Sunshine Recorder

Link: Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40

Your sense of the immorality of the relationship between Humbert Humbert and Lolita is very strong. In Hollywood and New York, however, relationships are frequent between men of forty and girls very little older than Lolita. They marry—to no particular public outrage; rather, public cooing.

No, it is not my sense of the immorality of the Humbert Humbert-Lolita relationship that is strong; it is Humbert’s sense. He cares, I do not. I do not give a damn for public morals, in America or elsewhere. And, anyway, cases of men in their forties marrying girls in their teens or early twenties have no bearing on Lolita whatever. Humbert was fond of “little girls”—not simply “young girls.” Nymphets are girl-children, not starlets and “sex kittens.” Lolita was twelve, not eighteen, when Humbert met her. You may remember that by the time she is fourteen, he refers to her as his “aging mistress.”

One critic (Pryce-Jones) has said about you that “his feelings are like no one else’s.” Does this make sense to you? Or does it mean that you know your feelings better than others know theirs? Or that you have discovered yourself at other levels? Or simply that your history is unique?

I do not recall that article; but if a critic makes such a statement, it must surely mean that he has explored the feelings of literally millions of people, in at least three countries, before reaching his conclusion. If so, I am a rare fowl indeed. If, on the other hand, he has merely limited himself to quizzing members of his family or club, his statement cannot be discussed seriously.

Another critic has written that your “worlds are static. They may become tense with obsession, but they do not break apart like the worlds of everyday reality.” Do you agree? Is there a static quality in your view of things?

Whose “reality”? “Everyday” where? Let me suggest that the very term “everyday reality” is utterly static since it presupposes a situation that is permanently observable, essentially objective, and universally known. I suspect you have invented that expert on “everyday reality.” Neither exists.

He does [names him]. A third critic has said that you “diminish” your characters “to the point where they become ciphers in a cosmic farce.” I disagree; Humbert, while comic, retains a touching and insistent quality—that of the spoiled artist.

I would put it differently: Humbert Humbert is a vain and cruel wretch who manages to appear “touching.” That epithet, in its true, tear-iridized sense, can only apply to my poor little girl. Besides, how can I “diminish” to the level of ciphers, et cetera, characters that I have invented myself? One can “diminish” a biographee, but not an eidolon.

How would you define your alienation from the so-called White Russian refugees?

Well, historically I am a “White Russian” myself since all Russians who left Russia as my family did in the first years of the Bolshevik tyranny because of their opposition to it were and remained White Russians in the large sense. But these refugees were split into as many social fractions and political factions as was the entire nation before the Bolshevist coup. I do not mix with “Black-Hundred” White Russians and do not mix with the so-called “bolshevizans,” that is “pinks.” On the other hand, I have friends among intellectual Constitutional Monarchists as well as among intellectual Social Revolutionaries. My father was an old-fashioned liberal, and I do not mind being labeled an old-fashioned liberal, too.

How would you define your alienation from present-day Russia?

As a deep distrust of the phony thaw now advertised. As a constant awareness of unredeemable iniquities. As a complete indifference to all that moves a patriotic Sovietskiman of today. As the keen satisfaction of having discerned as early as 1918 (nineteen eighteen) the meshchantsvo (petty bourgeois smugness, Philistine essence) of Leninism.

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