“The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World”
$27.99, Sept. 11
While “Lolita” remains an iconic (and controversial) novel, the event that may well have inspired author Vladimir Nabokov has been mostly lost to time.
But Sarah Weinman is looking to change that with her book “The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World,” out now.
Weinman’s book explores Nabokov’s life and his literary intentions, but the bulk of her work retraces the life of Florence Sally Horner.
Sally was an 11-year-old girl living in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948 with her financially struggling mother, Ella. Friends dare her to steal a 5-cent notebook from a Woolworth’s. A 50-year-old mechanic named Frank La Salle catches her and, posing as an FBI agent, threatens to send her to a reformatory, then lets her go, saying he would check in with her occasionally.
A few months pass before Sally sees La Salle again. This time, he tells her that she must accompany him to Atlantic City because the government insisted. He instructs Sally to tell her mother that that she had been invited by friends for a vacation. And La Salle calls the mother, posing as the father of one of the friends.
The mother agrees to allow her daughter to go on vacation, setting off a 21-month chain of events where Sally and La Salle wind up in Baltimore, Dallas and San Jose, California, posing as father and daughter.
La Salle is described as both paternal and stern, but also repeatedly rapes Sally. While in California, a neighbor grows suspicious and Sally eventually confides in her that La Salle is not her father. The neighbor helps Sally make a call to relatives, who alert police.
La Salle is arrested (and later sentenced to 30 to 35 years in prison, where he dies in 1966) and Sally returns home, but her sad life ends tragically two years later in a car wreck.
Weinman’s crisp writing style keeps the action moving along swiftly, making “The Real Lolita” engrossing reading.
Less interesting is her exploration of Nabokov and the parallels found with “Lolita.” In part, that’s because the subject has been discussed plenty of times before.
Weinman does note that Sally is directly mentioned in “Lolita” when Humbert Humbert asks, “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank La Salle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?” JN
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a publication affiliated with Jewish News.