Cursed with a succession of tedious faculty meetings, I decided to surreptitiously bide my time exploring one of Lolita’s little riddles. Humbert, in Chapter 13, mentions a playlet (The Emperor’s New Clothes) by Maurice Vermont and Marion Rumpelmeyer. Appel, in his notes, quotes Nabokov as saying, “I vaguely but persistently feel that both Vermont and Rumpelmeyer exist!” before Appel idly speculates that Nabokov culled the names from a phone book. All this sounded fishy to me, so down the rabbit hole I went, only to emerge hours later with the following odds and ends:
1. Rumpelmayer’s (spelling noted) was a well-known chain of European tea-houses that catered particularly to Russians, with locations in Baden-Baden, Nice, Mentone, Monte Carlo, Paris, London, and elsewhere. It would later open a location in NYC (of which more later).
2. In the opening of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), the titular character is preparing for a party and we are told that “Rumpelmayer’s men were coming” (presumably caterers).
3. Edmund Wilson published a story in 1927 called “The Men from Rumpelmayer’s”—presumably a reference to the Woolf passage. This was later collected in Wilson’s American Earthquake (1958) where Nabokov read it after Lolita was already published (see VN-Wilson Letters, p. 324).
4. The Rumpelmayer’s in New York (which closed in 1998) was located in the lobby of the Hotel St. Moritz.
5. In her biography, Shelley Winters says she once dined with Nabokov (post-Lolita) at this Rumpelmayer’s: “I forget how much money I got for this film, but at Rumpelmayer’s with Nabokov, during the final discussions, I had a tuna-fish sandwich and a chocolate milkshake, my standard tranquilizer . . .”
6. St. Moritz is a famous resort in the Swiss Alps.
7. It is named after St. Maurice, the patron saint of weavers and dyers.
8. Maurice = Moritz in German
9. Vermont = Green Mountain
Sorting through all of this, my best guess is that Nabokov associated Rumpelmayer’s (Rumpelmeyer) with the Hotel St. Moritz (Maurice), a mountain resort (thus VerMONT). Furthermore, if he knew that St. Maurice was the patron saint of weavers and dyers, this could relate to The Emperor’s New Clothes. None of this seems significant in the least, yet I found this excavation more enriching and interesting than the intricacies of our faculty pay scale and the office window covering policy.