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The Enchanter [Hardcover]

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1986
The Enchanter is the Ur-Lolita, the precursor to Nabokov’s classic novel. At once hilarious and chilling, it tells the story of an outwardly respectable man and his fatal obsession with certain pubescent girls, whose coltish grace and subconscious coquetry reveal, to his mind, a special bud on the verge of bloom. “Masterly . . . brilliant.” — V.S. Pritchett, The New York Review of Books “A gem to be appreciated by any admirer of the most graceful and provocative literary craftsman.” — Chicago Tribune One of the twentieth century’s master prose stylists, Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899. He studied French and Russian literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, then lived in Berlin and Paris, where he launched a brilliant literary career. In 1940 he moved to the United States, and achieved renown as a novelist, poet, critic, and translator. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. In 1961 he moved to Montreux, Switzerland, where he died in 1977. “One of the best books of the year . . . [The Enchanter] displays the supple clarity of a master.” — The Boston Globe “Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.” — John Updike
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

A novella written in Russian when Nabokov lived in Paris in 1939, The Enchanter resurfaced among his papers 20 years later. Nabokov described it then as "the first little throb of Lolita " and said its title anticipated the "enchanted hunter" motif in the later novel. Here it refers to the lecherous, ironic, middle-aged protagonist who woos an unappetizing widow to get access to her nymphet daughter. But his phallic "magic wand" (paralleled by his antique coral-headed walking stick) transforms wolfish lust into the dream of a fairy idyll, with overtones of Lear/Cordelia and Little Red Riding Hood, to produce an unexpectedly surreal effectand a denouement strikingly different from that of Lolita. Narrated in the third person, the novella has the remoteness of a tale, with its nameless characters and vaguely foreign ambienceunlike the novelistically specific Lolita, rooted in Americanness and told by its main character, Humbert Humbert. The Enchanter is entertaining independent of its Lolita connection. It is arch, delicious and beautifully written. As translator, the author's son writes an endearingly fussy afterword thatrecalls Nabokov's own self-parodying penchant for the long footnote.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The Enchanter is a real findthe "pre- Lolita novella" Nabokov wrote in Paris in 1939 and subsequently lost. Rediscovered two decades later, it has only now been translated by the author's son. Just as in the later masterpiece, a pedophile marries a widow to be near her daughter; when the mother dies, the way is clear. Yet The Enchanter stands on its own as a bright, brief (some would say heartless) excursion into the mind of a madman, a marvel of potent imagery and taut storytelling. More's the pity then that Dmitri Nabokov has used the occasion to write an off-putting afterword aimed as much at settling literary scores as elucidating the text. Otherwise, highly recommended. Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Wish I Hadn't Read IT July 13 2000
Nabakov is one of my literary icons. I view him as one of the masters of 20th century prose. That's why I wish I hadn't read this book. It is indeed a precursor to Lotlita, told from the point of view of a character much like Humbert Humbert, who has a distinct penchant for young, waifish girls. However, whereas Lolita is full of great wit, disarming wordplay and inventiveness, this novella borders on the prosaically pornographic. Most of the narrative is taken up with the lurid musings and imaginative follies of the old rake. As is the case in Lolita, he takes up with the mother to get closer to the daughter. And in this story too, the mother is conveniently removed from the picture, leaving our hero to bask in solitude with his young ward. Again, as in his great novel, Nabakov's narrator comes to a bad end. His nymphette wakes up while he is forcing himself on her and starts screaming bloody murder. The neighbors call the police and he's carted off to jail. Anyone who is familiar with Lolita is aware of the obscenity charges filed against it and of the difficulties surounding its initial US publication. However, Lolita, Like Joyce's Ulysses, is not obscene in any sense. It towers above its subject matter because it is great satirical literature, full of humor and grand spirit. This little book, on the other hand, becomes bogged down in its subject matter and comes very close to being pornographic. There is good reason it wasn't published until recently. It throws a new and perhaps unwarrentedly lurid light on its author's masterpiece. Nabakov's son issues a king of apologia for the work in a postscript. I read this book because I've tried to read all of Nabakov's works, both fiction and non-fiction. I would have to place this one at the bottom of the list. My reverence for a great author was diminished slightly by my exposure to this text. I'm surprised his estate did decide to publish it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rough sketch March 24 2004
In a sense, "The Enchanter" was not meant to be published. Author Vladimir Nabokov unearthed the extremely brief novel in his papers, 20 years after he dashed it off (and thought it was gone forever). It's "Lolita" before there was "Lolita"... but not quite as interesting.
