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Lolita  
Cover of the first edition
Cover of the first edition (Olympia Press, Paris, 1955)
Author Vladimir Nabokov
Country Russia/USA
Language English, Russian
Genre(s) Tragicomedy, novel
Publisher Olympia Press, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Fawcett, Transworld (Corgi), Phaedra
Publication date 1955
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 368 pp (recent paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 1-85715-133-X (recent paperback edition)
OCLC Number 28928382

Lolita (1955) is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, first written in English and published in 1955 in Paris, later translated by the author into Russian and published in 1958 in New York. The book is internationally famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged Humbert Humbert, becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze.

After its publication, Nabokov's Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name "Lolita" has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious adolescent girl. The novel was adapted to film in 1962 and again in 1997.

Lolita is listed in the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1] It is fourth on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.

Contents

Plot summary

Lolita is narrated by Humbert Humbert, a literary scholar born in 1910 in Paris, who is obsessed with what he refers to as "nymphets". Humbert suggests that this obsession results from his failure to consummate an affair with a childhood sweetheart before her premature death. In 1947, Humbert moves to Ramsdale, a small New England town, to write. He rents a room in the house of Charlotte Haze, a widow, mainly for the purpose of being near Charlotte's 12-year-old daughter, Dolores (also known as Dolly, Lolita, Lola, Lo, and L).

While Lolita is away at summer camp, Charlotte, who has fallen in love with Humbert, tells him that he must either marry her or move out. Humbert reluctantly agrees in order to continue living near Lolita. Charlotte is oblivious to Humbert's distaste for her and his lust for Lolita until she reads his diary. Upon learning of Humbert's true feelings, Charlotte is appalled: she makes plans to flee with Lolita and threatens to expose Humbert's perversions. But as she runs across the street in a state of shock, she is struck and killed by a passing car.

Humbert picks Lolita up from camp, pretending that Charlotte is ill and in a hospital. He takes Lolita to a hotel, where he meets a strange man (later revealed to be Clare Quilty), who seems to know who he is. Humbert attempts to use sleeping pills on Lolita so that he may molest her without her knowledge, but they have little effect on her. Instead, she consciously seduces Humbert the next morning. He discovers that he is not her first lover, as she had sex with a boy at summer camp. Humbert reveals to Lolita that Charlotte is actually dead; Lolita has no choice but to accept her stepfather into her life on his terms.

Lolita and Humbert drive around the country, moving from state to state and motel to motel. Humbert initially keeps the girl under control by threatening her with reform school; later he bribes her for sexual favors, though he knows that she does not reciprocate his love and shares none of his interests. After a year touring North America, the two settle down in another New England town. Humbert is very possessive and strict, forbidding Lolita to take part in after-school activities or to associate with boys; the townspeople, however, see this as the action of a loving and concerned, if old fashioned, parent.

Lolita begs to be allowed to take part in the school play; Humbert reluctantly grants his permission in exchange for more sexual favors. The play is written by Clare Quilty. He is said to have attended a rehearsal and been impressed by Lolita's acting. Just before opening night, Lolita and Humbert have a ferocious argument, which culminates in Lolita saying she wants to leave town and resume their travels.

As Lolita and Humbert drive westward again, Humbert gets the feeling that their car is being tailed and he becomes increasingly suspicious. Lolita falls ill and must convalesce in a hospital; Humbert stays in a nearby motel. One night, Lolita disappears from the hospital; the staff tell Humbert that Lolita's "uncle" checked her out. Humbert embarks upon a frantic search to find Lolita and her abductor, but eventually he gives up.

One day in 1952, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita, now 17, who tells him that she is married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. Humbert goes to see Lolita, giving her money and hoping to kill the man who abducted her. She reveals the truth: Clare Quilty, an acquaintance of Charlotte's and the writer of the school play, checked her out of the hospital and attempted to make her star in one of his pornographic films; when she refused, he threw her out.

