Saturday, March 1, 2014

Was Nabokov a Hebephile\Ephebophile?

Readers of this blog are most likely familiar with Nabokov's Lolita, but they may not be familiar with his four other books that share a similar theme of hebephilia\ephebophilia with Lolita:

Laughter in the Dark 
The Original of Laura
Transparent Things
The Enchanter 

And some of Nabokov's published poetry contains the theme of hebephilia\ephebophilia. In “Lilith”, which can be found in his Selected Poems (2012), he wrote:
I died. The sycamores and shutters
along the dusty street were teased
by torrid Aeolus.

I walked,
and fauns walked, and in every faun
god Pan I seemed to recognize:
Good. I must be in Paradise.

Shielding her face and to the sparkling sun
showing a russet armpit, in a doorway
there stood a naked little girl.
She had a water-lily in her curls
and was as graceful as a woman. Tenderly
her nipples bloomed, and I recalled
the springtime of my life on earth,
when through the alders on the river brink
so very closely I could watch
the miller’s youngest daughter as she stepped
out of the water, and she was all golden,
with a wet fleece between her legs.

And now, still wearing the same dress coat
that I had on when killed last night,
with a rake’s predatory twinkle,
toward my Lilith I advanced.
She turned upon me a green eye
over her shoulder, and my clothes
were set on fire and in a trice
dispersed like ashes.

In the room behind
one glimpsed a shaggy Greek divan,
on a small table wine, pomegranates,
and some lewd frescoes covering the wall.
With two cold fingers childishly
she took me by my emberhead [пламя – i.e., erect penis]:
“now come along with me,” she said.

Without inducement, without effort,
Just with the slowest of pert glee,
like wings she gradually opened
her pretty knees in front of me.
And how enticing, and how merry,
her upturned face! And with a wild
lunge of my loins I penetrated
into an unforgotten child.
Snake within snake, vessel in vessel,
smooth-fitting part, I moved in her,
through the ascending itch forefeeling
unutterable pleasure [восторг – i.e., approaching orgasm] stir.
But suddenly she lightly flinched,
retreated, drew her legs together,
and grasped a veil and twisted it
around herself up to the hips,
and full of strength, at half the distance
to rapture [блаженству - i.e., orgasm], I was left with nothing.
I hurtled forward. A strange wind
caused me to stagger. “Let me in!”
I shouted, noticing with horror
that I stood again outside in the dust
and that obscenely bleating youngsters
were staring at my pommeled lust [булаву – mace i.e., erect penis].
“Let me come in!” And the goat-hoofed,
copper-curled crowd increased. “Oh, let me in,”
I pleaded, “otherwise I shall go mad!”
The door stayed silent, and for all to see
writhing in agony I spilled my seed
and knew abruptly that I was in Hell.
(The words in the brackets are from Maxim D. Shrayer's Russian Literature journal article "Nabokov's Sexography".)

Nabokov shared in Poems and Problems that “Lilith” was composed “to amuse a friend.” In Pniniad, Marc Szeftel, whom many claim was the model for Nabokov's Pnin, shared an anecdote that was related to him by Gleb Struve, an associate of Nabokov:

“Struve tells about a private evening devoted to Nabokov's erotical (or even pornographical) poetry, read by him. Of these poems only “Lilith” has been published in N.'s 'Poems and Problems'...This reading happened when N. was not yet married...What was on young Nabokov's mind before he married Vera, I do not know. Probably, quite a few frivolous things, to expect from a very handsome, young Russian.”

Maurice Couturier revealed in Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire that different versions of last six lines of  “Lilith” were used "...throughout Nabokov's novels which may suggest that he, as an author, was probably reenacting an event belonging to his own past or a fantasy he had nursed."

Brian Boyd shared in Vladimir Nabokov,The American Years that when Nabokov taught at Stanford his evenings were often spent attending formal parties and playing chess with Henry Lanz, the head of the Slavic department. Nabokov found Lanz "...delicate, cultured and talented." In addition, Nabokov found that Lanz was a nympholept (i.e., a person seized with a frenzy of erotic emotion) who would " off on the weekends, neat and dapper in his blazer, to orgiastic parties with nymphets." Now the question is, did Nabokov ever attend any of those parties with Lanz? 

And who was one of Nabokov's favorite painters? Based on my leading question, you may have been able to guess none other than Balthus. Nabokov shared in In Strong Opinions, "The aspects of Picasso that I emphatically dislike are the sloppy products of his old age. I also loathe old Matisse. A contemporary artist I do admire very much, though not only because he paints Lolita-like creatures, is Balthus." Furthermore, Eric Naiman wrote in Nabokov, Perversely that a painting in Pnin, "Hoecker's 'Girl with a Cat'", may have been a reference to Balthus' "Jeune Fille au Chat".

