Trip Two

From Kubrick's 'Lolita' movie (1961)

LEAVING 'Beardsley' in 'Appalachia' on May 29, 1949, supposedly for Hollywood where Humbert pretends to have an engagement while he really hopes to cross into Mexico with Lolita.  This trip and all its stops, however, have been planned by Lolita, certainly in conjunction with Quilty, and they have planned differently.  Of their destination we only know it is the "Continental Divide." 

The whereabouts of 'Beardsley' is uncertain.  When they leave it in a westernly direction, they first cross Ohio.  The second clue is that it is 400 mi from 'Ramsdale.'  In consequence, if one places 'Ramsdale' in Massachusetts, 'Beardsley' would have to be somewhere in central Pennsylvania, or perhaps at the northern tip of West Virginia.  The third constraint is that 'Parkington' is "adjacent to the state Beardsley was in" (p.226).  'Parkington,' we remember, is only 40 mi from 'Ramsdale' and 'Ramsdale' is not in the same state as 'Briceland' which we know is Connecticut.  This seems to be an intentional geographical conumdrum devised by Nabokov.  The only way to solve it, it appears to me, is to place 'Parkington' in the northeast of New York State and 'Ramsdale' in western Massachusetts.  This is corroborated by the fact that Lolita, when Humbert meets her three years later, does not know Quilty's current address but guesses he is "in New York" (p.277) − which could either mean New York City or New York State.  If she remembers that Q used to live somewhere near 'Parkington' and that 'Parkington' was in upstate New York, "in New York" would have been a perfectly natural answer.  One could even take this strain of deductions further and associate 'Ramsdale' with some quiet town between Stockbridge and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and 'Parkington' with Albany, New York.  (The geography of Nabokov's screenplay for Kubrick's Lolita is a totally different one. Here he cuts short both of Humbert's and Lolita's journeys across the USA, explicitly placing 'Beardsley' in Idaho [e.g. p.117)] and 'Elphinstone' in Arizona [e.g. p.168] and also fusing 'Wace' and 'Elphinstone.')

"Farewell, Appalachia !  Leaving it, we crossed Ohio, the three states beginning with 'I,' and Nebraska―ah, that first whiff of the West! We traveled very leisurely …" (p.210)

The three states with an 'I' of course are Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.  As Humbert explains, this time they did not swerve and zigzag, improvising new destinations at every stop as they did on their first journey.  They traveled leisurely but in a straight line.  If one extends this straight line to the east, it leads into Pennsylvania.  Extended to the west, it ends up eithern in Wyoming or in northern Colorado.  Lolita's plan is to see Native American ceremonials in or near a town on the Continental Divide.  There are no Indian ceremonials and in fact no Indians in northern Colorado, so this excludes Colorado.  In Wyoming, however, there is the large Wind River Reservation (Shoshone, Crow), just to the east of the Continental Divide.  The most direct route will have been mainly US30 and US6.

Around June 2 : "... after a tedious drive through a land of food crops, we reached a pleasant little burg and put up at Chestnut Courtnice cabins, damp green grounds, apple trees, an old swingand a tremendous sunset which the tired child ignored. She had wanted to go through Kasbeam because it was only thirty miles north from her home town but on the following morning I found her quite listless, with no desire to see again the sidewalk where she had played hopscotch some five years before" (p.212).  From here on Humbert and Lo are pursued by some stranger using a different car for each stage.  He thinks it is a detective following them who strangely resembles his Swiss uncle Gustave Trapp.  It is not obvious to him that Lolita is getting ready for her escape from him.

  'Kasbeam' is said to be 30 mi N of Lolita's home town of 'Pisky' which in its turn is less than 300 mi from Cincinnati (p.135) and 1000 mi of smooth road from 'Elphinstone' (p.247).  The two distances don't quite meet, but both point towards central Illinois.  'Pisky' is said to be in a "a corn, coal and hog producing area" (p.154).  This also perfectly fits eastern, central and southern Illinois. According to a contemporary encyclopedia, "Illinois stands high in manufacturing, coal mining, agriculture, and oil production ... Illinois ranks third in the nation in the sale of agricultural products, second in corn and soybeans, and fourth in hog production."  This then is the state where 'Kasbeam' and 'Pisky' are best situated.  Both places are synthetic towns, not disguised real ones.  In 'Kasbeam,' they stay at 'Chestnut Court,' later called 'Chestnut Castle' on 'Chestnut Crest' by Humbert (p.213), and on his way back from 'Elphinstone' to 'Beardsley' Humbert mentions no particular place except 'Chestnut' : "Between July 5 and November 18, when I returned to Beardsley for a few days, I registered, if not actually stayed, at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes.  This figure includes a few registrations between Chestnut and Beardsley, one of which yielded a shadow of the fiend ('N. Petit, Larousse, Ill.')" (p.248).  It seems that for Humbert 'Chestnut' is just another name for 'Kasbeam' where he believes his misfortunes began.  Narrowing down on 'Kasbeam' aka 'Chestnut,' it so happens that the small town at the geographical center of Illinois is called Chestnut.  Certainly this Chestnut "is" not 'Kasbeam' it is S of the roads Humbert and Lo may have traveled (US6, US24 or US136), it is way too small, it has no hill and no motel.  But we may perhaps take the coordinates of Chestnut to approximately locate synthetic 'Kasbeam' on the map. If we do so, the two cities 30 mi to the south are Decatur and Springfield.  And if we believe Humbert that towards the end of their first tour they avoided 'Pisky' but visited Lincoln's home in Springfield, the capital of Illinois is out, and 'Pisky' should be a city in the order of Decatur, in the middle of a corn and hence hogs producing area and formerly surrounded by coal mines.  "Pop. c.80,000 ...  A railroad and industrial center in a fertile farm and livestock area, Decatur has railroad repair shops and huge plants for processing corn and soybeans.  Other manufactures include transportation and mining equipment and machinery.  Coal deposits underlie the area." 


