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Friday, 1 February 2008
That Bed By Nabokov
I have never read the book in question myself (shh, don’t tell Hugh or Mary – I have a hard enough time keeping my head above water in this place as it is) but even so I know of the story and the cultural tag which attaches to what, I suppose was once a perfectly ordinary name, at that time and place for a teenage girl. Little Lola, Lola being itself a diminutive of Dolores.  To me Lola of the dark brown voice will forever drink cherry cola but that’s just one of my own favourite cultural icons talking. Or rather singing.
Someone in Woolworth’s Head Office is completely unaware of the book, the film, the Sting lyrics, the cultural shorthand. From The Telegraph
Woolworths has withdrawn a range of bedroom furniture for girls bearing the name Lolita after an internet campaign by outraged parents.
The Lolita Midsleeper Combi, marketed as "the perfect space-saving solution for your child's bedroom", was on sale on the store's website for £395.
Staff were apparently unaware of the connotations surrounding the name which, as the title of Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel about a 12-year-old temptress, has become a byword for a sexually precocious young girl. Is that a fair assessment of the story?
Catherine Hanly, who also edits the parenting website, wrote: "Am I being particularly sensitive, or does anyone else out there think it's bad taste for Woolies to have a kiddy bed range named Lolita?"
After a flurry of similarly outraged messages from other parents, Ms Hanly contacted Woolworths to ask for an explanation.
An initial statement from the firm said: "Our aim is to attract a broad customer base of all ages and make every effort to stock items which appeal to the whole family. However, we also have to respond to customer demands and follow current trends." But within hours, the chain withdrew the range.
A press officer told Ms Hanly that the staff who run the Woolworths website "had no idea" of the controversy surrounding the name, admitting that he too "had to go on to Wikipedia" to learn of the novel.
A Woolworths spokesman said last night: "Now this has been brought to our attention the product has been removed from sale with immediate effect. We will be talking to the supplier with regard to how the branding came about."
Is this dumbing down, or a generational thing? I ask because the name Robert Plant came up in conversation a few days ago. Now to me Robert Plant is, is, quiver, tremble, the greatest, add superlatives, and has been since 1969 when I first heard Whole Lotta Love.
 “Who?” said two young women in their 30s. “You have heard of him?” said the woman who brought his name up, in some surprise. Of course I have heard of him; do you think I have spent the last 35 years listening to Mantovani?   Actually I did spend a lot of time in my teens avoiding my parent’s Mantovani LPs, and they spent a lot of time avoiding my Zeppelin, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Deep Purple.
But getting back to Woolworths, I can understand the press officer not knowing about Lolita. But somebody in Branding did enough research to pick up on Lolita as a name for a little girl, but no deeper market research as to its suitability. Unless the name is emblazoned on the bed renaming it in time for the next catalogue shouldn’t be impossible. I wonder what they will chose this time suitable for a small girl.? The Ethel? The Maud? The Wilfred? 
Posted on 02/01/2008 2:09 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
1 Feb 2008
Send an emailMary Jackson
I await your comment with bated breath and an humility you would not believe.

1 Feb 2008
Hugh Fitzgerald

"as Hugh would say, 'an hilarious story'"

You now prompt me to reply to a previous comment by you, the one in which -- under "A haitch in an hotel" I think the original piece was called - you attributed to me, or rather to my mother (on matters of language, I yield to her -- always), the absurd "an hotel."

In about fifteen minutes (I need a cup of coffee, and I also need to find a certain Barzun book I saw on some floor only a few days ago) I will post a reply, under that original haitch-hotel item.

I thereby will have broken my own pledge never again to be dragged into, or annoyed into, an exchange with you about language, whether about word-choice, or word-pronunciation, or word-anything. And especially not about things that require a belief in,which you do not have, and which I do, the "best usage" by the "best native speakers." This idea is foreign to your philology. And, of course, such an idea is also foreign to the Spirit of the Age, and can't be found on any course syllabus. To me -- and I note that Barzun does not differ -- is not only obvious and correct, but in fact indispensable.  Fifteen minutes.



1 Feb 2008
Send an emailMary Jackson

That's a hilarious story, or as Hugh would probably say, "an hilarious story".

Thank God for Wikipedia, otherwise how would we learn anything? The kids who work in my local Woollies won't have heard of Nabokov. I bet they've never even heard of Sting.

In my day we never had "midsleeper combis". Kids today.