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‘A Baboon of Genius’: Nabokov talks ‘Lolita’ on Fifties TV
03:55 pm


Vladimir Nabokov

Among other things, in recent weeks we have learned that, had Humbert Humbert – the narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita moved to England, bagged a job with the BBC, and feigned (very much feigned) an interest in pop music… well, what a happy existence he could have led. I can almost picture the old dog presenting Top of the Pops (perhaps even wearing a track-suit and smoking an oversized cigar) surrounded by teenyboppers and smiling ear to ear.

As it was, Nabokov had in mind a more furtive and frustrating existence for his protagonist, who he describes here, in splendid 1950s CBS footage with Lionel Trilling, as a “baboon of genius.” Nabokov himself, shuffling his famous index cards (he insisted upon preparing his answers in advance, and reading them aloud), was in the midst of a very rich vein of form indeed, one that resulted not only in Lolita but also Pnin and Pale Fire. He is bright-eyed, ironical, eccentric, amusing and wholly indifferent to the kind of impression his controversial masterpiece (which has since sold more than fifty million copies) was making to 1950s America.


Posted by Thomas McGrath
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