russian Maria Yurievna Sharapova. No doubt Nabokov would have derived some enjoyment from the spectacle of a prodigiously talented expatriate Russian girl excelling at one of his favorite sports in his beloved adopted country, but he would also have groaned at the press epithets deemed suitable for someone whose only misdemeanor was to start out as a bratty-looking teenager: the red-hot Russian… the Lolita of women’s tennis… Lolita with a racket… and so on. Did Sharapova have a precursor? Indeed she did: fellow Russian Anna Kournikova was frequently dubbed the ‘Lobbing Lolita’ in the press, but her retirement from competition—as well as her more conventional type of beauty—meant that journalists soon sought a successor and found her in the sometimes petulant young Sharapova, whose occasional teen sulkiness combined with her lithe physique made her an even better expression of the Lolita fantasy cliché.”
“That nymphet’s beauty lay less on her bones
Than in her name’s proclaimed two allophones.” Anthony Burgess
“When I saw that Fox’s coverage was titled ‘Where Is Elizabeth Smart?’ my thought was well, you know, who killed Laura Palmer? It’s like Twin Peaks in that you have sort of a blonde vision of innocence, of maidenhood… it plays into the JonBenét story. Jon Benét was, you know, this sort of Lolita-ish beauty pageant contestant and what makes it even more sort of archetypal is that Elizabeth Smart played the harp. You can’t get more angelic than that.” James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
“Gone are the days when tame TV movies like Lethal Lolita cannot include the scandalous details; HBO and the Internet can show pretty much anything.” “Kampusch (chapter 2) is turning her experience—and the notes she made in captivity—into what will surely be a best-seller.”
“Since the whole business was clearly a farrago fueled by the imaginations of children who had been browbeaten by suggestible parents, the only verity upon which everyone could agree was that child abuse was a very bad thing and demanded extreme reactions, even when nothing had happened. This, of course, is the unwelcome outcome when real life fails to conform to the easy characterizations of pulp fiction or tabloid simplification.”
“Nothing much changes. Lyne, however, was relentless in his efforts to bring Nabokov’s tale of infinite desire to the screen in a way that would, after Kubrick’s patchy misfire, do it some sort of justice.”
11. TAKE TWO: Once more, with feeling
“The climate of public opinion toward any debate about pedophilia was now deeply hostile, far more so than in the 70s or 80s, let alone the early 60s. This was bad enough, but it was not all. Lyne’s first (and some would say his biggest) obstacle to making a distinguished movie of one of the 20th century’s greatest and most allusive novels was his own track record.”
O DIRETOR DE <FILMES DO CANAL TCM>: “Next came Flashdance (1984), an urban fairy tale about a dancing welder from Pittsburgh (Jennifer Beals) who Has a Dream. It was a hit and was followed by a trio of even more successful but rather shallow erotic movies: Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), and Indecent Proposal (1993). Admittedly Jacob’s Ladder (1990) was in there too, and that was a very well-handled post-Vietnam psychological tour de force that in some ways foreshadowed M. Night Shyamalan’s hit of 1999, The Sixth Sense. Otherwise Lyne’s movie career seemed to be dogged by his roots in advertising—plenty of style but little substance.”
“Approaching his 50th birthday, Lyne was therefore understandably inclined to take on the formidable challenge of Lolita, a literary work of art he had long adored and that was finally optioned to him in 1990, prior to the shooting of Indecent Proposal. It was to prove a case of excruciatingly bad timing.
At this time, the protracted McMartin Pre-School affair was reaching the end of its second and final trial, and Amy Fisher would soon make her first fateful visit to Joseph Buttafuoco’s car repair shop in Long Island, ensuring that Lolita’s name would stay in the headlines for years for all the wrong reasons.”
“The independent U.S. production company Carolco Pictures, Inc. expressed interest in bankrolling the project. Carolco had enjoyed great success with the Rambo movies and Terminator 2 and also produced Alan Parker’s Angel Heart and Sir Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin. Lyne now wrote a 35-page outline titled ‘Preparatory Notes on Nabokov’s Novel’.”