"We were in sage-brush country by that time, ... and presently the mesas gave way to real mountains" (p.220)

Leaving Nebraska, entering SE Wyoming, arriving at the Laramie Range which looms c.50 mi from the Nebraska state line.


Breakfast in 'Soda (pop. 1001)', one day before 'Wace' (p.220)

This should be in in E Nebraska or SE Wyoming, along former US 30 (today I-80).  There is and was no town called Soda, according to contemporary American gazeteers. For Wyoming standards, a population of one thousand would have made it a town that no directory would have missed.

They reach 'Wace' c. June 5.  "We traveled very leisurely, having more than a week to reach Wace, Continental Divide, where she passionately desired to see the Ceremonial Dances marking the seasonal opening of Magic Cave” (p.210).  It proves Lolita has misread the date and the ceremonies are over when they arrive (p.220); she does not seem to mind.  "… noncommittal mauve curtains half encircling the town" (p.224).  "A big W made of white stones on a steep talus in the far vista of a cross street seemed the very initial of woe" (p.224).

'Wace' is another imaginary town but its whereabouts can be approximately determined.  Traveling straight westward from Ohio via Nebraska to the Continental Divide will have taken them into Wyoming.  The town on their road right on the Continental Divide is Rawlins.  What the Tour Book says about it does not make it a likely tourist attraction :  "Industries include stock raising, ranching, oilproduction and refining, dry farming and mining both of metals and non-metals.  Located here is the State Penitentiary."  The next bigger town, Rock Springs, just beyond the Great Divide Basin, does not sound any more attractive.  But going northwest from Rawlins, the road would have taken to the Wind River Country, with small country towns like Riverton, Lander and Dubois.  The Wind River Country looks promising for another reason. Ceremonial dances will have been held on an Indian reservation.  There is just one Indian Ceremonial in Wyoming mentioned in the Western Tour Book of 1947 : the Sun Dances of the Crow on the Wind River Reservation.  "They usually take place near Fort Washakie about the end of July or the first of August."  The closest town outside the reservation is Lander.  Not far away, in Wind River Canyon of Bighorn River, there even is a Magic Cave (whose magic seemed to consist in the sulphurous stench emanating from it).  However, Lander seems too small und too little touristy to be equated with 'Wace'.  Towns like Cody or Jackson would be more fitting but are too far away from the Indian reservation.  Quilty obviously wanted to go to 'Wace' because one of his plays was scheduled to be presented there.  As there was and is no theater in Lander, it must have been a high school production for the end of the school year, just like in Beardsley.  There was and still is a Silver Spur Motel in Lander.  (Nabokov roamed NW Wyoming in the summer of 1952, staying in Dubois on the western edge of the Wind River Reservation and in Afton, hunting butterflies, writing Lolita.)


After a terrific quarrel, they leave 'Wace,' followed by a red Aztec Convertible. First night after 'Wace' in 'Mirana Motel,' state unknown (p.227).

In the Colorado Rockies, between 'Snow' and 'Champion,' Humbert's car has a flat tire (p.228).

Staying for about a week at a luxurious resort hotel in 'Champion,' Colorado (p.235), from about June 18 to June 26.

In 1949, about the only fancy resort hotel in northern Colorado on Humbert's route from Wyoming to Utah would have been in Glenwood Springs.  The stay there cannot have been improvised but must have been arranged (probably by telephone) by Quilty.


Leaving 'Champion' for 'Elphinstone' June 26 (?), 200 "mountainous miles" to go.  Passing 'Red Rock,' "the famous, oddly shaped, splendidly flushed rock which jutted above the mountains and had been the take-off for nirvana on the part of a temperamental show girl" (p.239).