Humbert asks Lolita to leave her husband and return to him, but she refuses, breaking Humbert's spirit. He leaves Lolita forever, kills Quilty at his mansion in an act of revenge and is arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road and swerving. The narrative closes with Humbert's final words to Lolita in which he wishes her well.

According to the novel's fictional "Foreword", Humbert dies of coronary thrombosis upon finishing his manuscript. Lolita dies giving birth to a stillborn girl on Christmas Day, 1952.

Style and interpretation

The novel is a tragicomedy narrated by Humbert, who riddles the narrative with word play and his wry observations of American culture. His humor provides an effective counterpoint to the pathos of the tragic plot. The novel's flamboyant style is characterized by word play, double entendres, multilingual puns, anagrams, and coinages such as nymphet, a word that has since had a life of its own and can be found in most dictionaries, and the lesser used "faunlet". One of the novel's characters, "Vivian Darkbloom," is an anagram for author Vladimir Nabokov.

Several times, Humbert begs the reader to understand that he is not proud of his union with Lolita, but is filled with remorse. At one point, he is listening to the sounds of children playing outdoors, and is stricken with guilt at the realization that he robbed Lolita of her childhood.

Some critics have accepted Humbert's version of events at face value. In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies excused the narrator entirely, writing that the theme of Lolita is "not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child".

Most writers, however, have given less credit to Humbert and more to Nabokov's powers as an ironist. For Richard Rorty, in his famous interpretation of Lolita in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Humbert is a "monster of incuriosity". Nabokov himself described Humbert as "a vain and cruel wretch" and "a hateful person" (quoted in Levine, 1967).

Martin Amis, in his essay on Stalinism, Koba the Dread, proposes that Lolita is an elaborate metaphor for the totalitarianism that destroyed the Russia of Nabokov's childhood (though Nabokov states in his Afterword that he "[detests] symbols and allegories"). Amis interprets it as a story of tyranny told from the point of view of the tyrant. "Nabokov, in all his fiction, writes with incomparable penetration about delusion and coercion, about cruelty and lies", he says. "Even Lolita, especially Lolita, is a study in tyranny".

In 2003, Iranian expatriate Azar Nafisi published the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran about a covert women's reading group. For Nafisi, the essence of the novel is Humbert's solipsism and his erasure of Lolita's independent identity. She writes: "Lolita was given to us as Humbert's creature [...] To reinvent her, Humbert must take from Lolita her own real history and replace it with his own [...] Yet she does have a past. Despite Humbert's attempts to orphan Lolita by robbing her of her history, that past is still given to us in glimpses".[2]

One of the novel's early champions, Lionel Trilling, warned in 1958 of the moral difficulty in interpreting a book with so eloquent and so self-deceived a narrator: "we find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents [...] we have been seduced into conniving in the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting".[citation needed]

Publication and reception

Due to its subject matter, Nabokov was unable to find an American publisher for Lolita after finishing it in 1953. After four refusals, he finally resorted to Olympia Press in Paris, September 1955. Although the first printing of 5,000 copies sold out, there were no substantial reviews. Eventually, at the end of 1955, Graham Greene, in an interview with the (London) Times, called it one of the best novels of 1955. This statement provoked a response from the (London) Sunday Express, whose editor called it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography." British Customs officers were then instructed by a panicked Home Office to seize all copies entering the United Kingdom. In December 1956, the French followed suit and the Minister of the Interior banned Lolita. (the ban lasted for two years). Its eventual British publication by Weidenfeld & Nicolson caused a scandal that contributed to the end of the political career of one of the publishers, Nigel Nicolson.[3]

By complete contrast, American officials were initially nervous, but the first American edition was issued without problems by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1958, and was a bestseller, the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in the first three weeks of publication. The first official translation of the book was the Danish edition, which was published in 1957.[4]

Today, it is considered by many to be one of the finest novels written in the 20th century. In 1998, it was named the fourth greatest English language novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library. Nabokov rated the book highly himself. In an interview for BBC Television in 1962 he said,

Lolita is a special favourite of mine. It was my most difficult book—the book that treated of a theme which was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me a special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real.

