I think this article in The New Yorker
captures my reaction perfectly:The Salacious Non-Mystery of “The Real Lolita”
In 1948, an 11-year-old girl named Sally Horner was abducted by Frank La Salle, a 50-year-old pedophile. He had caught her trying to steal a notebook on a dare from popular girls at her school in Camden, NJ. He convinced her that he was an FBI agent who would spare her from being sent to reform school if she periodically "checked in" with him. He coerced her into telling her mother he was the father of school friends of hers and was taking them on a trip to Atlantic City. The Atlantic City trip (without the imaginary school friends) morphed into a 21-month, multi-state captivity for Sally. Tragically, she died in an auto accident just a couple of years after being returned to her family. La Salle was convicted of rape and kidnapping and received a life sentence.
Weinman makes much of the Sally Horner case as being the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita
, while acknowledging that he had begun work on the novel years before the Sally Horner kidnapping occurred. She emphasizes the notion that the case provided the ultimate framework for the novel. There is a passage in Lolita
where Humbert Humbert narrates a reference to Sally Horner, asking himself whether he was doing to Lolita what Frank La Salle had done to Sally. (Why, yes, Humbert!) Weinman seems indignant that Nabokov resisted naming a single real-life source for his inspiration, and she floats the odd theory that he included Humbert Humbert's allusion to the Horner case to protect himself against claims of plagiarism. Plagiarism? For basing a novel on a real-life case? There are countless novels that have real-life inspirations, and no one has charged those authors with plagiarism of real life.
The article I linked above sums up perfectly in the final paragraph:“What Humbert Humbert did to Dolores Haze is, in fact, what Frank La Salle did to Sally Horner in 1948,” Weinman writes. What is the purpose of this statement? The phrase “The Real Lolita” implies its opposite: a sham “Lolita,” a prop, a lie, a fiction. But this book presents no evidence that Nabokov exploited Sally Horner to breathe life into his imaginings. What it insinuates, powerfully, is that Weinman has exploited both Sally and Nabokov to justify her prurient interest in yet another sad, dead girl.