“Pinter had made a creditable screenwriting job of everything from The Last Tycoon and The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Quiller Memorandum and The Handmaid’s Tale, so he might perhaps do Lolita proud. Unfortunately, Pinter was always virulently anti-American in his politics as well as socially subversive in his film adaptations, at least whenever he could get away with it. One suspects he did not much care for Nabokov anyway. Was Pinter, after all, the best man to render the greatest novel of an apolitical, pro-America, non-satirical writer for the screen?”
“Charm was not really what was required, and even the proposed casting of Hugh Grant as a lightweight and too-young Humbert [Hugh tinha 30 anos em 1990] (a serious suggestion at one point) was not going to salvage an icy script characterization. Harold Pinter was out.”
“Schiff too was asked if he could set the film in the present day, an absurd idea that he sensibly rebuffed, arguing that Lolita’s story was inseparable from the context of its time.
‘Nabokov set his novel in 1947’, Schiff later wrote, ‘a singular moment in American cultural history—years before the finny, funny 50s; before the invention of the great American teenager and the distinct consumer culture that sprang up to serve it.’ A pointless 10-year time lag had helped to rob Kubrick’s film of any authentic context, and a 40-year dislocation would surely have rendered Lolita’s plot, as written by Nabokov, entirely meaningless.”
“Dominique Swain was another novice. Born in Malibu, California, in 1980, the same year Adrian Lyne made his Hollywood debut with Foxes, she had little acting experience before getting the part of Lolita. She had failed an audition for Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire (Kirsten Dunst eventually won the part of Claudia) and made a brief uncredited appearance in a film written by Ian McEwan and directed by Joseph Rubin, The Good Son (1993). Sporty, outgoing, artistic, and a straight-A high school student, Swain at 14 was an interesting-looking girl rather than a conventionally pretty one. She was clearly intelligent and seemingly undaunted by the audition process. In a riveting videotape of her audition for the part of Lolita, with Jeremy Irons playing Humbert, she is no showbiz show-off kid but still comes over as precociously witty and self-assured. At one point she mimics Lyne’s English accent, which, she suggests, is so much more sinister than an American one for delivering a line like ‘You murdered my mother’. If Swain’s physical development could have been arrested at the time of that audition, she would have been even better than she eventually was in the movie. But by the time they started shooting she was already looking older and more strapping and can actually be seen to be growing up during the film… albeit out of sequence due to the dislocated nature of shooting schedules. It hardly matters. After beating a reported 2,500 applicants to the part, Swain turned out to be the film’s undisputed success story. She would be a wonderful Lolita: rude, loud, childlike, touching, dreamy, goofy, cruel, sad, feisty, sexy, and funny. She would do it by channeling her own personality into the part and in this was expertly guided by Adrian Lyne, the father of two daughters. Dominique Swain actually seemed to thrive on a lack of acting experience. Not knowing how to do it right can, with careful guidance and good luck, sometimes have the benign opposite effect too—not knowing how to do it wrong. Journalist Stephen Schiff was already proof of this, having turned in the excellent script Lyne needed.”
“Humbert’s eyes, no longer the distorting lenses through which everything is seen, now have to be shown on-screen, along with the rest of him. This was the fundamental, perhaps irresolvable problem of Lolita—this and finding an actor possessing both the skill and the nerve to play him. Unknown 14-year-old actresses have no established career to compromise, but middle-aged actors do. Jeremy Irons, being a well-respected if not exactly beloved actor in his homeland of Britain, first balked at the risk (and this despite Harold Pinter’s sweeping recommendation: ‘If you want an actor who isn’t afraid to look bad, get Jeremy Irons’).”
“Irons’s personal challenge was immense: he had to perform in several sexually charged scenes with a 14-year-old girl who was constantly being attended on set by her mother, a tutor, and a body double. (…) No matter what the level of professionalism, an uneasy personal chemistry would ensue because it is hard for a 48-year-old man to play out violent arguments and sexual shenanigans with a high school girl.”
“Melanie Griffith, a tinny-voiced actress not without her detractors, was cast as Charlotte Haze. This news was seen as another unpromising signal by many movie fans who were also admirers of the book, who were hoping for the best while fearing the worst. More positively Frank Langella, a fine and imposing actor, was cast as Quilty.”