Two years later, in 1964's interview for Playboy, he said,

I shall never regret Lolita. She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle—its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look. Of course she completely eclipsed my other works—at least those I wrote in English: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, my short stories, my book of recollections; but I cannot grudge her this. There is a queer, tender charm about that mythical nymphet.

At the same year, in the interview for Life, Nabokov was asked, "Which of your writings has pleased you most?" He answered,

I would say that of all my books Lolita has left me with the most pleasurable afterglow—perhaps because it is the purest of all, the most abstract and carefully contrived. I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don't seem to name their daughters Lolita any more. I have heard of young female poodles being given that name since 1956, but of no human beings.

Sources and links

Links in Nabokov's work

In 1939, Nabokov wrote a novella Volshebnik (Волшебник) that was published only posthumously in 1986 in English translation as The Enchanter. It can be seen as an early version of Lolita but with significant differences: it takes place in Central Europe, and the protagonist is unable to consummate his passion with his stepdaughter, leading to his suicide. The theme of ephebophilia was already touched on by Nabokov in his short story A Nursery Tale, written in 1926. Also, in the 1932 Laughter in the Dark, Margot Peters is sixteen and already had an affair when middle-aged Albinus is attracted to her.

In chapter three of the novel The Gift (written in Russian in 1935–1937) the similar gist of Lolita's first chapter is outlined to the protagonist Fyodor Cherdyntsev by his obnoxious landlord Shchyogolev as an idea of a novel he would write "if I only had the time": a man marries a widow only to gain access to her young daughter, who however resists all his passes. Shchyogolev says it happened "in reality" to a friend of his; it is made clear to the reader that it concerns himself and his stepdaughter Zina (fifteen at the time of marriage) who becomes the love of Fyodor's life and his child bride.

In April 1947 Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: "I am writing ... a short novel about a man who liked little girls–and it's going to be called The Kingdom by the Sea...."[5] The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographic novel Look at the Harlequins! for a Lolita-like book written by the narrator who, in addition, travels with his teenage daughter Bel from motel to motel after the death of her mother; later, his fourth wife is Bel's look-alike and shares her birthday.

Allusions/references to other works

  • In the Foreword, there is a reference to "the monumental decision rendered December 6, 1933 by Hon. John M. Woolsey in regard to another, considerably more outspoken book"—that is, the decision in the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, in which Woolsey ruled that James Joyce's novel was not obscene and could be sold in the United States.
  • Humbert Humbert's first love, Annabel Leigh, is named after the "maiden" in the poem "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, and their young love is described in phrases borrowed from Poe's poem. Nabokov originally intended Lolita to be called The Kingdom by the Sea,[6] drawing on the rhyme with Annabel Lee that was used in the first verse of Poe's work. A passage at the end of Chapter 1 — "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns" — is also a reference to the poem. ("With a love that the winged seraphs in heaven / Coveted her and me".)
  • Humbert Humbert's double name recalls Poe's "William Wilson", a tale in which the main character is haunted by his doppelgänger, paralleling to the presence of Humbert's own doppelgänger, Clare Quilty. Humbert is not, however, his real name, but a chosen pseudonym.

Possible real-life prototype

According to Alexander Dolinin,[7] the prototype of Lolita was 11-year-old Florence Horner, kidnapped in 1948 by a 50-year-old mechanic Frank La Salle, who had caught her stealing a five-cent notebook. La Salle traveled with her over various states for 21 months and is believed to have raped her. He claimed that he was an FBI agent and threatened to “turn her in” for the theft and to send her to "a place for girls like you." The Horner case was not widely reported, but Dolinin adduces various similarities in events and descriptions.

