Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov always denied that the young woman at the center of the writer’s most famous work was based on any particular person. But in this book, The Real Lolita, author Sarah Weinman argues that the character of Dolores Haze — the “Lolita” who Humbert Humbert obsesses over and rapes — was inspired by the utterly tragic case of Florence “Sally” Horner.
On June 14, 1948, the then-11-year-old Horner was kidnapped in Camden, New Jersey by a man named Frank La Salle — just one of the many names he used. La Salle told Horner he was an FBI agent. In fact, he was a car mechanic who had previously served time for multiple rape convictions. Over the next 21 months, La Salle subjected his victim to repeated sexual abuse before she finally escaped. Weinman details Horner’s history before, during, and after the ordeal while simultaneously laying out evidence that Nabokov pillaged her history for Lolita.
She makes a convincing case, though the writer’s real achievement is in evocatively relating the story of a girl who — like her fictional counterpart — was no temptress, as the word “Lolita” has come to mean, but the victim of a sexual predator.
“The fantastic power both girls possessed was the capacity to haunt,” writes Weinman. The author has brilliantly filled out her subject’s ghost. B+