“On location in the South, Lyne said he frequently half expected some redneck sheriff to burst in at any moment to close down the proceedings before the movie was even shot. As for sexual impropriety, all due care was taken, some of it risible. When Swain sat on Irons’s lap, a cushion or board was placed between them. When it was necessary for Lolita to run a hand up Humbert’s thigh or vice versa, the body double took over. The weather, doing what weather does, delayed things. Melanie Griffith fell sick. The original cinematographer had to be replaced after shooting began. Jeremy Irons had real problems with some of the sex scenes. And the only person to sail through the experience with any degree of equanimity was Dominique Swain. Happy to be the center of attention and untroubled by the one aspect of things that troubled everybody else, she burst into tears only when Irons snapped at her for ill-advisedly telling him what to do.”
“They wrapped in late 1995. They started editing in 1996. Then the real battles began.” “As bankruptcy loomed, Carolco sold Lolita to a big French corporation, Chargeurs, that had already acquired the movie production and distribution company Pathé back in 1992. Now, in 96, Chargeurs was demerging Pathé, an outfit for which, it was assumed, Lolita would be an ideal property. After the deal was done, Pathé’s optimism soon turned to concern (and Lyne’s hope to despair) when a new law, the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, was enacted in the United States. Aimed at Internet pornographers who used computer graphics to simulate images of children having sex (even when no real children were involved), it threw up a potential killer obstacle to distributing the new Lolita at all in the United States. The reason was that the act proscribed any visual depiction that was ‘or appeared to be’ a child having explicit sex. This scattergun definition, although perhaps worthy in original intention, had huge potential ramifications for a wide range of mainstream media. An act that would retrospectively ban Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (1979) outright or remove the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio bedroom scene from Romeo + Juliet (1996) looked likely to be challenged in the courts, but no one was eager to be the first challenger.”
“Had we released Lolita in the ‘70s or ‘80s, Schiff said, I believe it would have easily made its way into distribution. But the culture has contracted since then. And even if it hasn’t, its gatekeepers believe it has.”
“In a strange echo of what happened to Nabokov’s novel back in the 50s, Pathé effectively gave up on distributing it in the United States at all and looked to Europe. They perhaps hoped that a critical success there might kick-start its prospects on this side of the Atlantic. This seemed unlikely, despite the recent precedent of John Dahl’s The Last Seduction (1994), a cable TV movie that was shown on HBO and forgotten until it wowed European audiences in theaters, subsequently earning a U.S. theatrical release and rumors of a thwarted Academy Award nomination for star Linda Fiorentino (not permitted because the movie had premiered on TV) and becoming a neo-noir classic.
Adrian Lyne’s Lolita eventually premiered in Spain, at the 1997 San Sebastian Film Festival. It received mixed reviews and subsequently fared poorly in Spain. Italy loved it. In Germany it stirred up many public protests and was subsequently hard to see in that country. In Britain it received a certificate with no trouble whatsoever, something that stirred up tabloid outrage (Jeremy Irons was reported as saying he would leave the country if it were banned).”
“In the end, the cable network Showtime bought the U.S. rights to the movie and broadcast it to any American household that subscribed to their channel in the summer of 1998. Despite limited screenings in New York, Los Angeles, and a few other cities, the movie—40 years after the novel was freely published—was to all intents and purposes banned from theatrical release in the United States, not by the censor but by the movie industry itself.”
“He even adds a very Nabokovian touch that does not come from the book. When 13-year-old Humbert is preparing (alas, in vain) to possess Annabel in the long-lost world of the 1920s Riviera, he takes as a souvenir a bit of ribbon trim from the broderie anglaise of her long underpants. How many members of the movie audience recognize that ribbon when it reappears, unannounced, as a bookmark in middle-aged Humbert’s diary in Ramsdale? Perhaps as many as the number of readers who identify some of Humbert’s more arcane literary references in the novel. Everyone does not need to get the more obscure allusions, but it is nice if those references make artistic sense when they are spotted.
The film score and the featured music are particularly successful. Ennio Morricone’s score underpins the film’s shifting moods hauntingly, particularly in Humbert’s last desolate hours of freedom. Lolita’s enthusiastic if tuneless sing-along participation with contemporary novelty records on the radio—songs such as Louis Prima’s Civilization, Jack McVea’s Open the Door, Richard, and, perhaps most memorably, Tim-Tay-Shun (Jo Stafford’s redneck reworking of Temptation)—seem somehow even more fitting than the jukebox hits of mainstream crooners hinted at in the book.”
