Was there a "real Lolita": A real case that influenced Nabokov's novel
Was there a "real Lolita": A real case that influenced Nabokov's novel

In 1948, a scandalous and tragic story took place in America, the development of which was followed by the whole country. One not very responsible mother from a small town in New Jersey let her 11-year-old daughter go to the sea with friends. As a result, the girl disappeared. When almost two years later, Sally called, it turned out that all this time she was moving around the country in a car in the company of a kidnapper who posed as her father. It is about this case that Nabokov mentions in the novel, when the main character discusses his guilt.

- it is these words of Humbert Humbert that say that Nabokov was not only familiar with the sensational scandal, but even drew parallels between his hero and a real pedophile. However, the researchers of the writer's work say that it would not be very correct to call an 11-year-old girl from America the prototype of Lolita - there are too many differences between them on closer inspection.

In March 1948, 11-year-old schoolgirl Sally Horner tried to steal a five-cent notebook from a store. It cannot be said that it was necessary for her - after the suicide of her father, the mother, now raising several children alone, of course disappeared at work all day, but at the very least provided her family. Her friends forced the girl to commit the first penny theft in her life, because this was the only way she could enter the exclusive circle of "cool" classmates. However, on the way out of the store, Sally was grabbed by the hand by a gray-haired man. Posing as an FBI agent, he intimidated the crying schoolgirl so much that the girl agreed to his terms: now she also had to become an "agent" and tell a stranger about all the incidents and her behavior, only this way she could not go to prison or a juvenile penal colony.

Newspaper article about Sally Horner's kidnapping

Sally was afraid of her mother like fire, so of two evils she chose, as it seemed to her, the lesser. In fact, the "agent" was a 50-year-old auto mechanic, Frank Lasalle. Prior to this incident, he had already been tried several times for seducing and raping minors, so this man had experience of communicating with little girls. Over the course of several months, he made a fool of Sally's head that she herself told her mother a carefully prepared story and got on the bus with the pedophile. The mother, who accompanied the girl, only for a second saw her kidnapper in the window. This fact, by the way, greatly outraged the American society: a parent who let her child go to the sea "to rest with friends and their families" and did not even find out what kind of person was taking her away, then aroused a lot of accusations. It is difficult to say why the woman did this. It is possible that, exhausted by the problems, she was simply glad that someone else would look after her child. However, she herself put her daughter on a bus, which took the girl away in an unknown direction.

Humbert (James Mason) and Lolita (Sue Lyon) - scene from the 1961 film adaptation of the novel by Stanley Kubrick

For the first weeks, the family did not have any suspicions - Sally called, told about her vacation, but over time the calls became less and less frequent, and the girl's explanations became more and more confused. Only a month later, the frightened mother turned to the police, but by that time the traces of the victim and her abductor had already been lost. In the photograph, which was found at an Atlantic City boarding house six weeks after the abduction, Sally does not look like the victim.The girl looks quite cheerful, and this shocked the audience even more. It seemed that Sally herself was not very eager to return home, because she had many opportunities to contact the police or call home.

Photo of Sally Horner, discovered at an Atlantic City boarding house in August 1948

For almost two years, Lasalle drove Sally around the country by car. When settling in a new city, he pretended to be the girl's father and usually did not arouse suspicion. In the second year of this frantic journey, he even sent his "daughter" to school in Dallas, Texas. It was then that Sally plucked up the courage, told her friends about what was happening, and then called home. The pedophile was arrested on March 22, 1950 in the state of California, he tried to convince the police to the last that he was the girl's father. After a few days, Sally finally returned home. The man was tried and sent to jail for 35 years.

Sally speaks to her mother in the first hours after release

For almost two years, all of America has been following this terrible and strange crime. It is known that just at that moment Nabokov entered a creative dead end. For about ten years, he had been trying to write about the relationship between an adult man and a nymphet girl. The unpublished story "The Magician" has been gathering dust on the shelf since 1939. In it, the writer seemed to have foreseen the story of Sally's abduction - the main character also settled in a motel with his stepdaughter, posing as a loving father. However, "Lolita", started on the same canvas, did not advance in any way. The writer has already wanted to abandon this "monstrous, diabolical work" a couple of times already - his wife even once saved the manuscript from the fireplace, where the desperate Nabokov managed to throw it. However, here life itself gave him an idea of ​​how the story of Humboldt could develop further - in 1950, newspapers were full of headlines telling about the fate of the unfortunate Sally Horner. Unfortunately, after returning home, her fate was tragically cut short. Just two years later, the girl died in a car accident. By this time, the novel was almost finished. It is possible that the death of this "almost Lolita" influenced the death of the literary heroine.

Vladimir Nabokov at work

Researchers of Nabokov's work consider it very important that a complex and contradictory novel has a, albeit not very unambiguous, but still a real source. Sarah Weinman, author of Real Lolita. The kidnapping of Sally Horner and the world-famous scandalous novel”, which highlighted this case and its impact on the work in detail, writes:

The second film adaptation of "Lolita" in 1997 caused the same controversial reaction as the book itself. Starring Dominic Swain and Jeremy Irons

Moreover, this real-life tragedy could resolve a long-standing debate about how to interpret the controversial book. Someone sees in "Lolita" just a story of a strange perverted love, while others - reasoning about the responsibility of an adult to a child who does not always give an account of his actions, and the inadmissibility of such relationships.

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