The problem with this suggestion is that Nabokov had already used the same basic idea — that of a child molester and his victim booking into a hotel as man and daughter — in his then-unpublished 1939 work Volshebnik (Волшебник). This is not to say, however, that Nabokov could not have drawn on some details of the case in writing Lolita, and the La Salle case is mentioned explicitly in Chapter 33 of Part II:

Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?

Heinz von Lichberg's "Lolita"

German academic Michael Maar's book The Two Lolitas (ISBN 1-84467-038-4) describes his recent discovery of a 1916 German short story titled "Lolita" about a middle-aged man travelling abroad who takes a room as a lodger and instantly becomes obsessed with the preteen girl (also named Lolita) who lives in the same house. Maar has speculated that Nabokov may have had cryptomnesia (a "hidden memory" of the story that Nabokov was unaware of) while he was composing Lolita during the 1950s. Maar says that until 1937 Nabokov lived in the same section of Berlin as the author, Heinz von Eschwege (pen name: Heinz von Lichberg), and was most likely familiar with his work, which was widely available in Germany during Nabokov's time there.[8][9] The Philadelphia Inquirer, in the article "Lolita at 50: Did Nabokov take literary liberties?" says that, according to Maar, accusations of plagiarism should not apply and quotes him as saying: "Literature has always been a huge crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast... Nothing of what we admire in Lolita is already to be found in the tale; the former is in no way deducible from the latter." See also Jonathan Lethem in Harper's Magazine on this story.[10]

Nabokov's afterword

In 1956, Nabokov penned an afterword to Lolita ("On a Book Entitled Lolita") that was included in every subsequent edition of the book.

In the afterword, Nabokov wrote 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 wrote that "the substitution of 'English language' for 'romantic novel' would make this elegant formula more correct".

Nabokov concluded 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".

Russian translation

Nabokov translated Lolita into Russian; the translation was published by Phaedra in New York in 1967.

The translation includes a "Postscriptum" in which Nabokov reconsiders his relationship with his native language. Referring to the afterword to the English edition, Nabokov states that only "the scientific scrupulousness led me to preserve the last paragraph of the American afterword in the Russian text..." He further explains that the "story of this translation is the story of a disappointment. Alas, that 'wonderful Russian language' which, I imagined, still awaits me somewhere, which blooms like a faithful spring behind the locked gate to which I, after so many years, still possess the key, turned out to be non-existent, and there is nothing beyond that gate, except for some burned out stumps and hopeless autumnal emptiness, and the key in my hand looks rather like a lock pick."

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The 1962 adaptation's movie poster art.
The 1997 movie poster art.
  • Nabokov's own version of the screenplay (dated Summer 1960 and revised December 1973) for Kubrick's film was published by McGraw-Hill in 1974.
  • Lola (1970) Norman Thaddeus Vane wrote a modern day adaption of "Lolita" directed by Richard Donner and starring Charles Bronson as an American erotic fiction writer who moves to London and falls in love with and marries a sixteen year old school girl.
  • In 1982, Edward Albee adapted the book into a non-musical play. It was savaged by critics, Frank Rich notably attributing the temporary death of Albee's career to it.
  • In 2003, Russian director Victor Sobchak wrote a second non-musical stage adaptation, which played in England at the Lion and Unicorn Fringe Theater in London. It drops the character of Quilty and updates the story to modern England.[12]
  • Rodion Shchedrin adapted Lolita into a Russian language opera, which premiered in Moscow in 2006 and was published that same year. It had a much earlier performance in Sweden in 1992. It was nominated for Russia's Golden Mask award.[13]
  • The Boston-based composer John Harbison began an opera of Lolita, which he abandoned in the wake of the clergy child-abuse scandal that rocked Boston. Fragments of what he had done were woven into seven-minute piece "Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera". Vivian Darkbloom, an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov, is a character in Lolita.[14]

