Vladimir Nabokov

1948 Newspaper Column, Source for Lolita

By matthew_roth, 27 February, 2023

Dear list,

Late last year, I was digging around and found this source for much of the Beardsley Star "Column for Teens" that appears in Part 2, Chapter 8 of Lolita. Nabokov borrowed most of the text from a 14 May 1948 column by Elizabeth Woodward. The copy I found was published in the Dayton Herald. I'm including the text below. The capitalized text represents phrases borrowed by VN and the brackets represent VN's slight changes to the column's actual wording.

Matt Roth

Elizabeth Woodward Says: Pop, Why Scare the Boys?

MAYBE IT IS A BIT HARD FOR YOU TO REALIZE THAT NOW THE BOYS ARE FINDING your little girl [her] ATTRACTIVE. TO YOU she’s [she is] STILL just a baby [a little gir]. To her, she’s a very grown-up, sophisticated lady. TO THE BOYS, SHE’S CHARMING AND FUN, LOVELY AND GAY. THEY LIKE HER.

And you don’t like it a bit. At least that’s the way some of you act. You might think you didn’t want your daughter to be sought after. You might think you had no confidence in her at all. You might think you didn’t trust any other member of your own sex.

You do want [Don’t you want] YOUR DAUGHTER . . . NOW THAT HER TURN HAS COME . . . TO BE HAPPY IN THE ADMIRATION AND COMPANY OF THE BOYS SHE LIKES[?]. You are proud that she’s attractive enough to warrant their seeking her out. You do want [Don’t you want] THEM TO HAVE WHOLESOME FUN TOGETHER[?].

But the way some of you dads act is enough to scare the boys away from your daughters for all time!

You save your company manners for your grownup guests . . . and leave them stowed away in the closet when your daughter’s friends are around. She wants her home and her parents to make the impression she wants them to make on her boy friends. And toward that end you refuse to lift a finger.

It’s your house, you reason, and you won’t be deflected from doing exactly as you want to do in it. So you shuffle around in your comfiest, run-down clothes. You sit in your easy chair and glower behind your paper. You insist on some wordy program when the young fry want music.

You don’t [Why not] TREAT THE YOUNG FELLOWS AS GUESTS IN YOUR HOUSE[?]. You don’t [Why not] MAKE CONVERSATION WITH THEM[?], DRAW THEM OUT, MAKE THEM LAUGH AND FEEL AT EASE[?]. You don’t register on them as a good egg. You are instead, a character to be avoided. So don’t be surprised if you daughter takes to dating out . . . instead of entertaining her friends at home.

You lay down a lot of rules and regulations too. As though the lad in question were a member of your own family. As if your own daughter were not capably of handling things by herself. You can lay down the law to her. But the boys she likes are the sons of parents who lay down their own rules. Get things straight with your own child. And save her the embarrassment of having you play heavy father to somebody else’s boy.

IF SHE BREAKS YOUR RULES . . . deal out the punishment to her. DON’T EXPLODE OUT LOUD IN FRONT OF HER PARTNER IN CRIME. Punishing him is out of your province. LET HER TAKE THE BRUNT OF YOUR PUNISHMENT IN PRIVATE. After all, it’s a private, family affair.

And so are your parental moods, temper, impatiences and annoyances. You don’t air them on all occasions before your own friends. If you want your daughter to feel that the boys she is interested in are welcome at your house . . . go out of your way to put your point across. AND STOP MAKING THE BOYS FEEL SHE’S THE DAUGHTER OF AN OLD OGRE.


8 months 2 weeks ago

Marvelous find! Thank you for sharing it. May I ask, if it's not giving too much away, how you came across it?

Dayton Herald brings to mind Dayton, Ohio (the birthplace of Dolores Quine, old hag of an actress mentioned by Humbert):


Quine, Dolores. Born in 1882, in Dayton, Ohio. Studied for stage at American Academy. First played in Ottawa in 1900. Made New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to Strangers. Has disappeared since in [a list of some thirty plays follows].

How the look of my dear love’s name even affixed to some old hag of an actress, still makes me rock with helpless pain! Perhaps, she might have been an actress too. Born 1935. Appeared (I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but please do not correct it, Clarence) in The Murdered Playwright.  Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with! (1.8)


Btw., Quine, Dolores makes one think of Queen Dolores, a character in Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow (1904). In VN's play Sobytie ("The Event," 1938) Mme Vagabundov (a model of the portrait painter Troshcheykin) says that she is a widow who lost two husbands (Ya sama vdova - i ne raz, a dva). Describing the prison library, Humbert (who lost two wives) mentions A vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone:


But no matter. I had my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs. Maximovich née Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology ; but they appear not to have been published yet. These scientific products take of course some time to fructuate. I hope they will be illustrated with photographs when they do get printed, although it is not very likely that a prison library will harbor such erudite works. The one to which I am restricted these days, despite my lawyer’s favors, is a good example of the inane eclecticism governing the selection of books in prison libraries. They have the Bible, of course, and Dickens (an ancient set, N. Y., G. W. Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII); and the Children’s Encyclopedia (with some nice photographs of sunshine-haired Girl Scouts in shorts), and A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie; but they also have such coruscating trifles as A vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone, author of Venice Revisited, Boston, 1868, and a comparatively recent (1946) Who’s Who in the Limelight actors, producers, playwrights, and shots of static scenes. In looking through the latter volume, I was treated last night to one of those dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love. I transcribe most of the page:

Pym, Roland. Born in Lundy, Mass., 1922. Received stage training at Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N. Y. Made debut in Sunburst. Among his many appearances are Two Blocks from Here, The Girl in Green, Scrambled Husbands, The Strange Mushroom, Touch and Go, John Lovely, I Was Dreaming of You. 

Quilty, Clare, American dramatist. Born in Ocean City, N. J., 1911. Educated at Columbia University. Started on a commercial career but turned to playwriting. Author of The Little Nymph, The Lady Who Loved Lightning  (in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom), Dark Age, The strange Mushroom, Fatherly Love, and others. His many plays for children are notable. Little Nymph  (1940) traveled 14,000 miles and played 280 performances on the road during the winter before ending in New York. Hobbies: fast cars, photography, pets. (1.8)


Colonel Maximovich (a White Russian for whom Humbert's first wife Valeria leaves her husband) brings to mind Aleksey Maksimovich Troshcheykin, the main character in The Event. The author of Skazki ob Italii ("Fairy Tales about Italy," 1911), Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov (Maxim Gorki's real name) lived on Capri and in Sorrento.