The most controversial classic novel of the 20th century, Lolita tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man who is aroused to erotic desire only by a young girl.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Published in 1955, this novel caused a storm of controversy; it is still provocative today even though there is not a four letter word in it. That is not to say that the book is not extremely erotic in many places. What Nabokov does with words is brilliant. As always he plays constant word games with the reader. Someone goes on a "honeymonsoon" to India. In seaching for Dolores aka Lolita and her run-away suitor, Humbert finds the name "Will Brown, Dolores, Colo." in a hotel register. Humbert and Dolores have breakfast in the "township of Soda, pop. 1001." There are allusions to Poe ("in a kingdom by the sea") and other writers throughout the book. You skim paragraphs at your peril.
The book is wondrously satiric. Nabokov captures the vapidness of the motels in small and middle America in the 40's and 50's with great brilliance. Humbert, with all his perversions, is often a terribly funny character as well. The scene where he wrestles with Quilty comes to mind. "We rolled all over the floor, in each other's arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us."
We cannot forget, however, that Humbert is ultimately guilty of an ugly sin. In his own words he has deprived a "girl-child" of her childhood. In their cross-country journey, she cries every night. The picture is not pretty.
In an essay written in 1956 Nabokov writes about writing LOLITA. HE says that he is "neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and. . .. LOLITA has no moral in tow." He further denies the charge made by some readers that the novel is anti-American. Finally he says there are three subjects "utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned." Obviously the theme of this novel is one. The other two, in Nabokov's words, are: "a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106." A most interesting observation. I wonder just how much has changed in 47 years.