References in other media

  • The novel Lo's Diary by Pia Pera retells the novel from Lolita's point of view, making major plot changes on the premise that Humbert's version is incorrect on many points. Lolita is characterized as being herself quite sadistic and manipulative.[15]
  • The poetry collection Poems for Men who Dream of Lolita by Kim Morrissey takes the form of a series of poems written by Lolita herself reflecting on the events in the story, a sort of diary in poetry form. In strong contrast to Pera's novel, Morrissey portrays Lolita as an innocent, wounded soul. Morrissey had earlier done a stage adaptation of Sigmund Freud's famous Dora case.[16]
  • Steve Martin wrote the short story "Lolita at Fifty" (included in his collection Pure Drivel), which is a gently humorous look at how Dolores Haze's life might have turned out.
  • In The Police song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" about a schoolgirl's crush on her teacher, the teacher "starts to shake and cough just like the old man in that book by Nabokov"[1]. The singer mispronounces Nabokov's name.
  • In the 1999 film American Beauty, the lead character's name, Lester Burnham, is an anagram of "Humbert learns".

Further reading

  • Appel, Alfred Jr. (1991). The Annotated Lolita (revised ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-72729-9.  One of the best guides to the complexities of Lolita. First published by McGraw-Hill in 1970. (Nabokov was able to comment on Appel's earliest annotations, creating a situation that Appel described as being like John Shade revising Charles Kinbote's comments on Shade's poem Pale Fire. Oddly enough, this is exactly the situation Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd proposed to resolve the literary complexities of Nabokov's Pale Fire.)
  • Levine, Peter (1967). "Lolita and Aristotle's Ethics" in Philosophy and Literature Volume 19, Number 1, April 1995, pp. 32–47.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir (1955). Lolita. New York: Vintage International. ISBN 0-679-72316-1.  The original novel.

References

  1. ^ http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html
  2. ^ Nafisi, A. (2003). Reading Lolita in Tehran. Random House: New York.
  3. ^ Laurence W. Martin, "The Bournemouth Affair: Britain's First Primary Election", The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No. 4. (Nov. 1960), pp. 654–681.
  4. ^ List of Lolita Editions
  5. ^ Letter dated April 7, 1947; in Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov Wilson Letters, 1940–1971, ed. Simon Karlinsky (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001; ISBN 0-520-22080-3), p. 215
  6. ^ Brian Boyd on Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov Centennial, Random House, Inc.
  7. ^ Ben Dowell, "1940s sex kidnap inspired Lolita", The Sunday Times, September 11, 2005. Accessed on November 14, 2007.
  8. ^ On the Media, "My Sin, My Soul... Whose Lolita? ", September 16, 2005. Accessed on November 14, 2007.
  9. ^ Liane Hansen, "Possible Source for Nabokov's 'Lolita'", Weekend Edition Sunday, April 25, 2004. Accessed on November 14, 2007.
  10. ^ Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism", Harper's Magazine, February 2007. Accessed on November 14, 2007.
  11. ^ broadwayworld.com Lolita, My Love
  12. ^ http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/vncol26.htm Accessed on March 13. 2008
  13. ^ http://www.expat.ru/culturereviews.php?cid=48 Accessed on March 13. 2008
  14. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (March 24, 2005). "Wrestling With a 'Lolita' Opera and Losing". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/24/arts/music/24harb.html. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  15. ^ http://www.nerve.com/Fiction/PeraPia/losDiary/ Accessed on March 13. 2008
  16. ^ http://members.aol.com/CanLit/Coteau/Morrissey/ Accessed on March 13. 2008

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul...

Lolita is a controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, first published in 1955.