Checking in at 'Silver Spur Court' in 'Elphinstone,' still June 26.  (Without Humbert’s knowing, Quilty is staying at the 'Ponderosa Lodge' nearby.)  Lolita runs a fever and the same day has to be taken to the local hospital.  On Monday the Fourth of July, while Humbert stays in his motel room with a fever himself, Lolita disappears from the hospital.

¶ Humbert says more about 'Elphinstone' than about any other place he and Lolita visited on their two trips. Yet it is exactly for this reason that it remains so elusive.  There are too many criteria to be fitted to any one particular place.  This is what we are told about it :

- 'Elphinstone' is supposed to be the „gem of a western State where she yearned to climb Red Rock from which a mature screen star had recently jumped to her death after a drunken row with her gigolo" (p.210).

- "The town was newly built, or rebuilt, on the flat floor of a seven-thousand-foot-high valley" (p.239).

"Elphinstone was, and I hope still is, a very cute little town. It was spread like a maquette, you know, with its neat green-wool trees and red-roofed houses over the valley floor and I think I have alluded earlier to its model school and temple and spacious rectangular blocks, some of which were, curiously enough, just conventional pastures with a mule or a unicorn grazing in the young July mist" (p 246).

- The newspaper Lolita's nurse Mary Lore brings her is the Deseret News (p.243), a real local paper of Salt Lake City. (Deseret is the old Mormon name for the territory that was to become the state of Utah.)

The name of the paper, the presence of a (supposedly LDS) temple rather than a church and the nurse's sister having married to Cedar City all point to Utah. But where in Utah?

- As there are roads radiating from 'Elphinstone,' it should be a highway junction of some importance.

- Humbert has to drive 60 mi to buy a few books for hospitalized Lolita.  The only Utah cities with bookstores big enough for the kind of books he buys will have been Salt Lake City and perhaps Ogden or Provo, so 'Elphinstone' would have to be within a 30-60 mi radius from these.

- Elphinstone' is supposed to be at an altitude of 7,000 ft.  However, all the bigger cities and towns of Utah are at an elevation of 4,200 to 5,000 ft. This surprisingly exact altitude information seems to exclude all real Utah towns.

- A place with a more appropriate altitude would be Alta in the Wasatch Range, about 25 mi SE of Salt Lake City where Nabokov in 1943 had spent an enjoyable summer at publisher James Laughlin's solitary Alta Lodge, hunting butterflies and not yet thinking about Lolita.  "Never in my life have I had such good collecting as here.  I climb easily to 12000 ft as our altitude is 8600" (letter to Edmund Wilson, July 15, 1943).  Moreover, Alta like 'Elphonstone' was being "newly rebuilt" in the 1940s.  The AAA Western Tour Book of 1947 does not make any mention of it, but the Utah Tour Book of 2002 says :  "Alta ballooned into a raucous mining town of 5,000 people with the 1865 discovery of silver.  The presence of six breweries and 26 saloons did little to cool the tempers that resulted in more than 100 killings in the town's first few years.  The 1873 devaluation of silver put an end to Alta's heyday, and the town languished until the first ski lodge was built in 1940."  But clearly Alta is not 'Elphinstone. It is 1,600 ft higher and at the end of narrow Little Cottonwood Canyon. Most important, in the 1940s Alta was no town at all but a defunct mining camp with a slowly growing cluster of ski lodges.

The best fit would be a completely different place : the former railroad town of Evanston in SW Wyoming, three miles across from the NE Utah state line, population 3,600 in 1948 (today it is 11,500, due to the discovery of oil and gas in the vicinity).  It is nearly at the right altitude (6,743 ft), 52 mi from Ogden and 70 mi from Salt Lake City, it is on a wide valley floor, it has a rectangular grid, it has or Mormon temple and an LDS bishop's office (on Morse Lee Street), and nearby there are the rocky red slopes of Red Canyon which in 1964 the Flaming Gorge Dam of the Green River was to turn into Flaming Gorge.  Also, Evanston has not only a hospital but also the Wyoming State Mental Hospital.  Nabokov may have come by way of Evanston when driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole in 1949, and from a driveway across from the mental hospital he may have overlooked the grid of the town.  Also, doesn't 'Elphinstone' sound somewhat like Evanston, like Evanston transformed by an elf into a stone where she is going to take a big jump?  On the other hand, there are no roads radiating from it but just US30 passing through (today it is I-80 passing by, leaving the town sadly in disrepair), Red Canyon is 100 mi away, and one could have passed by on the way from Glenwood Springs to Evanston but it would have been 330 mountainous miles and not 200.  So certainly 'Elphinstone' "is" not Evanston just as Lander is not 'Wace.' But in several important respects it will have been like it.

