“Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Le Salle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?” – so muses Humbert Humbert, the paedophile protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov’s incendiary novel, Lolita. Humbert was obviously referring to the horrific 1948 kidnapping and rape case of 11-year-old Sally Horner by Frank La Salle.

Nabokov has vehemently denied any connection between his defining work and that of the horrific case of Horner who was subjected to almost two years of mental, emotional and sexual abuse. Now, writer Sarah Weinman attempts to draw a connection between the two stories in her book The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized The World.


Weinman’s book introduces readers to the 11-year-old from Camden, New Jersey who was spotted flicking a five-cent notebook from her local Woolworths by La Salle, a convicted paedophile who had then been released on parole. He reportedly told Horner that he was an FBI agent and made sure the child did as instructed by threatening her with dire consequences.

Horner’s troubles didn’t end after her rescue/escape – HuffPost reports that according to her sole school friend Carol Starts, the 13-year-old was branded a “slut” and “total whore” and shunned by her classmates. On August 18, 1952, the 15-year-old rape survivor was killed instantly when the car she was riding in crashed into a parked truck.

“Knowing about Sally Horner does not diminish Lolita’s brilliance or Nabokov’s audacious inventiveness,” Weinman writes in her introduction. “But it does augment the horror he also captured in the novel.”

In her novel, Weinman aims to educate the public about the possible inspiration behind the story of literature’s favourite ‘nymphet’ – Lolita.

(Header credits: Screenshot from Lolita, the 1997 film)