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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A New Type of Operatic Heroine

Illustration of Bizet’s opera Carmen, by Luc. It was published in Journal Amusant in 1875

 
 

Poster from 1975

 
 

Carmen is an opera comique in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and , based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, on 3 March 1875, and at first was not particularly successful.

 
 

Celestine Galli-Marie, the mezzosoprano who created the role of Carmen. Painting by Henri Lucien Doucet.

 
 

The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial. After the premiere, most reviews were critical, and the French public was generally indifferent. Carmen initially gained its reputation through a series of productions outside France, and was not revived in Paris until 1883; thereafter it rapidly acquired celebrity at home and abroad, and continues to be one of the most frequently performed operas; the Habanera from act 1 and the Toreador Song from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias. Later commentators have asserted that Carmen forms the bridge between the tradition of opéra comique and the realism or verismo that characterised late 19th-century Italian opera.

 
 

Poster for a circa 1896 American production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, starring Rosabel Morrison, and under the management of Edward. J. Abraham

 
 

When artistic life in Paris resumed after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Bizet found wider opportunities for the performance of his works; his one-act opera Djamileh opened at the Opéra-Comique in May 1872. Although this failed and was withdrawn after 11 performances, it led to a further commission from the theatre, this time for a full-length opera for which Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy would provide the libretto. Halévy, who had written the text for Bizet’s student opera Le docteur Miracle (1856), was a cousin of Bizet’s wife, Geneviève; he and Meilhac had a solid reputation as the librettists of many of Jacques Offenbach‘s operettas.

Bizet was delighted with the Opéra-Comique commission, and expressed to his friend Edmund Galabert his satisfaction in “the absolute certainty of having found my path”. The subject of the projected work was a matter of discussion between composer, librettists and the Opéra-Comique management; Adolphe de Leuven, on behalf of the theatre, made several suggestions that were politely rejected. It was Bizet who first proposed an adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen. Mérimée’s story is a blend of travelogue and adventure yarn, probably inspired by the writer’s lengthy travels in Spain in 1830, and had originally been published in 1845 in the journal Revue des deux Mondes. It may have been influenced in part by Alexander Pushkin‘s 1824 poem The Gypsies, a work Mérimée had translated into French; it has also been suggested that the story was developed from an incident told to Mérimée by his friend the Countess Montijo. Bizet may first have encountered the story during his Rome sojourn of 1858–60, since his journals record Mérimée as one of the writers whose works he absorbed in those years.

Carmen herself, is a new type of operatic heroine representing a new kind of love, not the innocent kind associated with the “spotless soprano” school, but something altogether more vital and dangerous. Her capriciousness, fearlessness and love of freedom are all musically represented: “She is redeemed from any suspicion of vulgarity by her qualities of courage and fatalism so vividly realised in the music”. American music critic and journalist Harold C. Schonberg likens Carmen to “a female Don Giovanni. She would rather die than be false to herself”.

Carmen and The Hallucinogenic Toreador

Portrait of Carmen

 
 

Portrait of Escamillo

 
 

A Place in Seville

 
 

Rendez-Vous of the Smugglers

 
 

Love is like a Gypsy

 
 

Carmen Sings Gypsy Songs

 
 

The Habanera

 
 

Outside the Arena: The Fruit Vendor

 
 

The Harpist’s Allegory of Carmen’s Love

 
 

Lillias Pastis’s Tavern

 
 

Tribute to Escamillo

 
 

Awaiting the Fray

 
 

The Bird is Flown

 
 

The Bull is Dead

 
 

The Cards Spell Death to Carmen

 
 

Carmen and Don Jose Fleeing on Horseback

 
 

Whoever Carries off Carmen

 
 

Carmen’s Death

 
 

Don Jose’s Flower Song

 
 

Don Jose’s Last Appearance

 
 

The illustrated suite Carmen by Salvador Dalí, consists of 25 lithographs on various papers. They were produced in 1968.

 
 

El torero alucinógeno (Hallucinogenic Toreador), Salvador Dalí, 1968-1970. In this piece, Dalí transmits his wife’s dislike for bullfighting

 
 

The time is the late 1960s, and with Hallucinogenic Toreador, Salvador Dalí returns to all things Spanish and reveals his fascination with the colorful psychedelic explosion of those mind-bending times. As Sixties’ political rebellion gives way to Seventies’ decadence, we find the Spanish master undertaking his famous Carmen series of colored lithographs, published in 1970. The brigands, gypsies, and smugglers, who form the cast of this most beloved of operas, are the perfect counterpoint to Dalí’s increasingly distracting wealth and fame.