12. BLOOD SISTERS: Some responses to Lolita
“Vladimir Nabokov finished writing Lolita on December 6, 1953. In France earlier that same year, Françoise Quoirez, the 18-year-old daughter of a wealthy Parisian industrialist, had just failed her examinations at the Sorbonne and subsequently spent the summer writing a novella. She decided to call it Bonjour Tristesse and herself Sagan after Princesse de Sagan in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Her book was published in 1954. Its success was considerable and international, and by 1959 it had sold 850,000 copies in France alone.”
“Françoise Sagan had cast herself as Cécile, a spoiled 17-year-old whose intimate relationship with her 40-year-old Don Juan of a father seemed to have all but one of the characteristics of an incestuous affair. On an extended summer vacation with him at a villa in the Riviera, she amuses herself by playing malicious cupid as Daddy juggles two women: an empty-headed young mistress whom he believes helps him cling to his vanishing youth and a more mature woman who perhaps ought to suit him better. As her father prepares to announce that he is at last taking the sensible course, Cécile, with a recently acquired summer boyfriend of her own, petulantly manipulates everyone like chess pieces, conspiring to make the woman her father now intends to marry believe that he is deceiving her. This causes the distraught woman to drive blindly from the villa to die in the kind of portentous road accident often featured in books like this. Cécile’s harsh discovery that her game has resulted in irreversible tragedy is presented as a moral awakening and a rite of passage rolled into one. She starts out sounding like an old child, winds up sounding like a young woman; the collateral damage is one dead body.”
“Sagan’s book scandalized family-loving France because of the iconoclastic attitudes behind this story of a daddy’s girl for whom sex was a game and traditional notions of love and marriage represented nothing more than routine and boredom. Tame as it may seem now, Bonjour Tristesse also rang alarm bells because it was a precocious broadside from a member of a young generation whose growing cultural clout threatened to spread far beyond the realm of pop music and fashion. The intimate father-daughter relationship added an extra sense of illicit danger, but perhaps most shockingly of all, the book was written by an obviously experienced young girl who seemed to know a great deal about sex and power.”
“Bonjour Tristesse and Lolita have almost nothing in common apart from having both made their debuts in the mid-50s and sharing any sociological similarities we may choose to infer from each. Their telling difference, though, is that Sagan’s narrator relates everything from a very young woman’s point of view, while Nabokov’s Humbert is a middle-aged male who allows his leading lady no real voice of her own. The controlling effect of Humbert’s oppressive viewpoint was to feature in 40 years of feminist discussion about Lolita, in which the most commonly recurring complaint was that we simply never get to hear the girl’s point of view—she is effectively gagged by the man in charge. The wider implications of this in a male-dominated society, for those who wanted to point them out, were resonant with accusation.”
“In Pera’s book (Lo’s Diary), Dolores Schlegel, née Maze, does not perish in a remote Northwest territory but lives on into adulthood and actually turns up in person at a fictionalized Olympia Press in Paris, accompanied by deaf husband Dick, during a visit to the French capital. Working at this reconstituted Olympia is John Ray Jr., the original novel’s foreword writer to whom Dolores gives her own ‘childish’ diary as a corrective to Humbert’s version of things. Humbert’s ‘real’ name is now revealed as Humbert Guibert. ‘Maybe you’d take a look at my own impressions of that time’, she says, handing over the diary to the bemused Ray. ‘They’re definitely less literary’.” “Only in 1995 does he finally edit and publish it, whereupon we learn that Lolita, in Pera’s hands, certainly does have a voice, even if it sounds suspiciously like the voice of a 42-year-old Italian woman working in the same medium—but hardly at the same level—as Vladimir Nabokov.” “Any expectation that there might emerge a Lolita sympathetically informed by a perceptive feminist awareness seems doomed to disappointment. In short, Dolores Maze comes across as being gratuitously unpleasant even before Humbert gets his hooks into her.” “The book was written in Italian and translated into English by Anna Goldstein, but even making allowances for the inherent problems of translation, this Lolita’s thoughts are rendered in a vernacular considerably less authentic-sounding than Nabokov’s laboriously researched attempts to reproduce the speech patterns of American kids of the 1940s.”
