Biography / John / Nonfiction

The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

In her nonfiction book The Real Lolita, author Sarah Weinman explores the kidnapping case that writer Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita was partially based on as well as Nabokov’s development and writing of the novel.

In 1948 eleven-year-old Sally Horner was abducted by Frank La Salle, a drifter who had served time for the statutory rape of five girls. He saw Sally shoplifting at a Woolworth’s and tricked her into thinking he was an FBI agent.  He eventually used this leverage to kidnap her.

Nabokov worked on Lolita in different forms for about 20 years. Weinman argues that the Sally Horner kidnapping seems to have helped give Nabokov a large chunk of his novel’s plot. La Salle told people Sally was his daughter and the two of them crisscrossed the country for twenty-one months before the authorities finally caught up with him.

Weinman also discusses the frequent misinterpretation of the novel and how Nabokov dealt with this issue. Despite the controversy that swirled around Lolita, Nabokov never shied away from the fame it brought him.

As for Sally Horner’s story, one of the problems with The Real Lolita is that there just is not much of it. It’s unknown what happened on the majority of the cross-country trip she and LaSalle took. Sally said little about it after she was rescued from LaSalle, and she ended up dying young. Some victims of horrible crimes start talking about what happened to them years or decades later. Sally never had the chance.

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