Later on

From July 5, 1949 : "Several days of dashing up and down the relentlessly radiating roads in the vicinity of Elphinstone" (p.247), one of which would probably have led him to Dolores, SW Colorado where the detective he hires later discovers an octogenarian Indian by the name of Bill Brown (p.253), and from Dolores on to Telluride nearby.

"A small mining town that lay at my feet, in a fold of the valley. One could make out the geometry of the streets between blocks of red and gray roofs, and green puffs of trees, and a serpentine stream, and the rich, ore-like glitter of the city dump, and beyond the town, roads crisscrossing the crazy quilt of dark and pale fields, and behind it all, great timbered mountains" (p.307).

In his 1956 postcript to Lolita, Nabokov described as one of the nerves of the novel "the tinkling sounds of the valley town coming up the mountain trail (on which I could the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens Nabokov)."  This identifies Telluride, Colorado as the place of Humbert's final epiphany.  Nabokov went to Telluride in the summer of 1951 expressly to find that special little blue butterfly.


After that, Humbert slowly retraces the whole second tour with Lolita, in search of her and of some cue that might betray the identity of her abductor.  Towards the end, he passes through 'Chestnut' (which may be his name for 'Kasbeam' where they had stayed at 'Chestnut Court') and is back in 'Beardsley' on November 18, 1949.

When Humbert three years later sees Lolita again, he learns from her that it was the stage writer  Clare Quilty who, with the help of nurse Mary Lore, had abducted her from the Elphinstone hospital, pretending to be her uncle, Mr. Gustave.  In a black Cadillac he "took her to a dude-ranch about a day's drive from Elephant (Elphinstone). Named? Oh, some silly name − Duk Duk Ranch − you know just plain silly − but it did not matter now, because the place had vanished and disintegrated ..." (p.276).

¶  No use looking for 'Duk Duk Ranch' on any map or in any guide.  All we know is that it must be within a radius of between 300 and 400 miles from 'Elphinstone,' the rock from which elf Lolita had jumped, for Quilty will have driven fast and far that afternoon and night.  'Duk' may have the remote literary connotations Alfred Apple, Jr. attributed to the name, but it also is a private joke, a jibe at Nabokov's holiday quarters in August 1951 :  Duck Ranch at W. Yellowstone, Montana.  It was in every way the opposite of Quilty's place.  "... near W. Yellowstone, Mont., [we] rented for a ridiculously small sum a ranch in the hills, which Véra and I had absolutely to ourselves,− aspens, pines, more warm-blooded animals than I have ever seen in one place, not a human for miles around, a distant gate we had to unlock when we drove through on a road with more flowers than sand − and all this for a couple of dollars per day" (letter to Edmund Wilson, early September 1951). By the way, W. Yellowstone is at a suitable distance of 325 mi N of Evanston, Wyoming. Duck Ranch is no more; it must have been on Duck Creek 8 mi N of W.Yellowstone.

Later Humbert lives in New York City, has a teaching assignment in 'Cantrip' (400 mi distant), returns to New York City and there receives Lolita's letter that directs him to 'Coalmont' where on September 23, 1952 he finds Lolita changed into seventeen year old pregnant Mrs. Richard F. Schiller.

'Coalmont' is said to be a small industrial town 800 mi from NYC and explicitly not in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.  Humbert assumes it would be a 15 hour non stop drive from 'Coalmont' to 'Ramsdale' which would place it between 600 and 650 mi from Massachusetts. These two distances are in conflict.  A place that would be 800 mi from New York City and 650 mi from Massachusetts would have to be way up north in Ontario.  As that's clearly not where 'Coalmont' is, it is better to discard Humbert's estimate of his driving time as wishful thinking (he is in a hurry to find Quilty).  Humbert pretends to be carefully disguising the whereabouts of 'Coalmont,' better than those of any other place in his memoir.  But by stating where it is not (in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee) and by giving the distance, he directly points to where it must be : somewhere in the coal mining region of western Indiana or perhaps central Illinois and thus not far from Lolita's hometown of 'Pisky' and nearby 'Kasbeam.'  It comes as a surprise that there is a real Coalmont exactly where he leads us to expect it, in western Indiana, 20 mi SE of Terre Haute.   The present population of the Coalmont area is 4,500.  There is only one coal mine left in the vicinity, and no smoke stacks.  The town as it is today has not a single store, no restaurant, no school, but in the 1940s and 50s it was busier, the population larger (mostly miners, farm hands, rail road men), and there were five or six general stores where Humbert might have asked for Dick Schiller's address on Hunter Road (p.268). So surprisingly, the actual Coalmont of that time seems to have been an astonishingly good fit to the fictional one.   

From 'Coalmont,' Humbert drives to 'Ramsdale,' New England (Massachusetts?) where he gets Quilty's address on 'Grimm Road,' 12 mi N of 'Parkington' (New York?) and there kills him on September 25.