Bob Dylan And Vladimir Nabokov; from Lolita to Just like a woman.

By Larry Fyffe

Vladimir Nabokov’s Gnostic-like sorrowful representation of Hebe, the cup-bearing Greek Goddess of Youth, is infused into some of the musical creations of  Bob Dylan.

Nabokov’s Post Modern novel “Lolita” parodies various genres of literature – the mythological, the erotic, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, the psychological speculations of Sigmund Freud; the Gothic tales of Edgar Allan Poe; and the detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle:

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
(Edgar Allan Poe: Annabel Lee)

In “Lolita”, an erudite, double-personalitied author writes a novel concerning his marriage to a middle class American woman; he’s a sexual deviant who wants to be near the object of his obsession his wife’s Coke-drinking, gum-chewing underaged daughter. She reminds him of a childhood sweetheart named Annabel Leigh; Shirley Holmes is the name of Lolita’s summer camp director. Lolita’s actual name is Dolores, a reference to a Charles Swinburne poem. Dolores Haze is victimized in the novel as was Sally Horner in real life.

The novel is a work of art for its own sake rather than a didactic depiction of the dire consequences of deviant morality. The sound of the words, if not moreso, is as important as their meaning. What the narrator in ‘Lolita’ claims supposedly happens, and what is mere fantasy on his part is not at all clear.

He reads to the underaged girl a poem featuring mythological Psyche, the ideal Goddess of Beauty, who’s juxtaposed with the physical decay of earth-bound beauties like Ulalume and Annabel Lee though the memory of their beauty remains:

It was night, in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber
In the misty mid-region of Weir .....
Thus I pacified Psyche, and kissed her
And tempted her out of her gloom
And conquered her scruples and gloom
And we passed to the end of the vista
But were stopped by the door of a tomb
The door of a legended tomb
And I said, "What is written, sweet sister
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied, " Ulalume , Ulalume!"
(Edgar Allan Poe": Ulalume, A Ballad)

Which links up with the somewhat less dark Egyptian mythological motif in the song lyrics below:

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin', I felt I had been had
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly
When I took up his offer, I must have been mad
I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole, and pulled back the cover
I said a quick prayer and felt satisfied
Then I went back to Isis to tell her I love her ....
Ìsis, oh Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is want drives me insane
I still remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin' rain
(Bob Dylan: Isis~ Dylan/Levy)

The character of the narrator in the song lyrics below is akin to Nabokov’s
youth-obsessed male egotists in ‘Lolita’:

Well I'm drivin' the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say, "You're a worn out star"
My pockets are loaded, and I'm spending every dime
How can you say you love someone else when you know it's me all the time
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

More sexually explicit is:

Spread out now Rosie, doctor come cut loose her mother's reins
You know playin' blind-man's-bluff is a little baby's game ....
The only lover I'm ever gonna need is your soft, sweet little girl's tongue
And Rosie, you're the one
(Bruce Springsteen: Roselita)

The following song repaints Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Romantic portrayal of the innocence of childhood. The premature corruption of youthful innocence is as about as Nabokovian as you can get:

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Everybody knows
That baby's got new clothes
But I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
But she breaks just like a little girl
(Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman)

What else is here?

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