Balthus' "Jeune Fille au Chat"
Nabokov was asked in a 1964 Playboy interview, "Are there any contemporary authors you do enjoy reading?" Nabokov replied, "I do have a few favorites—for example, Robbe-Grillet and Borges. How freely and gratefully one breathes in their marvelous labyrinths! I love their lucidity of thought, the purity and poetry, the mirage in the mirror."

Unsurprisingly, Robbe-Grillet writes about nymphets too. Here's an exemplary excerpt from his Recollections of the Golden Triangle [French: Souvenirs du Triangle d'Or]:

To celebrate her 17th birthday, Caroline's father took a whole box at the Opera House. Caroline was commanded to face the stage while straddling two armless red-velvet chairs before her father "...pressed himself shamelessly against her buttocks in order to caress her in greater comfort...The insidious fingers are no longer satisfied with stroking...They pass back and forth in wave after wave, tirelessly, over the bivalvular lips...One tiny, fragile rock resists and stiffens..."

And what about Aleksandr Pushkin, who was one Nabokov's favorites poets. The Paris Review revealed that Nabokov spent two months in Cambridge working on the English translation and commentary of Eugene Onegin for over 17 hours per day. In the novel in verse, the poet Lensky invited 26-year-old dandy Eugene Onegin to dinner with his fiancée, the nymphet Olga, and her family. During the dinner Tatyana, Olga's 13-year-old older sister, became very infatuated with Onegin but her innocent love for the older man was (initially) unrequited. 

Wait. Let's not forget about Nabokov's short stories. According to Naiman, Nabokov wrote “Skazka” in 1926 before it was published in Rul', a Berlin emigre newspaper that was founded by his father. In the story, on his ride to work, Erwin habitually gazes through the tram's window and picks girls for his imaginary harem. However, the young man gains the opportunity for his dreams to come true after he meets Frau Monde, a female Devil who promises Erwin that he can have all the girls he wants upon “cushions and rugs” in “a villa with a walled garden” but that it's “essential and final” that he selects an odd number of girls between noon to midnight. 

The next day Erwin starts collecting slave girls. Here's a partial list:

A maiden in a white dress with chestnut hair and palish lips who was playing with her “fat shaggy pup”

“[T]wo young ladies-sisters, or even twins...Both were small and slim...with saucy eyes and painted lips.” Erwin referred to the Twins as “Gay, painted, young things.”

A lady who “...was lovely, hatless, bobhaired, with a fringe on her forehead that made her look like a boy actor in the part of a damsel.

A “beautiful in a drab, freckled way” wench who worked at a cheap restaurant that Erwin frequented on Sundays. 

A girl with gray eyes with a slight slant and a thin aquiline nose that wrinkled when she laughed

A girl at a small amusement park who wore a scarlet blouse with a bright-green skirt

Four girls in jerseys and shorts, “...magnificent legs, naked nearly up to the groin...” inside the amusement park's arcade. 

“A child of fourteen or so in a low-cut black party dress .” She was walking with a tall elderly man who was a “...famous poet, a senile swan, living all alone in a distant suburb”

I won't reveal who last girl was, but I will share her response to Erwin which was, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself...Leave me alone.” Her response was due to “...that which changes a man's life (i.e., genital) with one divine stroke...”

When Nabokov translated the story before it was published in Playboy (1974) and Details of a Sunset (1976), he aggressively titled it “A Nursery Tale” and noted in Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories that when he was translating the story he was “...eerily startled to meet a somewhat decrepit but unmistakable Humbert escorting his nymphet in the story I wrote almost half a century ago.”

Thus, was Nabokov a hebephile\ephebophile? Clearly, he was and according to Matt Ridley's New York Time's Notable Book The Red Queen all men are. But did Nabokov ever have an age-discrepant relationship? We may never know.

(A number of Nabokov's other works are peppered lightly and liberally with references to nymphets. I would refer the reader to Naiman's Nabokov, Perversely and Couturier's Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire.)


  1. Here's something you might find interesting. Several thousand men on the internet were shown pictures of girls and women of all ages and, without being informed of their age, were asked if they found them sexually desirable or not. Here's the results:

    As you can see they very closely agree with my prediction about male preferences in this diagram:


    1. Wow, that's an amazing graph. Do you have a link to the study? Thanks.

    2. Hi, Mo. Thanks for allowing my comment.

      I came across the graph in a thread about mens' preferences for adolescent girls on 4chan. I'm not sure of the original source but I think it was this documentary . I haven't watched it myself because the title makes me cringe.

