The tragic story of the girl who inspired Nabokov's Lolita

Sally Horner was 11 years old when she was kidnapped by 50-year-old sexual predator and mechanic Frank La Salle.

Ria Gehrerová
Ria Gehrerová Denník N, Slovakia
Source: Denník N
The tragic story of the girl who inspired Nabokov's Lolita - NewsMavens
Florence Sally Horner, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita created controversy when it was published. American publishing houses refused to print it, so he had to send it to a French publishing house.

Almost everyone has heard about the book, which tells a story about a relationship between a pedophile academic and a 12-year old girl. Some people perceive it as a charming love story and others as a perversion and condemnable crime.

But very few people know that this story was inspired by the tragic experience of 11 year old Sally Horner who was kidnapped by Frank La Salle in Camden, New Jersey and held in captivity and raped repeatedly for 21 months.

Fortunately, Sally Horner was rescued and Frank La Salle was sentenced to 35 years in prison. But this story does not have a happy end -- La Salle died in the prison 16 years later and Sally died even sooner, during a car accident when she was fifteen.

Details from the story:

  • Reporter Sarah Weinman wrote a book, Real Lolita, about Sally Horner's story and discussing its inspiration on Nabokov.
  • Weinman said Nabokov's Lolita is missing the girl's perspective, so she wanted to shift the focus onto the girl's tragic life.
  • In the article recommended below, Professor Alexander Dolinin says that the second half of Nabokov's book was very similar to Sally Horner's story, which happened just a few years before Lolita was published.
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