Shot 67 of Lolita and the Why of the Choice of Dover as an Establishing Shot for the Location of Ramsdale (The Story of the Caged Starling)
Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).
Reelstreets.com, when I'd originally written this post, had erroneously given as the location of shot 67 in Lolita, Marlborough Street in Newport, Rhode Island, "with the tower of City Hall rising in the centre background". They were wrong, but it could be easily understood how they got it wrong as, from a distance, the City Hall for Newport looks very much like what is actually the city hall for Dover, New Hampshire. At that time, to the best of my knowledge, the location was yet unidentified. How I was able to find the correct location was via the Lacy's Department store on the right of the street in this shot that is supposed to be an establishing shot for the town of Ramsdale. Doing some searches I came up with a Lacy's in Boston, and finally one in Dover and its address, which was 442 Central. Though the street is greatly changed from what it once was, the brick building on the right, where Lacy's was located, still remains and enables confirmation, along with Dover's City Hall.
Why Dover may have been chosen as representing Ramsdale may be found in a poem penned by Humbert to Lolita.
Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze?
Why are you hiding, darling?
(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze
I cannot get out, said the starling)
The maze in which the starling is trapped partly refers to Nabokov's tale of one of the primary inspirations for Lolita, the story of the ape who, when given charcoal, eventually drew lines which were the bars of its cage. I've already written of this at the link above--but who exactly is the parenthetical one in the maze? Humbert? How about Lolita? I would think both of them, despite Lolita's seeming escape from Humbert. In the poem, Humbert first identifies her as being a "starlet", and Lolita's death will occur in Gray Star, Alaska.
The line, "I cannot get out, said the starling" struck me as being likely a quote, so I looked it up and it was, coming from Laurence Sterne's, A Sentimental Journey. The passage in question concerns the protagonist meditating on the Bastile, how it might not be so horrible a place if one can preoccupy one's self profitably and has adequate food etc. Those thoughts are interrupted when he hears a bird.
...the Bastile! the terror is in the word--Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the Bastile is but another word for a tower--and a tower is but another word for a house you can't get out of...but with nine livres a day, and pen and ink and paper and patience, albeit a man can't get out, he may do very well within...and he comes out a better and wiser man than he went in...the Bastile is not an evil to be despised--but strip it of its towers--fill up the fosse--unbarricade the doors--call it simply a confinement, and suppose 'tis some tyrant of a distempter--and not of a man which holds you in it--the evil half vanishes, and you bear the other half without complaint.
I was interrupted in the hey-day of this soliloquy, with a a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained "it could not get out."--I look'd up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.
In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.--"I can't get out--I can't get out," said the starling.
The narrator attempts to release the bird but is unable to do so.
I vow, I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call'd home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastile; and I heavily walk'd up stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.
Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still slavery! said I--still thou art a bitter draught; and though thousands in all ages have been made to drink of thee, thou art no less bitter on that account. 'Tis thou, thrice sweet and gracious goddess, addressing myself to LIBERTY, whom all in public or in private worship, whose taste is grateful, and ever wilt be so...
The bird is attempting to escape its cage, which it cannot do even though the protagonist opens the cage's door. This causes the protagonist to reconsider the sweetness of liberty and his rationalizations that the Bastille could ever possibly be tolerable. The protagonist comes to learn the story of the bird and that it was caught in Dover "before it could well fly", was taught the refrain "I can't get out" by its captor, and was afterwards passed from one person to another.
Jane Austen refers to the starling also in Mansfield Park, and I later read it's from her that Humbert cribs his line.
"...the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, gives me a feeling of restraint and hardship. 'I cannot get out,' as the starling said."
Though this poem didn't make it from Nabokov's novel into the movie, with Kubrick choosing Dover as Ramsdale I believe he's referencing this story of the bird which serves as a metaphor for the caged Lolita, who is caught before she can well fly, and taught, by Humbert, to believe she has no recourse but to stay with him. The metaphor of the caged bird also is suggestive of Humbert and his illness, which becomes criminal when he acts upon it, but most poignantly speaks to the plight of Lolita who Humbert imprisons in the very cage in which he is trapped.