Contents

Lolita (1955)

Foreword

Introductory note by the character "John Ray, Jr., Ph.D."
  • "Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male", such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note received the strange pages it preambulates. Humbert Humbert, their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start.
  • Its author's bizarre cognomen is his own invention; and, of course, this mask — through which two hypnotic eyes seem to glow — had to remain unlifted in accordance with its wearer's wish. While Haze only rhymes with the heroine's real surname, her first name is too closely interwound with the inmost fiber of the book to allow one to alter it; nor (as the reader will perceive for himself) is there any practical necessity to do so.
  • This commentator may be excused for repeating what he has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that "offensive" is frequently but a synonym for "unusual"; and a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise. I have no intention to glorify H.H.. No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capricious. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author!
    As a case history,
    Lolita will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac —  these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. Lolita should make all of us — parents, social workers, educators — apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.

Part One

  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
    • Opening lines, Ch. 1
  • You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs—the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate—the deadly little demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.
    • Ch. 1
  • My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set...
    • Ch. 2
  • I also know that the shock of Annabel's death consolidated the frustration of that nightmare summer, made of it a permanent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold years of my youth. The spiritual and the physical had been blended in us with a perfection that must remain incomprehensible to the matter-of-fact, crude, standard-brained youngsters of today. Long after her death I felt her thoughts floating through mine. Long before we met we had had the same dreams. We compared notes. We found strange affinities. The same June of the same year (1919) a stray canary had fluttered into her house and mine, in two widely separated countries. Oh, Lolita, had you loved me thus!
    • Ch. 4
  • I have reserved for the conclusion of my "Annabel" phase the account of our unsuccessful first tryst. One night, she managed to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family. In a nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards-presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs, her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features. She sat a little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she was led to kiss me, her head would bend with a sleepy, soft, drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails, I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion.
    • Ch. 4
  • All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so.
    • Ch.4
  • Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets."
    • Ch. 5
  • Overtly, I had so-called normal relationships with a number of terrestrial women having pumpkins or pears for breasts; inly, I was consumed by a hell furnace of localized lust for every passing nymphet whom as a law-abiding poltroon I never dared approach. The human females I was allowed to wield were but palliative agents. I am ready to believe that the sensations I derived from natural fornication were much the same as those known to normal big males consorting with their normal big mates in that routine rhythm which shakes the world. The trouble was that those gentlemen had not, and I had, caught glimpses of an incomparably more poignant bliss. The dimmest of my pollutive dreams was a thousand times more dazzling than all the adultery the most virile writer of genius or the most talented impotent might imagine.
    • Ch. 5
  • Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!
    • Ch. 8
  • All I want to stress is that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that 'princedom by the sea' in my tortured past. Everything between the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of joy.
    • Ch. 10
  • While eager to impress me with the world of tough kids, she was not quite prepared for certain discrepancies between a kid's life and mine. Pride alone prevented her from giving up; for, in my strange predicament, I feigned supreme stupidity and had her have her way — at least while I could still bear it. But really these are irrelevant matters; I am not concerned with so-called "sex" at all. Anybody can imagine those elements of animality. A greater endeavor lures me on: to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets.
    • Ch. 29

Part Two

  • Lolita, when she chose, could be a most exasperating brat. I was not really quite prepared for her fits of disorganized boredom, intense and vehement griping, her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, and what is called goofing off — a kind of diffused clowning which she thought was tough in a boyish hoodlum way. Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth — these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal we had.
    • Ch. 1
  • And so we rolled East, I more devastated than braced with the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health, her bi-iliac garland still as brief as a lad's, although she had added two inches to her stature and eight pounds to her weight. We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.
    • Ch. 3
  • I am sufficiently proud of my knowing something to be modest about my not knowing all.
    • Ch. 25
  • Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze.
    Hair: brown. Lips: scarlet.
    Age: five thousand three hundred days.
    Profession: none, or "starlet".
    • Ch. 25
  • Dying, dying, Lolita Haze,
    Of hate and remorse, I'm dying.
    And again my hairy fist I raise,
    And again I hear you crying.
    • Ch. 25
  • In Kasbeam a very old barber gave me a very mediocre haircut: he babbled of a baseball-playing son of his, and, at every explodent, spat into my neck, and every now and then wiped his glasses on my sheet-wrap, or interrupted his tremulous scissor work to produce faded newspaper clippings, and so inattentive was I that it came as a shock to realize as he pointed to an easelled photograph among the ancient gray lotions, that the moustached young ball player had been dead for the last thirty years.
    • p. 215
  • All of a sudden I noticed that he had noticed that I did not seem to have noticed Chum protruding from beneath the other corner of the chest. We fell to wrestling again. 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.
    • Ch. 35
  • The following decision I make with all the legal impact and support of a signed testament: I wish this memoir to be published only when Lolita is no longer alive.
    Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.
    • Ch. 36

