Just last week Salvador Dali’s body was exhumed for a paternity test and now his mustachioed spirit is haunting literature, particularly Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
After the Harvard scholar and current professor at the University of Bucharest Delia Ungureanu discovered Dali’s 1931 short story “Reverie: An Erotic Daydream,” she noticed that it reminded her a lot of Nabokov’s book. Not only were the two stories about middle-aged men who seduce a woman in order to get to her younger, prepubescent daughter, but the daughter in question is named “Dullita.” Nice, I see what you did there, Nabokov.
So in case you’ve ever thought, hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have a version of Lolita but written by a surrealist, sadistic painter who was afraid of death and sex, this is great news for you!
Ungureanu, who will be publishing her thoughts in a new book titled From Paris to Tlön: Surrealism as World Literature, also found that “Dullita” appeared in Dali’s memoir as well. And she doesn’t argue that Nabokov stole Dali’s idea—though he certainly would have read the painter’s work—rather, that this was a “creative exchange” between the two artists and that they moved in the same circle.
Nabokov actually might have been so interested in Dali that he gave him a small cameo in Lolita, in a scene in which she shows Humbert Humbert a photo of a surrealist painter next to a bust of Venus de Milo half-submerged in water published in an American magazine. And in her research Ungureanu actually found a photo of Dali next to a bust just like that, published in LIFE Magazine in 1941. So, I guess mystery solved: Dullita is Lolita and no ideas are new!
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Ungureanu was a current professor at Harvard. She is now a professor at the University of Bucharest. Jezebel regrets the error.