First glance

In an interview with Playboy in 1964, about the writing of « Lolita« , he confessed « She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle – its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look. » and indeed, we can see many instances of reflexion and mirror effects in « Lolita » (e.g. Pratt / Trapp, Blanche Schwarzman / Melanie Weiss, widow Haze / Widow Hays, etc…). More will be told in the main page.

The decyphiring key of « Lolita » is ONE name: Lewis Carroll. Everything is in fact about him, in the background of the text.

In a nutshell, the story in « Lolita » is a _very distorted_ reflection of an episode implicating Lewis Carrol, Alice P. Liddell and John Ruskin, at least about how it was perceived by Vladimir Nabokov, who according to his known quotes about Carroll had strong opinions about him and his inner nature.

An important number of names and references in « Lolita » are taken directly or criptically by playing with words  in « The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll » by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood (1899; he was Lewis Carroll’s nephew (let’s mention that Lewis Carroll is a pen name, his real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), son of his sister Mary Charlotte (1835-1911; she married reverend Charles Edward Stuart Collingwood (1831-1898; almost the same date of birth and death than Lewis Carroll)) which is freely available online. Here are several of these instances (as for the the main page of the demonstration with the full solution, it is here):

Reynolds’ « Age of innocence » caricature by Lewis Carroll.  (referenced in Beardsley’s « Mushroom » p.198 TAL (The Annotated Lolita)):


pastiche: « As our readers will have seen by the preceding page, we have commenced engraving the above series of pictures. « The Age of Innocence, » by Sir J. Reynolds, representing a young Hippopotamus seated under a shady tree, presents to the contemplative mind a charming union of youth and innocence. »

Bad latin (p.120 TAL): The part in bad Latin in « Lolita », in the bedroom of the « Enchanted Hunters » is just a reference in itself to this Latin poem by the Young Lewis Carroll (or more exactly Charles L. Dodgson) by being bad Latin and with no words in common with the « original » source. There is just only ONE word in it serving as « tag », that is there to prove there is really a link between both texts: « descendens » is mirrored by « ascendens » (the meaning is the opposite). It is quite apt as the story of Humbert and Lolita is a very distorted reflection of the story of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, in Nabokov’s mind (everything is voluntarily a bit distorted, just like Humbert’s « our glass lake » was actually the « hour-glass lake » (glass echoes the looking-glass that is a major element of the ridlle) – The distorsion of everything in the riddle is simply the result of the mirror (a mirror reflects reality but distorted (left is right and right is left)).

« As was the custom at that time, Charles began to compose Latin verses at a very early age, his first copy being dated November 25, 1844. The subject was evening, and this is how he treated it:—

    Phoebus aqua splendet descendens, æquora tingens        (‘descendens’ is the tag)
    Splendore aurato. Pervenit umbra solo.
    Mortales lectos quærunt, et membra relaxant
    Fessa labore dies; cuncta per orbe silet.
    Imperium placidum nunc sumit Phoebe corusca.
    Antris procedunt sanguine ore feræ.

These lines the boy solemnly copied into his Diary, apparently in the most blissful ignorance of the numerous mistakes they contained. « 

Made-up Names so as to both dissimulate (distorsion of names) and confirm the source:

Percy Elphinstone (Percy family; See of Elphin; Gladstone) (p.31 TAL),

(Annabel) Leigh: (Frank Fairleigh),

Clarence Choate Clark (in John Rays Jr.’s foreword): Choate (Bertie COOTE), Clark (Savile CLARKE). The decyphering key is the actual name CHOATE is based on « COOTE » and the initials of the actual name inspiring Clark (i.e. Savile Clarke) giving us HOA (we remove the part between C and TE) and SC « hoacs », i.e. hoax. The goal is, I believe, to inform the reader that the foreword is not supposed to be taken seriously, thats it’s not Nabokov talking through John Ray Jr.

Kasbeam : ((queen) Katherine’s dream: KAtherine’S (then a mix of D + russian R, ie. P to make a B)EAM) Nabokov used a tricked he already used: use the Russian value of the equivalent cyrillic character to allow the change of letter: Cyrillic P is the R sound. Mixing the letter (as character, as signs) P and D can make a B (visually). The discarded letters are « therine » make Henriet – we know that Harry is an equivalent of Henry and thus we can consider that Henriet = Harriet, an allusion/hint to an Harriet that we know to be Harriet Beecher Stowe (see above in the page), but also to Lewis Carroll’s sister, Henrietta Harington.

