The Mysterious Inspiration Behind Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”

The brilliant yet somewhat obstinate story of Lolita from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 publication often comes up with discussing controversial literary works. The tale focuses on Humbert Humbert, a professor of literature who becomes intimately involved with a pre-teen girl after seducing and marrying her middle-aged, widowed mother.

Although stories like this have been a part of literature for centuries, Nabokov’s piece was always considered to be an original work of fiction. Literary scholars have studied this along with his other work over time.

However, in 2005, a literary critic created controversy when he made claims that Nabokov’s Lolita wasn’t original and may have even been stolen.


The Claims Against Nabokov’s Original Work

Michael Maar, the literary critic who made the claims against Nabokov’s work, argued that the writer may have come up with the idea for Lolita after reading the little known 1916 German short story of the same name.

Although the German tale has a very similar plot, it didn’t have the same creativity and enchantment as Nabokov’s story. Also, the fact that Nabokov didn’t speak German makes this claim a little less believable.

While this claim may be easy to rule out, there are others that make more sense. Such as the idea that Nabokov could have drawn his inspiration from the surrealist artist Salvador Dali.


How Salvador Dali is Linked to Nabokov’s Lolita

Delia Ungureanu, the Assistant Director of the Institute for World Literature at Harvard University, had a discovery while doing research on dream literature. Dali had written a short story that had long been forgotten about by many, titled Reverie: The Erotic Daydream.

The story was published in 1931, nearly 15 years before Nabokov’s Lolita. Dali’s story tells about the fantasy of a middle-aged painter, instead of a professor, who makes plans to seduce an underage girl after he attempts to get her mother to fall in love with him.

Having a similar plot isn’t the same as copying an idea or stealing a story, however, the girl’s name in Dali’s story makes the claim more viable, since it is “Dullita”.

The argument that Ungureanu makes is featured in the book “From Paris to Tlon: Surrealism as World Literature,”. The Harvard assistant director’s claims do not stop with the similarities between Dali’s tale and Nabokov’s. She also states that Dali’s form of Lolita shows up once again in his work, this time in his memoir, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali”.


Connections to Jan Wahl and Hollywood Actress Louise Brooks

Children’s author Jan Wahl met Louise Brooks when he was still a struggling writer. Brooks, the former silent film star was twice his age, yet the two seemed to have a lot in common that sparked their long-lasting friendship. They corresponded with each other through handwritten letters over the course of 20 years.

Their desire to write is what drew the pair together and kept them connected. This is the theme of the book Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks, written by Wahl.

Their love of writing as well as discussing books and authors is brought up frequently in Dear Stinkpot. There is also a good number of letters that focus on Vladimir Nabokov. Jan Wahl had taken classes with Nabokov while attending Cornell University. He was also an advocate to Nabokov when he was writing Lolita.

During the time of this correspondence, Brooks was busy working on an essay titled “Girl Child in Films”. She had read Lolita and at the time being, disliked it. However, over time she began to grow fond of Nabokov’s work. She even suggested that Wahl pass along her 1951 autobiography Naked on My Goat. She described the short story as her own version of Nabokov’s Lolita.


The Parallels Between Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Throughout Wahl’s Letters to Stinkpot collection, Louise Brooks rarely speaks of her own career and her time as a silent movie star. Occasionally she would reference her work in G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box where she played her most memorable role of Lulu. She also mentioned her roles in Diary of a Lost Girl and other films such as Beggars of Life.

Could there be a connection between Louise Brooks’ life and the fictional tale written by Nabokov? Since Wahl was the author’s classmate, is it possible that his experiences with the famed Hollywood star helped to influence his advice for his controversial classic?

The reason why this is a theory is because of Brooks’ childhood being so similar to the theme of Lolita. She made the most out of a terrible situation that changed her way of thinking and her overall sexuality when she was molested by a much older man at the age of nine.

She refers to her molester as “Mr. Flowers” in her journal entries and letters, sometimes also as “Mr. Feathers”. She stated that because of those events, she always looked for some type of domination that she could fight against. Which makes the scene in Pandora’s Box where she violently bites the hand of her lover even more powerful than it already is.

Louise Brooks’ lifelong addiction to alcohol is also linked to her abuse as a child. Taking on roles such as these that reflected her own struggles in life helped her to gain the reputation of an extremely talented actress, but at what cost to her own sanity? She is seen as a martyr by many who understand her story, and the passion that she put into each role she took helped her to gain bigger and better roles overall. Her role in the comedy A Girl in Every Port was viewed by Pabst and helped her to gain her most memorable role of Lulu in Pandora’s Box.

Whether it was based on the tragedy of one of Hollywood’s early actresses, taken from the hidden works of Salvador Dali, or simply a figment of his imagination, it is safe to say that Nabokov’s literary classic Lolita will be remembered for generations to come for its uniqueness, creativity, and the way that it has sparked conversations among literary experts.


What Inspired Nabokov’s Literary Classic Lolita?

“She had read Lolita and at the time being, disliked it. However, over time she began to grow fond of Nabokov’s work. She even suggested that Wahl pass along her 1951 autobiography Naked on My Goat. She described the short story as her own version of Nabokov’s Lolita.”





Unique Louise Brooks Art & Collectibles

Rising to fame during a time when America was obsessed with the glitz and glam of the dark contrasts of black and white on film, Louise Brooks stood above the rest. 

Louise brought a sense of rebellious sensuality to silent films, embodying the 1920s flapper culture that women were embracing in retaliation of social norms. 

Flappers were a social rebellion against what was expected of women in the 1920s in America. Instead of the quiet and reserved housewife that women were expected to portray, both in film and in the home, flappers presented themselves with short bob hairstyles, dark makeup, short dresses, a casualness about sex, and a penchant for cigarettes and booze. They lived as they wished, free from the expectations of men and society at large. 

Louise Brooks embraced this culture and transmogrified it onto film that remains timeless and unforgettable nearly a century later. Able to convey so much through simply a gaze or a lilting smile, Louise pushed seraphic sensuality and sophisticated sex appeal through the black and white celluloid of the 1920s. 

Raised a simple girl named Mary Louise Brooks in Wichita, Kansas, Brooks made her way to New York City, where she was a featured dancer on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies. She was noticed by top Hollywood executives and was soon traveling to LA to begin her film career. 

However, the role that resonates most with her fans and the film world at large is a film that she was cast in, in Germany. Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora), directed by Austrian filmmaker G.W. Pabst, is Louise Brooks’ most memorable film, where she portrays the epitome of the type of woman that is most akin to the flapper movement in both demeanor and dress. 

Her erotic and amoral portrayal on-screen in Pandora’s Box had G.W. Pabst casting Brooks as his lead once again in his next film, Diary of a Lost Girl. Again, Brooks’ sexuality and her disdain for the world of men shines through and is expertly portrayed by her intensely deep eyes and a beauty that is marred by struggles. 

Louise Brooks was an accomplished actress who lived her life on screen as she did in the world. She was a lover of the arts, and was always immersed in one of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s books. Brooks even penned a short autobiography named Naked on My Goat, a title taken from Goethe’s Faust. 

It is her ingenuity, class, and her flair for enjoying life to its fullest that we celebrate here at Vintage Brooks. We are a collection of Louise Brooks exclusive artwork, curated for her most sophisticated fans. We invite you to peruse our exclusive original artwork, celebrating the silent film star.


Unique Louise Brooks Art and Collectibles

“Flappers were a social rebellion against what was expected of women in the 1920s in America.”