Last year Michael Maar, a German scholar, made headlines with his allegation that Vladimir Nabokov, unwittingly or not, took the bare bones of Lolita from an obscure German short story. (See, for instance, Ron Rosenbaum’s “New Lolita Scandal! Did Nabokov Suffer From Cryptomnesia?.”)
Does it ring a bell? The first-person narrator, a cultivated man of middle age, looks back on the story of an amour fou. It starts when travelling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. The moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a pre-teen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator–marked by her forever- remains alone. The name of the girl supplies the title of the story: Lolita.
We know the girl and her story and we know the title.
But the author was Heinz von Eschwege, whose tale of Lolita appeared in 1916 under the pseudonym Heinz von Lichberg, forty years before Nabokov’s celebrated novel. Von Lichberg later became a prominent journalist in the Nazi era and the work faded from view. “The Two Lolitas” uncovers a remarkable series of parallels between the two works & their authors. Did Nabakov, who remained in Berlin until 1937, know of von Lichberg’s tale? And if so, did he adopt it consciously, or was this a classic case of “cryptomnesia,” with the earlier tale existing for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory?
(Thanks to Paul for the news.)
This September also marks the 50th anniversary of Lolita‘s publication.