The old miss opposite (p. TAL): (« near the Old Mill, opposite Addison’s Walk« )

Eryx: « Lake Eryx » and  « Dr. Kitzler, Eryx, Miss » (p.250 TAL)  (taken from E. Rix, i.e. Miss Edith Rix)

All the names ending in -yx in « Lolita » are also be a reference to Xie Kitchin one of the Child-friend of Lewis Carroll. YX is XY in a mirror, the prononciation of XY can recall the one of Xie (reference to Xie Kitchin, one of the major Child-Friend of Lewis Carroll. There are many photos of her).

Fay Page: (« Paget »), William Mead  « Mead(ows) » in « Christ Church Meadows »?, Florence (Terry, Montgomery & Jackson).

There is more to be found.

Lolita’s classmates (p.51 TAL):

Austin, Chatfield (a mix between Chataway and Hatfield), Lucinda (Lucidas) and Hamilton and Milton Pinski (Milton) see this picture made by Lewis Carroll,


Wain and scott (« on the old wainscotted wall »), Glave (Gable; again Nabokov used the trick he used with Kasbeam: use the Russian value of the equivalent cyrillic character to allow the change of letter: the cyrillic character B sounds like V. « and made the ascent of Gable in the face of an icy gale »), Buck (opposite of Doe: « with kind inscriptions, to « Minnie and Doe » » (also echoed in « Lolita » in « even buck’s-doe’s » (p.153 TAL), in order to makes the clue clear.  Retrospectively), mcCrystal (« Crystal palace »), Mr. (Henry) Irving.

There is more to be found.


Anecdote with roman figures during his travel in Russia in 1867, when staying at a friend’s house at Kronstadt. (the Dickens (also mentionned in an anecdote in the present Collingwood’s work) book mentionned by Humbert in prison (p.31 TAL) « an ancient set, N.Y., G.W. Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII ». The roman figures don’t match: 1867 in Lewis Carroll’s case and 1887 in « Lolita » (it’s a simple distorted echo), but given the general amount of evidence there is absolutely no doubt it is used as another hint, and intended it as a hidden reference. 1867 might also possibly be a date in the riddle too (some elements can indeed point to this date in which Lewis Carroll went to Russia, like Lolita wanting to go in Alaska – a state sold by Russia to the USA in 1867))


There are several other anecdotes of « The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll » hinted in « Lolita« , sometimes we can find an echo of the references of the riddle (e.g. « Walter House » in the dream of Lewis Carroll about Marion Terry (« Polly ») and J. W. Waterhouse, etc…).

And more. Within his text Nabokov wants us to read some anecdotes about Lewis Carrol he found significative and of use in the comprehension of his riddle embedded in Lolita (more on this later).

And others:    (sorry apparently the link is now dead)

Here, for example, is a mock letter that was sent to a friend in this same year of 1862 by one of the acknowledged masters of nonsense, the gentleman artist Edward Lear:

Thrippsy pillivinx,

Inky tinky pobblebockle abblesquabs?–Flosky! Beebul trimble flosky!–Okul scratchabibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity amsky flamsky ramsky damsky crocklefether squiggs,

Flinkywisty pomm,

Maybe the towns Lolita was living in can be found in a nonsense letter sent by Lewis Carroll to Mr. Lear:

Ramsdale (To be found in the nonsense letter sent to artist Edward Lear (in 1862! a symbolic year in the context of the riddle). In the following part – ramsky damsky crocklefether – do different packets of letters in that manner: 4-2 then 2-4 then 5-2-5 (42 (a Carrollian tag) and his reflection in the mirror, 24. 52 (an Alice tag) and what seems to be his reflection, the nose against the looking-glass, 525 -a 2 is almost like a Z, a letter that is kind of mirroring itself). The cryptographic key is 4-2 and 2. RAMS-DA-LE (with 4, 2 and 2 you can get 242 – same idea than with 525. This 242 thing is hinted in Mrs Pratts’ mention of 242 words)). A very Carrollian method. The use of « mirror » in the solution of the riddles within Lolita is rather frequent which is quite apt considering « Lolita » is really a travel through the mirror (or more aptly, the looking-glass) for Humbert Humbert, so to speak, and a general reference to Carroll’s « Through the Looking-Glass« .

Pisky:  It’s very unlikley, I guess, but in the line with Thrippsy pillivinx. beginning of the second word, pi + the recurrent -sky ending:  the first letters are taken starting at 9, a number of importance in the riddle. The recurring -sky ending certainly fit with what we see in Pisky – but I admit it’s quite far-fetched.



Go to the main page (for the complete solution)