The Lolita Question

Cynthia Haven in Stanford Magazine:

Lolita_houseBiographers argue that Lolita’s infamous narrator, the self-deluding Humbert, was inspired in part by the man who started Stanford’s Slavic department, Professor Henry Lanz. While the portrait is hardly flattering, it should be remembered that Lolita is a work of fiction that reflects many influences (see sidebar).

Whatever inspiration Nabokov drew from the cosmopolitan man who became his chess companion that summer, he owed Lanz an enormous debt: the professor paid for Nabokov’s appointment out of his own pocket, forfeiting his summer salary to back the Russian novelist, a complete unknown in America. Nabokov told his biographer Andrew Field that he considered this job his “first success.”

Nabokov needed the break desperately. Russia had banned his writings as “anti-Soviet.” Living in Berlin with his Jewish wife, Véra, from 1922 to 1937, he wrote in Russian under the name Vladimir Sirin. (The Hoover Institution archives preserve a sampling of Sirin’s numerous rejection slips for English editions of his books.) After Berlin, they lived in poverty if not near-starvation in Paris, the more conventional haunt of Russian émigrés. They left for New York a few weeks before the Nazi tanks rolled in and moved into a seedy little flat with their 6-year-old son, Dmitri.

So the Stanford appointment was manna and the westward journey a portal into another world.

More here.  [Photo shows house Nabokov lived in while in Palo Alto.]