Sunday, May 24, 2009
SEEING LOLITA THROUGH DOSTOYEVSKY
One hidden precursor of Nabokov's Lolita is the 'suppressed' chapter of the Dostoyevsky novel translated variously as The Possessed, The Devils and Demons: "At Tikhon's (Stavrogin's Confession)." While Nabokov usually spoke derisively of dusty Fyodor, that boiler of Petersburgian pots, the Lolita-Matryosha link is fairly obvious. It's so evident, in fact, that Lolita might profitably be read as a secret satire on Stavrogin's confession and thus as Nabokov's ultimate killing satirical stroke at all that he so publicly and haughtily despised in the "great Russian novels," a phrase he would surely put in very scary quotes indeed... Reading Lolita in the light of Dostoyevsky also illuminates the fact that Nabokov is himself quilty (ah, so Nabokovian a slip of the finger, typing 'quilty' for 'guilty') of the very excesses he would denounce in Dostoyevsky. Nabokov, of course, would worm his way out of this difficulty by stepping one square to the left and attributing authorship to the previous square, now occupied by a white pawn labelled "H. Humbert" that was moved there by the invisible hand of John Ray, Jr....These Russian writers have an answer for everything.