On a Book Entitled Lolita (1956)

This was written as an "Afterword" to Lolita which has been used in all later editions.
  • After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an American critic suggested that Lolita was the record of my love affair with the romantic novel. The substitution "English language" for "romantic novel" would make this elegant formula more correct.
  • 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 tongue for a second-rate brand of English.
  • Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists), an otherwise intelligent reader who flipped through the first part described Lolita as "Old Europe debauching young America," while another flipper saw in it "Young America debauching old Europe."
  • As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration 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.
  • For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss.

Quotes about Lolita

Arranged alphabetically by author
  • All of Nabokov's books are about tyranny, even Lolita. Perhaps Lolita most of all.
    • Martin Amis in Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002)
  • Lolita is pornography, and we do not plan to review it.
    • Frederic Babcock, editor of the Chicago Tribune Magazine of Books as quoted in "The Lolita Case" in TIME magazine (17 November 1958).
  • Lolita is one of our finest American novels, a triumph of style and vision, an unforgettable work, Nabokov's best (though not most characteristic) work, a wedding of Swiftian satirical vigor with the kind of minute, loving patience that belongs to a man infatuated with the visual mysteries of the world.
    • Joyce Carol Oates in "A Personal View of Nabokov" in Saturday Review of the Arts (January 1973)
  • Some say the Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn, some say it's The Jungle, some say it's The Great Gatsby. But my vote goes to the tale with the maximum lust, hypocrisy and obsession — the view of America that could only have come from an outsider — Nabokov's Lolita. ... Those who bought "Lolita" looking for mere prurient kicks must surely have been disappointed. Lolita is dark and twisted all right, but it's also a corruptly beautiful love story of two tragically alike, id-driven souls... What makes Lolita a work of greatness isn't that its title has become ingrained in the vernacular, isn't that was a generation ahead of America in fetishizing young girls. No, it is the writing, the way Nabokov bounces around in words like the English language is a toy trunk, the sly wit, the way it's devastating and cynical and heartbreaking all at once. Poor old Dolly Haze might not have grown up very well, but Lolita forever remains a thing of timeless beauty.

External links

Wikipedia
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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also lolita

English

Etymology

Spanish diminutive of Lola, from the given name Dolores.

Proper noun

Singular
Lolita

Plural
-

Lolita

  1. A female given name.
  2. The title and the protagonist of a controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov.
    • 1955, Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, Chapter 1
      She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Wikibooks

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

Contents

Synopsis

This book is intended to provide help for students studying the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It contains links to websites and reviews on this Novel, a guide to the French used in the novel, and any other material which might be helpful in better understanding this novel.

Guide to Vocabulary (incomplete)