      I've seen other studies that have shown that the female faces men find the most attractive are those that look about 14. In one study in a university some men were given a computer program that allowed them to adjust the features of a female face until they thought it was the most attractive. The face they came up with had the proportions seen in the faces of girls about 14. Take a look at this video of a woman's computer make over . Look at what they do to her face. They enlarge the eyes, shrink the nose and soften the jawline giving it an "adolescent" look. The face of a real 14 year old girl obviously wouldn't need to be altered like this - it would already have the ideal dimensions. The fact that men find the faces of 14 year olds the most attractive is also known in the porn industries. The actresses are often given an adolescent look with make-up that enlarges the eyes etc because that's what sells the most. Girls in anime are often based on girls about 14 for the same reason.

    3. I don't know how much you understand about the biology of the male preference for young girls but here's what I know about the subject. The basic idea in evolutionary psychology is that the main reproductive strategy in prehistoric times involved long term relationships between males and females. Basically "marriage". Modern day hunter-gatherer (HG) societies mainly use this system and presumably so did our prehistoric ancestors. Humans don't seem to be a very promiscuous species like chimps, who are our closest relative in the animal kingdom. Chimps mainly use a kind of "pump and dump" reproductive strategy in which the males try to fuck as many females as possible and leave them to raise the babies on their own. Our species is very different in that the males form long term relationships with the females and help raise their offspring.

      So, just imagine, you're in a prehistoric tribe and you need to secure a wife that will give you as many offspring as possible. What would be the best age to go for? If you think it through logically the answer is actually very simple. It would be girls just prior the beginning of their reproductive lifespan becuase they would have all of their fertile years ahead of them (with which they can give you offspring) and the time you'd have to wait until they'd start reproducing would be at a minimum.

      Women that have already had some babies wouldn't be a good choice because they have obviously started using up their reproductive years. Ideally you should go for a nice young virgin since she still all of her reproductive lifespan ahead of her. BUT she shouldn't be too young like 5 or something. Although a 5 year old would have all of her fertile years ahead of her you'd have to wait years and years before she'd start giving you offspring. You or her might die or something in the meantime. It would be better to go for a girl nearer the beginning of their reproductive lifespan so that the time you'd have to wait before she'd start reproducing would be shorter. The best girls to marry (the most "nubile", in other words) must then be those just prior the beginning of their reproductive lifespan.

      The question then is: what was that age? At what age did prehistoric girls tyipcally get pregnant for the first time?

      Using modern day HG societies as a guide, the best estimate is the mid to late teens or about 17. There would have been some outliers that got pregnant at 12 or not until 25 but most girls would've had their first pregnancy between about 15 and 19.

      If the mid to late teens was the typical age that prehistoric girls started their reproductive lifespan it follows that the most nubile girls would've been those just before that in the early to mid teens or about 14. Simple really if you think about it.


      Here's a picture that shows the kind of choice of females that prehistoric men had:

      Who would most men prefer? The 14 year old with perky boobs, soft unused nipples and a flat taut stomach with no stretch marks? Or the older momma with boobs that have gone saggy and nipples that have gone hard from breast feeding and a stomach that has shows the signs of prior pregnancies?

    4. Thanks again! I'm going to use your references for a blog post and in volume II of The Allure of Nymphets. If you haven't already, you may be interested in reading The Red Queen by Ridley. This is what I wrote in volume I:

      As for men, Ridley related in The Red Queen that men are attracted to a trinity of qualities: YOUTH, figure, and face. In terms of figure, the most salient aspect of a female’s weight is the ratio of waist to hip width (i.e., men find females attractive if their waists are (much) thinner than their hips.) In terms of the face, Ridley shared, “The more average and unblemished the face, the more beautiful,” with average being defined as a nose, eyes, chin, lips, and check bones that are neither too big or too small.

  2. Specifically (although most popular science writers don't have the courage to say so), it's the pristine adolescent form that men find the most attractive. Perky boobs, a slim waist, a flat taut stomach with no stretch marks, soft smooth skin, a neat vagina that hasn't been damaged by childbirth, a light adolescent pubic bush instead of a full adult bush and a slightly juvenile facial structure. All of these are the physical features of a girl who hasn't started reproducing yet but is close to doing so - the ideal bride material.