Thursday, 4 May 2017

The other Lolita

More than a decade ago, Michael Maar published a book called The Two Lolitas, which sparked a debate on whether Nabokov plagiarised from Heinz von Lichberg’s short story with the same name, or suffered from cryptomnesia, or it was a mere coincidence. (this last one includes a summary) 
Having just read Heinz von Lichberg’s story, and now rereading Nabokov’s Lolita, I don’t get it. Perhaps Marr’s book could enlighten me, because frankly I don’t see any basis for such speculations and don’t see any similarities other than the girl’s name and the fact that she is quite young and the narrator is older. “Lolita” the short story is a gothic tale, framed as a story told by 1 person in a group of people. Lolita’s early death doesn’t convince, because in von Lichberg’s story, it’s related to a family curse. The existence of the twins can’t be compared to the Humbert Humbert- Quilty pair, because Nabokov’s always been interested in doubles. The fact that the man travels around doesn’t mean anything either, because in von Lichberg’s story, he meets Lolita on 1 of his trips, whereas in Nabokov’s novel, Humbert Humbert abducts Lolita. I’m more likely to believe Nabokov was inspired by the case of Florence Sally Horner. 
Why do people talk like Nabokov may have plagiarised?

Update on 6/5/2017: 
I sent Himadri the von Lichberg story and he said “I agree, there's no resemblance either thematically, stylistically, or even in terms of plot. If this story did indeed trigger Nabokov's imagination, that triggered imagination travelled in a very different direction.” 


  1. The word "plagiarism," as I remember it, came from journalists who did not really understand literature, or plagiarism, not from Maar.

    1. Thanks for that.
      Maar suggested cryptomnesia, though, and I'm not sure if I missed anything, but can't see much of a connection.

    2. Before reading the short story, I thought the basic plot was the same or very similar (which of course doesn't matter, because Nabokov's novel is great not because of the story or the plot), but then it turned out to be very different.

  2. Yes, the similarities are superficial. I thought the debate about how much German Nabokov really understood was much more interesting.

  3. It gave more insight into how he read, how he and his wife lived in Berlin, how he played tricks on interviewers. Or it could have - I don't remember much resolution of the issue. But it was more interesting than some random magazine story.