“Throughout, Lo’s Diary runs similarly dreary attempts to depict Lolita as a sexual punk for the postwar years, a crude proto-feminist given to expressing opinions like ‘You have to keep a firm hand on a man, just like a horse’, and a budding sadist who tortures her pet hamster to death, heaps unremitting abuse and hatred on her ‘Shitmom’ Isabel (as Charlotte is redubbed), and decides to ensnare Humbert Guibert as ‘Daddy 2’ from the moment they first meet in the garden of 341 Grassy Street.”
“To readers very familiar with Lolita there is perhaps a certain morbid fun to be had in seeing which of the book’s scenes are revisited from the viewpoint of this newly vicious and venomous Lolita, but in the end Lo’s Diary comes over as a rather sterile conceit with a lifeless narrator working to an obscure purpose. It is a shame, because all those voices calling out for Lolita’s point of view might reasonably have expected something better”
“‘Is the innocence of one girl so important next to Alice in Wonderland? Does it matter if it wasn’t quote soooo wonderful for her? A hundred years of beautifully bound editions? Can anyone honestly say they would save the child and lose the book?’ This thought, intentionally or otherwise, reverses the sentiment of a 1925 Russian poem by Vladimir Nabokov, ‘The Mother’, that explored weeping Mary’s grief after the execution of Jesus.
What if her son had stayed home with her,
And carpentered and sung? What if those tears
Cost more than redemption?”
“In recent years some women authors have brought particularly chilling insights and perspectives to sadly familiar scenarios featuring girl-child victims. A.M. Homes’s The End of Alice seems at its start to be promising some sort of evenhanded correspondence or dialog between a 19-year-old woman and an imprisoned male pedophile, but things soon turn out to be disturbingly otherwise.”
“One of the most unexpected Lolita spinoffs, however, was neither a borrowing nor a variant; it was not even, strictly speaking, a fiction. It was a celebration in the form of a memoir in which fictional Western women—among them Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Sloper, Daisy Buchanan, Emma Bovary, Daisy Miller, and Dolores Haze—were introduced to real Eastern women in a weekly discussion group surreptitiously held in the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran, right at the end of the 20th century.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is Azar Nafisi’s account of an undercover book discussion group she organized for a handful of female students after resigning her teaching post at Iran’s University of Allameh Tabtabai. Born in the old Iran in the days of the shah but educated in England and the United States, Nafisi had returned to teach in her native country in the late 70s, just in time for the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, and, among other things most unwelcome from her point of view, a sustained erosion of personal liberties that proved especially harsh for women. Nafisi was first fired from the University of Tehran in 1981 for refusing to wear the veil and ultimately given no option but to resign from Allameh Tabtabai by the ever more rigorous restrictions placed upon what she could teach there. Allameh Tabtabai still had a reputation as the country’s most liberal university at the time, but all things are comparative and she found the university regime intolerable. So the secretive book group was in effect a gift from an international academic to 7 of her brightest female students. It took place covertly on Thursday mornings at Nafisi’s home, a sanctuary where those young women could shed not only their outdoor robes and scarves to reveal a lively selection of jeans, T-shirts, and other informal items worn beneath but also divest themselves of any restrictions forbidding what they might discuss. They used the sessions, guided by Nafisi, to discuss the unique potency of literature, as well as comparing and contrasting the travails of some of fiction’s most memorable heroines with their own lives and straitened circumstances.”
“If it seems strange for such an embattled group of women to have embraced a hard-to-get book that had inflamed public opinion even in comparatively liberal America, it was not quite as it seemed.” “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the age of consent had been summarily lowered from 18 to 9, the sense of shock about a middle-aged man having sex with a 12-year-old girl was, shall we say, considerably less potent than in most Western countries.”
“To the most rebellious of her students, a young woman she calls Yassi, Nafisi explains that ‘the desperate truth of Lolita’s story is not the rape of a 12-year-old by a dirty old man, but the confiscation of one individual’s life by another’. She goes on to argue that, although we cannot know what Lolita’s life might have been like had Humbert not hijacked it, ‘the novel, the finished work, is hopeful, beautiful even, a defense not just of beauty but of life, ordinary everyday life, all the normal pleasures that Lolita, like Yassi, was deprived of’.
“Philistines are ready-made souls in plastic bags.” Nabokov
“Carol gave me a copy of Lolita instead of a sermon. And that is how I came to read it, in two rainy summer afternoons, when I was 12. And when I emerged tearfully from the bedroom, she just nodded and opened her arms, for I was a sensitive kid. ‘Poor, poor Humbert!’ I cried. ‘Lolita was so mean!’” Justine Brown, exemplificando, depois de adulta, o perigo de fazer pré-púberes lerem o livro para convencê-las do perigo dos predadores pedófilos – elas não entenderão, elas se situarão ao lado de Humbert, confundirão a relação abusiva com amor romântico, o amor hollywoodiano e, doravante, ocidental, e o propósito pedagógico-moral do adulto terá escorrido pelo ralo com esta criança.
“Despite the young Justine Brown’s unexpected loyalties and Pia Pera’s dubious advocacy, Lolita Haze has usually found her most sympathetic champions in women. None of them has been more quietly persuasive than Vladimir Nabokov’s extraordinary wife and collaborator Véra. The acute accent on the e, by the way, was a rare instance of her own literary invention. She added it to help with the correct pronunciation of her name when the Nabokovs first moved to America—it is Vay-rah, not Veer-a. Otherwise, Véra Nabokov, née Slonim, a highly cultured Russian Jew, a great beauty with a sophisticated taste in literature and a talent for languages, wrote hardly anything but diaries and letters, dedicating her life to the role of uber-assistant to a husband whose legendary absentmindedness and impracticality in the real world contrasted comically with his genius at creating and organizing exquisitely detailed fantasy worlds.
Véra was an aristocratic woman who made a dramatic escape from Bolshevik Russia in 1920, eventually arriving in that émigrés’ favorite city, Berlin, where she was still to be found supporting husband Vladimir and young son Dmitri as late as 1938, a date whose resonance now makes this sound like an insanely risky dalliance for a Jewish woman. She was the life partner who battled with publishers when the Nabokovs lived in poverty and the one who beat off the unwanted fans when Lolita made her husband notorious. She was the steel-willed woman who carried the licensed handgun when they toured remote territories on entomological excursions. She was the practical one who drove their Oldsmobile in a mixed spirit of exhilaration and heroic martyrdom because Vladimir could not drive at all.”
“I have upwards of 200,000 miles under my belt, but each time I get behind the wheel I hand my soul over to God.” Véra Nabokov
“She typed everything Vladimir wrote. She delivered his lectures at Cornell when he was too ill to do it himself. Without her, there would have been no Lolita; many who knew the couple went so far as to say that without her, there would have been no Vladimir Nabokov.”
“Véra not only enabled a great literary career, she literally saved Lolita’s life when she snatched the novel’s pages from a sacrificial bonfire started by her husband in the yard of a rented house in East Seneca Street in Ithaca. There were to be several subsequent bids at immolation by an author beset with what he saw as insurmountable doubts about his masterwork, but the first and most famous attempt had a witness, one of Nabokov’s own students, a senior named Dick Keegan who had surely been handed a poisoned chalice when he was recruited as his professor’s personal driving instructor. (This exercise was an unqualified disaster; it remains one of American literature’s great ironies that the man who created that magnificent road trip right in the center of that magnificent novel was always utterly unable to master the controls of an automobile.)”
“Also, Vladimir had entertained vague ambitions to write a comic article for The New Yorker about the trials and tribulations of Lolita’s publication, so it is possible that Véra’s notes might have been designed to help inform that. Yet a more personal tone emerges in this rare instance of Véra seemingly writing as herself rather than as her husband’s coconspirator and administrative alter ego.”
“I wish, wrote Véra, someone would notice the tender description of the child’s helplessness, her pathetic dependence upon the monstrous HH, and her heartrending courage all along, culminating in that squalid but essentially pure and healthy marriage, and her letter, and her dog. And that terrible expression on her face when she had been cheated by HH out of some little pleasure that had been promised. They all miss the fact that ‘the horrid little brat’ Lolita is essentially very good indeed—or she would not have straightened out after being crushed so terribly, and found a decent life with poor Dick more to her liking than the other kind.”