  • Foreword
    • Preambulates: To walk before.
    • Coronary thrombosis: A blood clot inside the heart vessels; a type of heart attack.
    • Solecism: Any error, impropriety, or inconsistency.
    • Tenacious: Characterized by keeping a firm hold.
    • Cognomen: Surname; nickname.
    • Sordid: Depraved; ignoble; morally base.
    • Exasperatingly: To irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.
    • Etiolated: To cause to become weakened or sickly; drain of color or vigour.
    • Platitudinous: Characterized by platitudes; dull, flat, or trite.
    • Robust: Strong; healthy; hardy.
    • Philistine: A person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic refinement, etc., or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes.
    • Banal: Devoid of freshness or originality.
    • Qualm: An uneasy feeling or pang of conscience as to conduct; compunction.
    • Prude: A person who is excessively proper or modest in speech, conduct, dress, etc.
    • Aphrodisiac: An agent that arouses sexual desire.
    • Apotheosis: The ideal example; epitome; quintessence.
    • Abject: Utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched; contemptible; despicable.
    • Jocularity: Characterized by joking.
    • Conducive: Contributive; helpful; favourable.
    • Capricious: Subject to, led by, or indicative of whim; prone to changing one’s mind without notice.
    • Tendresse: Tender feeling; fondness.
    • Expiatory: able to make atonement or restitution.
    • Poignant: Profoundly moving; touching; keen or strong in mental and/or emotional appeal.
    • Potent: Powerful; mighty
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
    • Peripheral: unimportant
    • Plurality: many
    • Solipsism: The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
    • Imbibe: To take in
    • Assimilate: To incorporate
    • Paroxysm: A random or sudden outburst
    • Opalescent: Exhibiting a milky iridescence like that of an opal.
    • Rampart: A defensive structure; a protective barrier; a bulwark.
    • Staid: Serious, organized, and professional; sober
    • Ribald: Coarsely, vulgarly or lewdly humorous
    • Typhus: One of several similar diseases caused by Rickettsiae bacteria. Not to be confused with typhoid fever.

Guide to French (incomplete)

  • Foreword
    • No French phrases
  • Part One
    • Chapter 2
      • (p10) Mon cher petit papa: My dear little dad.
      • (p11) Lycée: The second and last stage of secondary education in the French educational system.
    • Chapter 3
      • (p12) Plage: A sandy bathing beach at a seashore resort.
      • (p13) Chocolat glacé: Frozen chocolate.
    • Chapter 5
      • (p15) Manqué: Lit. missed, might be used for someone who could have become something but didn't, or somebody who was a failure at something. See the Wikipedia article on manqué for a full meaning.
      • (p16) Histoire Abrégée de la poésie anglaise: A Brief History of English Poetry.
      • (p20) Enfant charmante et fourbe: Charming and cheating child
    • Chapter 6
      • (p21) Frétillement: wriggling.
      • (p21) Cent: one hundred.
      • (p21) Tant pis: oh well.
      • (p21) Monsieur: sir, mister; a John (patronizer of prostitutes).
      • (p22) Bidet: A fixture similar in design to a toilet that is straddled for washing the genitals and the anal area.
      • (p22) Petit Cadeau: small gift (the money exchanged).
      • (p22) Dix-huit: eighteen.
      • (p22) Oui, ce n'est pas bien: yes, this is not good.
      • (p22) Grues: cranes; probably meaning something akin to hag or crone.
      • (p22) Il était malin, celui qui a inventé ce truc-là: It was very smart/tricky of you to do that trick/invent something do that trick.
      • (p22) Posé un lapin: to stand someone up (for a date).
      • (p22) Tu est bien gentil de dire ça: you are very kind to say that.
      • (p22) Avant qu'on se couche: before we lay down (before we have sex).
      • (p23) Je vais m'acheter des bas: I will buy myself some stockings.
      • (p23) Regardez-moi cette belle brune: look at this beautiful brunette.
      • (p23) Qui pourrait arranger la chose: who could arrange it.
      • (p24) Son argent: her money.
      • (p24) Lui: he.
    • Chapter 7
      • (p25) Mes malheurs: my misfortunes.
      • (p25) Français moyen: average Frenchman.
    • Chapter 8
      • (p25) Pot-au-feu: beef stew.
      • (p25) À la gamine: like a playful, mischevious girl.

Online Resources

The text in its current form is incomplete.


Simple English

Lolita is a novel, written by Vladimir Nabokov. It was published in 1955. It is a very controversial book. The main character of the book falls in love, and has sexual relations with a 12-year-old girl.

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