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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

by Sarah Weinman


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The Real Lolita is a tour de force of literary detective work. Not only does it shed new light on the terrifying true saga that influenced Nabokov’s masterpiece, it restores the forgotten victim to our consciousness.” —David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.

Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062661937
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 282,939
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, and the editor, most recently, of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession. She is a 2020 National Magazine Award finalist for reporting and a Calderwood Journalism Fellow at MacDowell, and her work has appeared most recently in New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and the Washington Post. Weinman writes the crime column for the New York Times Book Review and lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "Had I Done to Her…?" 1

1 The Five-and-Dime 15

2 A Trip to the Beach 21

3 From Wellesley to Cornell 27

4 Sally, at First 33

5 The Search for Sally 39

6 Seeds of Compulsion 45

7 Frank, in Shadow 57

8 "A Lonely Mother Waits" 67

9 The Prosecutor 73

10 Baltimore 83

11 Walks of Death 93

12 Across America by Oldsmobile 101

13 Dallas 111

14 The Neighbor 117

15 San Jose 125

16 After the Rescue 135

17 A Guilty Plea 143

18 When Nabokov (Really) Learned About Sally 151

19 Rebuilding a Life 157

20 Lolita Progresses 165

21 Weekend in Wildwood 169

22 The Note Card 177

23 "A Darn Nice Girl" 183

24 La Salle in Prison 189

25 "Gee, Ed, That Was Bad Luck" 199

26 Writing and Publishing Lolita 205

27 Connecting Sally Horner to Lolita 217

28 "He Told Me Not to Tell" 229

29 Aftermaths 235

Epilogue: On Two Girls Named Lolita and Sally 253

Afterword 261

Acknowledgments 271

Notes 275

Bibliography 297

Permissions 301

Index 305

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