Nabokov: Some Possible 'Cryptomesiac' Title Origins

Alexander Dunkel, University of Arizona

Earlier this year, a German literary scholar, Michael Maar, published an article informing readers about a little known 1916 short story, “Lolita,” by the German writer Heinz von Lichberg. The story deals with the obsession of a first-person male narrator for the young girl Lolita and is set in Spain. The surface resemblance to Nabokov’s novel is surprising. In a recent article (Caldwell) discussing Maar’s explanation for a subliminal connection between the short story “Lolita” and Nabokov’s novel, the term “cryptomensia” was used. Cryptomnesia is defined as “mistakenly ‘generating a word, an idea, a song, or a solution to a problem, with the belief that it is totally original, or at least original within the proper context.’”

This paper examines “cryptomnesiac” possibilities for the sources of three titles of Nabokov works: Lolita —a 1938 Balthus painting (Roy); Ada — a 1930 German photograph (Coke); and “The Waltz Invention” — Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Garafola).

In order to establish a link between the title of the Nabokov work and its possible “cryptomnesiac” source three criteria must be established: precedence —the existence of the source prior to the work; plausibility that Nabokov was aware of the source; and parallels—the similarity of the source to the title and work.


Caldwell, Christopher, “Who Invented Lolita?” The Sunday New York Times Magazine. [New York] 23 May 2004: p. 11.

Coke, Van Deren. Avant Garde Photography in Germany 1919-1939. Pantheon Books: New York, 1982.

Garafola, Lynn. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Oxford: New York, 1989.

Roy, Claude. Balthus. Boston: A Bullfinch Press Book, Little Brown & Co., 1996.