Dalí would depict the bullfight numerous times throughout his career and George Bizet‘s opera, set in Seville and featuring the toreador Escamillo in a primary role, provides Dalí with an ideal context in which to explore this most Spanish pastime. We illustrate here the complete suite of 25 hand-signed lithographs and believe you will agree that it is one of the most exquisite Dalínian triumphs of color and vivacity.

A Real Bright Road For a Beautiful Butterfly

Otto Preminger was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded, particularly after having seen Dandridge’s performance as a demure schoolteacher opposite Harry Belafonte in Bright Road (Gerald Mayer, 1953). Her agent’s office was in the same building where Preminger’s brother Ingo worked, and he asked Ingo to intercede on his client’s behalf.

At his first meeting with <Dandridge, Preminger told her she was "lovely" and looked like a "model" or "a beautiful butterfly," but not Carmen, and suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen.The director was impressed enough to schedule a screen test for mid-May, after Dandridge completed a singing engagement in St. Louis. In the interim he cast Juilliard School graduate Olga James as Cindy Lou.

On May 21, Preminger announced Dandridge had been cast as Carmen. Initially thrilled by the prospect of playing one of the best film roles ever offered an African American female, Dandridge quickly began to doubt her ability to do it justice. After several days, she told her agent to advise Preminger she was backing out of the project. The director drove to her apartment to reassure her and assuage her fears, and the two unexpectedly began a passionate affair.

 
 

Dandridge was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in the 1954 movie Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, 1954)

Channeling Carmen Jones

Theatrical poster for the film Carmen Jones(Otto Preminger, 1954). Design by Scott McKowen

 
 

Dorothy Dandridge strikes a pose in a scene from the film Carmen Jones. Costume design by Mary Ann Nyberg

 
 

Janet Jackson

 
 

-scura_1-700x501Halle Berry in the television film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (Martha Coolidge, 1999)

 
 

Beyoncé Knowles

 
 

Rihanna

A Crush on Lolita

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor and hebephile Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.

In April 1947, Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: “I am writing … a short novel about a man who liked little girls—and it’s going to be called The Kingdom by the Sea….” The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographical novel Look at the Harlequins! for a Lolita-like book written by the narrator who, in addition, travels with his teenage daughter Bel from motel to motel after the death of her mother; later, his fourth wife is Bel’s look-alike and shares her birthday.

Some critics have accepted Humbert’s version of events at face value. In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies excused the narrator entirely, writing that the theme of Lolita is “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.”

The novel abounds in allusions to classical and modern literature. Virtually all of them have been noted in The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr. Many are references to Humbert’s own favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

Chapter 26 of Part One contains a parody of James Joyce‘s stream of consciousness.

Humbert Humbert’s field of expertise is French literature (one of his jobs is writing a series of educational works that compare French writers to English writers), and as such there are several references to French literature, including the authors Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, François Rabelais, Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Remy Belleau, Honoré de Balzac, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the “first Humbert Humbert”.

Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin‘s relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel’s comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin’s life in Nabokov’s book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the Alaskan town of Grey Star while Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita’s first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as “the silent…but indefatigable Charlie.” Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds‘s painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney’s article notes many other parallels as well.

In chapter 29 of Part Two, Humbert comments that Lolita looks “like Botticelli’s russet Venus—the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty”, referencing Sandro Botticelli‘s depiction of Venus in, perhaps, The Birth of Venus or Venus and Mars.

In chapter 35 of Part Two, Humbert’s “death sentence” on Quilty parodies the rhythm and use of anaphora in T. S. Eliot‘s poem Ash Wednesday.

Many other references to classical and Romantic literature abound, including references to Lord Byron‘s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and to the poetry of Laurence Sterne.

After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name Lolita has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.

 
 

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1992)

 
 

Bert Stern worked as a photographer on Lolita and shot the publicity photographs of Sue Lyon.

 
 

The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993)

 
 

The plot of The Crush was based on an actual incident involving the neighbor of Shapiro.