(Sure this is pedantic, but Nabokovists are supposed to be pedantic).
I wish that Appel had asked Nabokov about Henry James’s Daisy Miller and Chodorlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. For all their differences, Daisy Miller and Dolores Haze are classic American Girls ™, 70 years (and not many miles) apart – Lolita’s mom Charlotte even calls herself an America girl. In Les Liaisons Dangereuses the innocent 14 year old convent girl Cécile Volanges is seduced (by an evil seducer, natch) but ends up liking it and wearing out the seducer, though of course her life is ultimately ruined. (Times change: she would have been married off at age 15 anyway.)
Laclos and Nabokov both get the teeny-bopper language down perfectly, which in the case of Laclos was quite an amazing accomplishment given the fictional and literary conventions of that era. He got as much flak for Cécile’s illiterate French as he did for the evil of the plot.
See also my speculations about Humbert’s identity here and my piece on The American Girl here. (I have also found a new American Girl in Huysmans’ Au Rebours: an attractive, willing, but unenthusiastic and unimaginative acrobat with muscles).
113: “No, don’t slow down, you dull bulb…” (Lolita speaking)
“Dim bulb” or “dimbub” is what I’ve always heard. One wonders whether Nabokov might have heard wrong or misremembered.
Lolita, p. 121: And so to the elevator, daughter swinging her old white purse, father walking in front (nota bene: never behind, she is not a lady)…
Here and in a couple of other places Nabokov misses a chance to introduce the “that wasn’t a lady, that was my wife” joke. The word “lady” is a good one to use when teaching ESL students sociolinguistics.
p 148: I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenading her, people with names like Sammy and Jo and Eddy and Tony and Peggy and Guy and Patti and Rex, and sentimental song hits, all of them as similar to my ear as her various candies were to my palate.
Appel (pp. 386-7) identifies these musicians as Sammy Kaye, Jo Stafford, Eddie Fisher, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Guy Mitchell, and Patti Page and then says: But this information isn’t campy if you don’t know who these invisibles are, and that their sentimental songs of love and romance were very corny, and backed by ludicrously fulsome string arrangements.
Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett were jazz singers who don’t deserve that shit. Nabokov has confessed to having a tin ear for music, and based on the following, Appel (p. 389) might be guilty of that too. Zoot Sims was not “great”:
Zoot, the saxophone playing puppet in the Muppets, is not a tribute to fashion [zoot suits] but to John Haley (Zoot) Sims (1925-1985), the great tenor saxophonist.
p. 156: … a last rufous mountain with a rich rug of lucerne at its foot…
Appel note, p. 390: lucerne: a deep-rooted European herb with bluish-purple flowers; in the US usually called alfalfa
Alfalfa has been a major American crop since the mid-19th century and is more important in America than in Europe. If you insist on an ethnic identification, alfalfa came originally from Persia. “Lucerne” is one European name for alfalfa.
p. 174. …bizarre, tender, salivating Dr. Humbert, practicing on singularly lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a granddad.
Certainly a reference to Victor Hugo’s 1877 L’art d’être Grand-Père. Hugo was a highly affectionate grandfather who once told his four-year-old granddaughter that she had a cute ass. He was also one of the horniest bastards who ever lived; his preference in women was “the first one who comes along”. (Source: Robb biography). Another horny bastard was Theophile Gautier, who confessed to an unconsummated preference for nymphets. (Source: Goncourt diaries).
p. 177: Miss Pratt tells Humbert that Dolores Haze …is already involved in a whole system of social life which consists, whether we like it or not, of hot-dog stands, corner drugstores, malts and cokes, movies, square-dancing, blanket parties on beaches, and even hair-fixing parties!
I’m only 11 years younger than Miss Haze (who is approaching her 76th birthday; Phoebe Caulfield is only 72), and I cannot believe that square-dancing was any more part of youth culture during the jitterbug era than it was during the rock’n’roll era.
p. 259: …her slow languorous columbine kisses kept me from mischief…
French kisses. The term “columbine kisses” is used in Huysmans’ book Au rebours (which was once quintessentially decadent, but now pretty much white bread). According to Huysmans, columbine kisses were condemned by the Church.
p. 302: Feu. This time I hit something hard…
“Feu”, literally “fire!” , is weakly onomatopoeic for the gunshot, which was sort of fizzly, but maybe a second (etymologically unrelated) meaning of this word is in play: “deceased”, as in feu mon père. I don’t know whether this word would be used with a proper name (“feu Clare Quilty”) but maybe the idea was lurking in there somewhere.