Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris, in 1958 in New York City, and in 1959 in London. Nabokov’s own translation of the book into Russian was published by Phaedra Publishers in New York in 1967. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a middle-aged literature professor called Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.
Lolita quickly attained a classic status; it is today regarded as one of the prime achievements in 20th century literature, though also among the most controversial. The novel was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for the stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Broadway musical. Its assimilation into popular culture is such that the name “Lolita” has been used to imply that a young girl is sexually precocious.
Lolita is included on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels published from 1923 to 2005. It is also fourth on the Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, and holds a place in the Bokklubben World Library, a 2002 collection of the most celebrated books in history.
Nabokov on Lolita
In 1956, Nabokov wrote an afterword to Lolita (“On a Book Entitled Lolita”), that first appeared in the first U.S. edition and has appeared thereafter.
One of the first things Nabokov makes a point of saying is that, despite John Ray Jr.’s claim in the Foreword, there is no moral to the story.
Nabokov adds that “the initial shiver of inspiration” for Lolita “was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage”. Neither the article nor the drawing has been recovered.
In response to an American critic who characterized Lolita as the record of Nabokov’s “love affair with the romantic novel”, Nabokov writes that “the substitution of ‘English language’ for ‘romantic novel’ would make this elegant formula more correct”.
Nabokov concludes the afterword with a reference to his beloved first language, which he abandoned as a writer once he moved to the United States in 1940: “My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian language for a second-rate brand of English”.
Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert’s feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover.
Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov’s 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author’s delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the “frail honey-hued shoulders … the silky supple bare back” of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion:
She was musical and apple-sweet … Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice … and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty–between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock.
Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures, and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of postwar America are filled with both attraction and repulsion, “those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads.” Yet however tempting the novel’s symbolism may be, its chief delight–and power–lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov’s celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can’t help it–linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. –Simon Leake
From Library Journal
This unabridged edition of Nabokov’s classic story about a middle-aged, expatriate European man’s obsessive love for a 12-year-old girl?which is being released to coincide with director Adrian Lyne’s new film version?is a beautifully produced recording that pushes the boundaries of the audio medium. While Lolita continues to raise the hackles of would-be censors even today, most listeners will marvel at the restraint and playful humor with which Nabokov limns his tale. Narrator Jeremy Irons, who plays Humbert Humbert in Lyne’s film, is an uncompromising audiobook reader whose performances on cassette are as laudatory as his Academy AwardR-winning work on the silver screen. This landmark release is highly recommended for all library collections.?Mark Annichiarico, “Library Journal”
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.