Nabokov and Lolita: Another Dubois Love Story?

He visited Dubois while taking notes for the novel. What entered his mind?

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Back briefly in New York City on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m doing what I always do: Browsing the trivial special sections of the Sunday New York Times to read about, say, homes of the rich and famous and travel to places I’ll probably never see.

I idly turn to the inside page of the travel section, and–what???

Nabokov

Spread out across the fold is a huge picture of those familiar, fabulous red rock formations east of town. Not east of New York City, of course. East of Dubois.

Naturally I turn back and begin reading the article about Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (not my usual choice in reading). The author of the travel article and his wife have driven West, following the footsteps of the controversial 20th century Russian-born novelist. And those footsteps led them right to Dubois.

Landon Y. Jones informs me that Nabokov and his own wife Vera road-tripped across the American West from 1948 to 1953, during which the author took copious notes for his novel Lolita, which itself describes the protagonist’s road trip across America (including parts of the West) with his pubescent heart-throb.

Officially Nabokov, who was also an expert on butterflies (who knew?) was traveling Wyoming in search of interesting lepidoptera, not female human “nymphets.” He hunted for butterflies along the “gorgeous Wind River,” Jones writes in the New York Times, and they stayed in what is now the Longhorn Ranch Lodge and RV Resort.

RamshornThe Joneses stayed there as well, and remained in town long enough to notice the oversized jackalope and eat at the Cowboy Cafe. “On the way,” he adds, “we found ourselves on a busy, motel-strewn street called Ramshorn — the name Nabokov modified into Ramsdale, the name of Lolita’s fictional hometown.”

For the second time: what????  Our town’s favorite landmark was the inspiration for the home of the little sexpot in that classic bumpy-covered novel?

This sent me scurrying off to my Kindle to (improbably) download Lolita, in search of references to Ramsdale. Not much like Dubois: He described it as a leafy town with languid, humid summers, a lake, and a street named Lawn Street.

Next stop: Google, to find the basis for Jones’ assertion. I could find none. There doesn’t appear to be any town anywhere with the name of Ramsdale. Nabokov’s biographer, Dieter Zimmer, spent a fair bit of time speculating about the identity of the town that “Ramsdale” might actually represent, which he placed somewhere in New England.

So I tracked down and emailed Lanny Jones, who had said at the start of his article that he and his wife have road-tripped from New Jersey to Montana for the past 15 years (nearly double our own track record taking basically the same jaunt). Like us, they’re baby boomers. In fact, Jones himself is the originator of the term “baby boomer,” in his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation.

Thus began a fairly lengthy and interesting exchange. If he Googled me in return, he learned that we have still more in common: We have both worked for Time Inc.

“My linking of the names of your main street and Lolita’s home town is basically a speculation on my part,” he confessed. “It’s just hard to avoid. I probably should have qualified it as ‘may have modified’ or even ‘surely modified’ … What do you think?”
I demurred about the last question, finding it extraordinarily difficult to be objective. But I did answer a later question: In pronouncing Dubois, the accent is on the first syllable, not the second as he wrote in the Times.
Brooks082815_2In the end, I’m not sorry I scanned through Lolita. The story left me cold, or much worse, but Nabokov does write quite beautifully about my favorite haunts: “red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream.”
I agree with Jones that he may have had Togwotee Pass in mind when he wrote of “heart and sky-piercing snow-veined gray colossi of stone.”
I was also amused to read that, 60 years ago, he described Jackson as “construction hell.”

 

 

 

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

2 thoughts on “Nabokov and Lolita: Another Dubois Love Story?”

  1. That’s a great interplay with finding out your new town is linked to a novel like that, even if it isn’t one that you enjoy. Just seeing someone else’s take on your digs has to be cool.
    I could see the inspiration though, those pics of yours are still breathtaking even in blog format. 😄 it’s definitely beautiful out there.

    Like

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