Why is it that I turn to Now Voyager again and again and certain books like Lolita. I suppose we all have our favorite reads and our favorite films, and though Nabokov is certainly my favorite author, Now Voyager though , it may be a great, old Hollywood production, is also one of the hokiest films I have ever seen. Still, the film holds and as I watched recently I couldn’t help but see the surprising similarties between the two stories – between the nymphet and the spinster aunt, both stuck in their cocoons and both subjects of the tyranny of others.
There exists in all of us an Aunt Charlotte, a Carlotta with bushy eyebrows and the long hair and the ugly dress that other mother made us wear and our sensible work shoes and god help us, our glasses!
We are the geeks of the girls, the Lolita’s in school, who weren’t the most pretty perhaps, but certainly had the geeky awkwardness of what Nabokov would have called a “true nymphet” attractive only to a man of “infinite melancholy”. True nymphets are discernable by certain “ineffable signs” he tells us: “the slight feline outline of the cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb… the little deadly demon among the wholesome children.”
And what is Aunt Charlotte but a bad Hollywood version of a would-be Lolita, though she is portrayed as the aunt, which is a slightly different role, for the aunt is always undesirable. She is everyone’s friend, she takes the brunt of the jokes and remains silent, self-medicating with brandy and cigarettes in her own room. Thank good for Dr. Jackworth who turns up and takes Aunt Charlotte away from her domineering mother to his retreat in the country where Charlotte, played by the beautiful Betty Davis, may be “looking unwell” because “she’s lost a great deal of weight” (for the record, she is now about a Hollywood size 8, ah, how we long for the days when sizes were logical and women were allowed to have curves and breasts and boy, isn’t Bette Davis just the perfect example, all tits and hips and those damn eyes that Kim Carnes wrote about, she’s a killer and she doesn’t’ know it. She still sees herself as the hopeless aunt whom nobody will ever want. A persona non grata, unwanted by her own mother (a child of my old age, the mother says),