The Name "Melmoth"

In the novel Lolita by the expatriate Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, once a great favorite of mine, the station wagon in which the protagonist Humbert Humbert and his beloved Dolores Haze travel about the country is called "Melmoth the Wanderer." This was my first acquaintance with the name. Nabokov, however, was referring to an 1820 gothic novel by Charles Maturin, in which the title character, a Jonathan Melmoth (Melmoth being an ordinary Irish family name, not some Nabokovian lepidopterological allusion), sells his soul to the devil in exchange for several valuable considerations, one of them being the ability to travel about at will in space and time. The novel seems to have been highly thought of by various highly thought of people, but I found it occasionally sublime, mostly ridiculous, and all but unreadable.

It was because of the association of "Melmoth" with "Wanderer" that I named my airplane Melmoth. I later learned that Oscar Wilde, after his trial and imprisonment in England, had used the name Sebastian Melmoth while traveling on the Continent; but that had nothing to do with the airplane.

I first announced the name in an article that appeared in Flying some time around 1972. By a surprising coincidence (is that a redundancy?) in that same month a column entitled "Melmoth Wanderings" began appearing in (I believe) Plane and Pilot magazine. The author was a Floridian pilot and English teacher whose airplane, a Cessna "Bamboo Bomber," was called Melmoth, obviously for the same reason as mine.

Just to tie up any remaining loose ends, I should explain that my concentration when I was in college was not in engineering, but in English literature.