The main character is a middle-aged, respectable, well-off man, living alone and lonely. He also has a distinct "liking" for teenage girls who are just hitting adolescence, but doesn't dare to try anything. One in particular catches his notice, a coltish girl on roller skates who talks to him at times and gains his affection and lust.
He proposes to the girl's widowed mother, who is terminally ill and pretty crabby; he has no interest in his "monstrous bride" but it's the only way he can get to the girl. The wife's condition gets worse over the following months, and she dies. And the man choreographs his own downfall as he plots to seduce his new stepdaughter...
The mind of a pedophile is a disgusting thing, and Nabokov makes no excuses for it. "The Enchanter" is a pretty straightforward story in comparison, without a lot of twists or surprises. It's far from a bad book, but it's not a terribly good one either. It's fairly ordinary, especially when compared to modern classic "Lolita."
The high point of "The Enchanter" is the rambling thoughts of the lead character as the book opens. Then it dips down and proceeds more or less steadily. Nabokov's lush language and complex symbolism aren't really very present here. His writing is blander and more straightforward, with a lack of polish.
The characters are given no names -- they're just the man, the girl, the wife.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Dethroned by Lolita April 27 2003
Nabokov's Lolita spawns from this short book, and it is fascinating to see the thought process behind the masterpiece. The book is translated to English from Russian, so some of the story may be lost. The Enchanter is a bit disappointing after finishing Lolita. Lolita is full of word play, imagery, allusion, and poetic prose, so finding the Enchanter to be merely a story with not much artistry in the language is almost sad! The storyline consists of little complexity, and the work is void of the characterization that draws the reader into Lolita. The narrator has none of the charisma that the brilliant Humbert Humbert possesses, and comes across simply as a villain. Nabokov's concept of the nymphet that left the term "Lolita" forever in the English vocabulary does not appear either. The young girl's character isn't developed at all; instead the reader gets nothing more than physical descriptions. Nabokov didn't intend the Enchanter for publication at all, it is merely a sketch of an idea he later developed for everyone's eyes. This book is worth reading, but without any expectations that Lolita may cause the reader to have. Perhaps it is better to read the Enchanter before reading Lolita.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A difficult but perhaps necessary work May 29 2001
I found this a difficult and disturbing novella: I was uncomfortable with it throughout and finished with a sense of relief, not only because the book ended, but also because of the way it ended.
Other reviews have pointed out that Nabokov was treading a narrow path between literature and pornography, and I could see their point. How anyone can find children sexually attractive is utterly beyond me. However, I think that the first presumption in literature should be one of tolerance - it would be a mistake, in my view, to dismiss "The Enchanter" as a work of pornography. It isn't - yet it's very challenging.
Nabokov examines the mind of a paedophile - in particular his inability to differentiate between fantasy and reality until it is too late. I would have been worried if I had not found the subject matter disturbing. What it did do was make me reflect why I found this novella so challenging, and why I found, for example, Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" (which deals with a dying man's infatuation with a boy) so moving. I'll need to re-read "Death in Venice" to reflect more on this, but I think it's because in "Death in Venice" the attraction to the boy was the means by which von Aschenbach faced his own imminent demise, and realised that he'd denied his true nature throughout his life. There was no, as such, sexual possibility.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Lolita's notebook sketch
Like many posthumous works, this first attempt by Nabokov to portray nymphet-love is more interesting to understand the author than as a reading in itself. Read more
Published on June 22 2001 by Diego Delizia
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 estrellas sólo por ser Nabokov
Definitivamente, si un autor decide no publicar una obra en vida, sus herederos (por más dinero que quieran o necesiten, por más avaros que puedan ser)... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2001 by Rigoberto Rodriguez
5.0 out of 5 stars Approach and Recognition.
The diagram of approach and recognition, followed almost immediately by annihilation, a peculiar position occupied by the novella as expanded short story or curtailed novel.
Published on Jan. 10 2001 by Christopher Mulrooney
3.0 out of 5 stars Sketchy predecessor to Lolita
No one can write about "The Enchanter" without mentioning the fact that it is the precursor to "Lolita". Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2000 by Diane
2.0 out of 5 stars Raw
The Enchanter is clearly an exploratory piece of writing - it has a certain juvenile, rough feel that makes the reader certain that it is the beginning of an inquiry rather than... Read more
Published on April 29 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Lolita's predecessor
In many respects it is very similar to Nabokov's most famous novel 'Lolita', yet, in many respects it lacks all the wit and charm and appeal that makes Lolita so likeable. Read more
Published on Nov. 23 1997 by
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