Sprinkled With So Many Coincidences

Peter Sellers plays Claire Quilty, a pompous hipster playwright, the alter ego and nemesis to James Mason’s lustful professor, Humbert Humbert. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)

 
 

The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is sprinkled with so many coincidences that it is hard to tell when coincidence stops and fate begins. In this work, coincidence and fate are fraternal twins. Whether the reader picks up Lolita for second, third, or three hundred and forty-second reading, hidden little treasures of coincidences and connections spring out from their carefully selected hiding places.

Humbert Humbert has a first love experience when he is young with Annabel Leigh. (the character was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe‘s poem, Annabel Lee). It is a strange coincidence that  Humbert and his Annabell  also have their first romantic encounter by the Mediterranean. After her young tragic death, Humbert cannot get over his infatuation with young girls. However, it is not just any kind of young girl that he pines for. It is a strange breed, the breed of nymphet. When Lolita, the very embodiment of nymphets, first enters the scene, she peers over her sunglasses at Humbert. The sunglasses are a strange connection between Lolita and Annabel Lee. “Half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses” . Lolita is a reincarnation of Humbert’s first love.

In Lolita, the name is used in reference to Mr. Clare Quilty, the man who takes Lolita from Humbert. Carmen and Clare being both male and female names, Lolita uses them to deceive Humbert into thinking he is a woman and no threat.

Several times throughout the novel, Humbert refers to Lolita as his Carmen.
“O my Carmen, my little Carmen!
Something something those something nights,
And the stars, and the cars, and the bars and the barmen-
And, O my charmin’, our dreadful fights.
And the something town where so gaily, arm in
Arm we went, and our final row,
And the gun I killed you with, O my Carmen,
The gun I am holding now”

This song that Humbert recaptures here sums up his relationship with Lolita: their fights, car rides, men looking eagerly at her, and finally the gun that Humbert uses to kill Quilty.

There are a host of more passing literary allusions in Lolita, but they decorate rather than determine the death bound tragedy set by Poe, Proper Mérimée’s Carmen with other tales of love and revenge, and doppelgänger stories.

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Love Is A Rebellious Bird

Georges Bizet’s manuscript of Habanera

 
 

Habanera, the popular name for L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird), is one of the most famous arias from Georges Bizet‘s 1875 opera Carmen. It is the entrance aria of the title character, a mezzo-soprano role, in scene 5 of the first act.

The score of this aria was adapted from the habanera El Arreglito (The Little Arrangement), originally composed by the Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier. Bizet thought it to be a folk song; when others told him he had used something that had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he had to add a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.

 
 

Emilie Ambre in the role of Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name. Painting by Edouard Manet, c. 1879

 
 

Quand je vous aimerai? (When will I love you?)
Ma foi, je ne sais pas, (Good Lord, I don’t know,)
Peut-être jamais, peut-être demain. (Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.)
Mais pas aujourd’hui, c’est certain! (But not today, that’s for sure!)

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird)
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser, (That none can tame,)
Et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle, (And it is well in vain that one calls it)
S’il lui convient de refuser. (If it suits him to refuse)
Rien n’y fait, menace ou prière; (Nothing to be done, threat or prayer.)
L’un parle bien, l’autre se tait, (The one talks well, the other is silent;)
Et c’est l’autre que je préfère; (And it’s the other that I prefer)
Il n’a rien dit mais il me plaît. (He says nothing but he pleases me.)…

…L’amour est l’enfant de Bohême, (Love is a gypsy’s child,)
Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi; (It has never, never known the law;)
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime; (If you do not love me, I love you;)
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi! (If I love you, take guard yourself)…

…L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendre (The bird you hoped to catch)
Battit de l’aile et s’envola. (Beat its wings and flew away)
L’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre; (Love is far, you can wait for it)
Tu ne l’attends plus, il est là. (You no longer await it, there it is)
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite, (All around you, swift, swift,)
Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient. (It comes, goes, then it returns)
Tu crois le tenir, il t’évite, (You think to hold it fast, it flees you)
Tu crois l’éviter, il te tient! (You think to flee it, it holds you)…

Excerpts from Habanera

 
 

To watch Maria Callas singing this aria in Covent Garden (1962), please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl