Word fun in Nabokov's Lolita

If you're a fan of word play, you probably already know how much fun Nabokov had penning Lolita. There's hardly a page in the novel that doesn't make good use of a pun, play on words, or other cool lit-device. There are also dozens upon dozens of allusions to Poe, Joyce, Flaubert, Shakespeare, Keats, Melville, and on and on. It is, by this writer's way of thinking, one of the busiest novels written in recent history, if you're into reading between the lines. Here are some of my favorite examples.

1. Vivian Darkbloom

Let's start with perhaps the most famous, Vivian Darkbloom, the mistress of antagonist Clare Quilty. Ms. Darkbloom's name is a simple anagram of Vladimir Nabokov.

2. Edgar

There are a lot of references to Edgar Allan Poe throughout the novel. This is partly due to the fact that Poe was the master of word play, and partly to the fact that Poe married his 13-year-old cousin. One of the more obvious references is when H.H. checks into his first motel with Lolita (who, don't forget, is only 12 in the novel), and signs in as Dr. Edgar H. Humbert.

3. Blanche Schwarzmann

In the novel's foreword, penned by the fictitious John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., (to give "˜authenticity' to the confessional style of the novel), a certain psychologist named Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann is quoted (to give even more "˜validity' to that which is already clearly fake). Blanche is, of course, white in French. And schwarz is black in German, so her name is actually Dr. White Blackman. Nabokov believed that Freudian psychologists, like Dr. Schwarzmann, see everything in black and white.

4. Double Ds

Nabokov loves to have fun with phonetics and double consonants throughout the novel. Humbert Humbert is just one in a long succession, including Gaston Godin, Mesmer Mesmer and Harold D. Doublename. This word play applies to the names of the places and towns Lolita and H.H. visit along the road, too. Places like Hazy Hills, Kumfy Kabins, Hobby House, Raspberry Room, Pierre Point, and many more.

5. Pardon my French

Nabokov's mother tongue was Russian, of course, as he was born in Saint Petersburg in 1899. His first books were written in Russian, and, later, French (he eventually wound up in Paris in the late 1930s before moving to the US). These facts make Lolita, and all the word play, all the more amazing, because it was written not in Russian or French, but English. Still, his fluency in Russian and French play a small part in the novel. For instance, there is a man in the novel referred to as the "˜White Russian ex-colonel' who lives and works in Paris. When he speaks, he speaks in French, and says, "J'ai demannde pardonne" If you know your French, you know that the White Russian's grammar is wrong. It should, of course, be Je, not J'ai. And demannde and pardonne both have extra N's. Why? Because this is how a Russian would pronounce French, emphasizing that consonant.

6. PO Box

When Nabokov creates a name or even a thing in Lolita, he always makes sure to have fun with the words. For instance, H.H. has his mail forwarded to a couple different post boxes. The first is called P.O. Wace (that would be POW, of course, or the prison H.H. has created for himself); the second is called P.O. Elphinstone, another reference to old Edgar Allan.

These are just a spit in the bucket, though. Take a fine-tooth comb to Lolita and you could fill an entire book noting the allusions, homages, and word plays. Have a favorite of your own, drop it in the comments below. Let's get a list going.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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North America: East or West Coast?
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