I came across this New Yorker piece on the alleged inspiration behind Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita, the controversial 1950s classic. The ties, while tenuous, have been exhaustively investigated by Sarah Weinman in her new book The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner.
Weinman’s book details the abduction of eleven-year old Florence Sally Horner in 1948 and her 21 month ordeal at the hands of a child predator. Horner's story is pure tragedy, a case of an impressionable girl caught shoplifting a notebook by a man named Frank La Salle.
La Salle was a known pedophile, having served prison time for the statutory rape of five adolescent girls. Claiming to be an FBI agent, La Salle promised to keep her secret safe so long as she came to visit him every so often.
Horner did what she was told, lying to her single mother about bring invited on vacation with a school friend’s famil. Her mother, overworked and clearly depressed, was all too happy to put her on the bus to Atlantic City. It would be the last time she saw her for almost two years.
Much like Humbert and Lolita, La Salle and Horner crisscrossed the country under the guise of a widowed father and daughter “living in boarding houses and trailers where Sally was repeatedly sexually violated.” The pair would travel as far as California before she worked up the courage to phone her sister back in New Jersey who relayed her whereabouts to the FBI.
Horner’s story hit me hard, precisely for the reason that I was able to put myself in her shoes. I was once an impressionable young rake, the kind of kid that might have nicked something worthless to achieve a sense of validation from my peers. Only I didn’t. Nor was my innocence violated or preyed upon.
I remember being captivated by Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation, watching it at the British Film Institute in London for the first time as a young adult. The movie encouraged me to pick up a second-hand copy of Nabokov’s book and while I can’t remember the story in vivid detail, I do remember being unable to put it down.
Just like the film’s tagline ‘How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?’, I was equally stumped at how Nabokov pulled off the publishing in the first place. Guess we can thank the First Amendment for that.