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The Real Story That Inspired “Lolita” Is Somehow More Disturbing Than The Actual Book

Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel Lolita in 1955 that drew inspiration from the true-crime Sally Horner kidnapping, but the real-life story that inspired it is more disturbing than the book itself.

Lolita is narrated by a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert, who fixates on a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze (Lolita) and forces her into a sexual relationship. In the novel, Dolores eventually escapes from Humbert, who has an emotional breakdown. When they eventually see each other again, Dolores is pregnant but suffering financially. Despite her difficult circumstances, she has overcome her past and made a life for herself. There’s a glimpse of a better future. Florence “Sally” Horner was abducted in 1948 by a man who repeatedly sexually assaulted her for two years. She was finally rescued only to be victim-blamed by the media, and died tragically two years later at age 15. Sally Horner, unfortunately, wasn’t given the time to move on from the trauma she experienced as an adolescent.

Both Sally’s story and Lolita have a lot in common. They took place in nearly the exact same year, and both girls were nearly the same age, with single mothers. Even so, scholars didn’t make the connection between the book and the history until more than 50 years following publication. It’s always chilling when uncomfortable fiction turns out to be based in truth, and with subject matter like Lolita, the truth is even darker.

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