“At the time of this writing a Bollywood movie, Nishabd (2007), has just been released. It is advertised as a remake of the 1962 Lolita, [por que um remake de um filme ruim do Kubrick, e não do filme de 97 ou, enfim, outra adaptação do livro?!] and rumor has it that Indian audiences have not warmed to the film. Another smile.”
“Histoire de Melody Nelson was a themed album from French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg in 1971 and is generally accepted to have been inspired by Lolita. Melody is an androgynous 15-year-old red-haired girl whom Gainsbourg’s alter ego accidentally knocks off her bicycle with his Rolls-Royce. He takes her to a hotel to recover and promptly seduces her in one of its rococo bedrooms. Soon accident-prone Melody will die in a mystical plane crash over New Guinea, and, as Jean-François Brieu’s album liner notes rather colorfully put it, ‘Between these two blood lettings, she will be deflowered by the hero: a little trickle of hemoglobin, tribute paid to an initiation into pleasure’ (the translation from French is mine but the sanguinary imagery is Brieu’s). The sumptuous key track of the album, Ballade de Melody Nelson, was actually recorded before the other songs. It featured vocal interjections from Gainsbourg’s English girlfriend, Jane Birkin, who also impersonates Melody on the album sleeve—red wig, rouged cheeks, toy monkey clutched to her bare bosom, and crotch-hugging jeans. She also appeared with Gainsbourg in a 28-minute 1971 French TV special, Melody, directed by Jean- Christophe Averty. It promoted the album in what now looks like a narrative sequence of primitive music videos.”
“Kitsch of the highest order, Melody the TV special manages to detract from, rather than add to, the drama of the songs.”
“In 1975, Birkin would make her own cult album, Lolita Go Home, the title song being a cri de coeur from a nubile schoolgirl badmouthed by women and drooled over by men; it was co-written by Serge Gainsbourg and Philippe Labro. A year later Birkin would reincarnate a variant of Melody Nelson in Gainsbourg’s movie Je t’aime, moi n’en plus alongside Joe Dallesandro.”
“…Two: doesn’t discussing Lolita—doesn’t the very existence of the book—make pedophilia more socially acceptable?
The second question is so stupid that it does not really deserve an answer, since to confuse discussion with endorsement seems to suggest a complete absence of critical intelligence. It is also perhaps helpful to remember Alfred Hitchcock’s response when told that a serial killer had murdered for the 3rd time after seeing Psycho: ‘What movies did he see before the other two?’”
“Is it possible to depict circumstances and emotions that you have not personally experienced? Well, does anyone ask Hannibal Lecter’s creator Thomas Harris how many people he ate by way of injecting credibility into his blockbuster? Was Bret Easton Ellis only able to write American Psycho by means of strict empirical research? And what chance would Quentin Tarantino have of remaining at liberty if his films were assumed to be autobiographical? Need we ask? Need we answer? If you want to tell the truth, write a novel; if you want to tell a lie, write nonfiction.”
“Writing a biography is a notoriously tricky and subjective business that never fails to offend someone. There can be few more diligently evenhanded biographers than Stacy Schiff, whose book Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) stands as an elegant example of the genre, yet Ms. Schiff (no relation to Adrian Lyne’s scriptwriter, although the name does seem to be a lucky one for Nabokovian projects) has said that ‘anyone who has ever taken a cat to a vet in a carrying case, and extracted the animal in a blur of claw and hackles and muscle, knows what it is to write about Mrs. Nabokov.’”
“Admittedly, the artist who created the original might have cause for regret to see his creation embellished by a contingent comprising largely hawkers, impresarios, and assorted opportunists, but the phantom creatures they all conjure are still bona fide inhabitants of the world of human imagination. Every time we choose to believe in one of them instead of the original, it surely tells us something about ourselves and our times. That too I found an interesting aspect of delving into the lives of Lolita: she has been corrupted in a variety of ways, but each corruption tells us something not about her but about us.
Happily, the ‘real’ Lolita can always be perfectly restored for anyone who cares to read or reread Nabokov’s novel. That experience is its own high reward as well as the most dependable antidote to the latest brazen, short-skirted, man-eating, teen mutant dreamed up and labeled with the L-word for screen, page, or stage.”