Butterfly Catcher And Pedophile Too?


“Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.” 

Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.”

― Vladimir Nabokov

“The Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, was vandalized recently by a group calling themselves the St. Petersburg Cossacks.” Early in January, a vandal threw a bottle through a window of the museum with a note inside that threatened “God’s wrath.”

Earlier this week, vandals spray painted “pedophile” on the walls of the museum.”


The graffiti reads PEDOPHILE in Russian

Joyce Carol Oates, by far the America’s most prolific writer, in her Revisiting Nabokov’s Lolita, laments that far more people have an opinion about the book than have actually read it. I wonder how many of St. Petersburg Cossacks have.  Dissecting Humbert Humbert’s sexual obsession, J.C. Oates is somewhat disappointed that Lolita makes lousy porn, despite its salacious subject matter. 

It didn’t take me long to find a peculiar post on BookTalk.org forum. The topic: Nabokov, a closet Pedophile?

The author, scarlet31 seems to know quite a lot about Vladimir Nabokov’s life and writing. St. Petersburg Cossacks, who, I assume, not quite as knowledgeable, would be happy to hear her out.

I quote some of what scarlet31 says verbatim, save a few typos MS Word wasn’t happy about:

I find it most intriguing to look beyond the solipsism, abuse, puns, and allusions and delve into the reason Nabokov spent decades writing about child molestation and rape. His penchant for literary intimacy with very young pre pubescent girls exposes a man who chose to ignore the sexual slavery of a twelve year old girl and violate deep rooted sexual and social taboos.

He first developed the theme of the hidden pedophile in his novel “Dar”, written between 1935-37. Then expanded the theme into a novella “The Enchanter” in 1939; wrote the 300 plus page “Lolita” between 1949-1954; drafted a full length screenplay in 1960; singlehandedly translated Lolita in Russian over a two year period, 1965-67; followed by “Ada” in 1969.

To stop undesirable speculation, Nabokov insistently portrayed himself as naive on such matters of pedophilia and that he had to do extensive research simply to be able to write about the subject with any credibility.

He claimed he read so many case histories, traveled America, collected butterflies or whatever. An excellent maneuver, but there was just one little problem: Ten years or more before “Lolita”, Nabokov had written two or more portrayals of pedophilia that between them demonstrated unequivocally that he had complete mastery of child kidnapping, rape, and intimate details of pre-pubescent girls bodies.

I might not be following the above logic just as it was intended, but isn’t it the same as to say that the writer, narrating from the point of view of a psychotic serial killer, must be a closeted psychotic killer himself, for why, otherwise, he  described seven murders in his book so skillfully?

V. Nabokov said this about Lolita,

Lolita is a special favorite of mine. It was my most difficult book—the book that treated of a theme which was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me a special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real.

And something else, too…

“I always call him Lewis Carroll Carroll, because he was the first Humbert Humbert.”

But I won’t go there, where Lewis Carroll Carroll dwelt…

book loverBefore Lolita, Nabokov was just another writer with a rather peculiar bio. He considered himself an American writer, born in Russia, educated in England, where he studied French literature before moving to Germany for fifteen years… “My head speaks English; my heart speaks Russian and my ear – attuned to French.” That alone didn’t make him famous. He taught at Cornell and netted butterflies, both with moderate success.

After Lolita, everything changed for Vladimir Nabokov — Fame came and claimed him  as his own.

When asked whether he ever felt that his protagonists dictate the plot development to him as a writer, Nabokov looked puzzled, even annoyed. He called the question utter nonsense and insisted that writers who claim such things happening to them were either a second-rate or mentally unwell.

One of his students at Cornell University ran into her professor as he was hurrying with a net to hunt butterflies. She said she was very worried, because she didn’t have time to do all the necessary reading for the test. He blithely replied, “Life is beautiful. Life is sad. That’s all you need to know.”



3 comments on “Butterfly Catcher And Pedophile Too?

  1. His own preferences and behavior aside, St. Petersburg “cossaks” reveal one of the most alarming trends in “post-perestroyka” Russia – the upsurge of religious fundamentalism. Long suppressed in the Soviet Union, it now functions as political and “moral” force, no different from old czarist days when religious mobs were organized by police to fight “revolution” and “perversions”.
    Interestingly, we find an opposite trend here
    and worldwide

  2. The observation by J.C. Oates that “far more people have an opinion about the book [Lolita] than have actually read it” can be said of so many things, can’t it?

    And Nabokov’s dismissing of the idea that writers are merely conduits through which inspiration flows is also so true. For a writer to claim to be possessed of a story that tells itself through them smacks too much of supernatural automatic writing or divine inspiration to me. It diminishes the hard work inherent in the craft.

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