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Cover of the first edition
Cover of the first edition (Olympia Press, Paris, 1955)
Author(s)Vladimir Nabokov
CountryFrance / Britain
Genre(s)Tragicomedy, novel
PublisherOlympia Press, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Fawcett, Transworld (Corgi), Phaedra
Publication date1955
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages368 (recent paperback edition)
ISBNISBN 1-85715-133-X (recent paperback edition)
OCLC Number28928382
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Cover of the first edition
Cover of the first edition (Olympia Press, Paris, 1955)
Author(s)Vladimir Nabokov
CountryFrance / Britain
Genre(s)Tragicomedy, novel
PublisherOlympia Press, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Fawcett, Transworld (Corgi), Phaedra
Publication date1955
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages368 (recent paperback edition)
ISBNISBN 1-85715-133-X (recent paperback edition)
OCLC Number28928382

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. His private nickname for Dolores is Lolita.

The book is also notable for its writing style. The narrative is highly subjective as Humbert draws on his fragmented memories, employing a sophisticated prose style, while attempting to gain the reader's sympathy through his sincerity and melancholy, although near the end of the story Humbert refers to himself as a "maniac" who "deprived" Dolores "of her childhood", and he shortly thereafter states "the most miserable of family lives was better than the parody of incest" in which they were involved.

After its publication, 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 girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.

Lolita is included on Time's list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It is fourth on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. It was also included as one of The 100 Best Books of All Time.


Plot summary

Humbert Humbert, a literary scholar, has harbored a long-time obsession with young girls, or "nymphets". He suggests that this was caused by the premature death of a childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. After an unsuccessful marriage, Humbert moves to the small New England town of Ramsdale to write. He rents a room in the house of Charlotte Haze, a widow. While Charlotte shows him around the house, Humbert meets her 11-year-old daughter, Dolores—or Lolita—with whom he immediately becomes infatuated, partly due to her uncanny resemblance to Annabel. Humbert stays at the house only to remain near her. While he is obsessed with Lolita, he disdains her crassness and preoccupation with contemporary American popular culture, such as teen movies and comic books.

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 agrees to marry Charlotte in order to continue living near Lolita. Charlotte is oblivious to Humbert's distaste for her, as well as his lust for Lolita, until she reads his diary. Learning of Humbert's true feelings and intentions, Charlotte plans to flee with Lolita and threatens to expose Humbert as a "detestable, abominable, criminal fraud." Fate intervenes on Humbert's behalf, however; as she runs across the street in a state of shock, Charlotte is struck and killed by a passing car.

Humbert picks Lolita up from camp, pretending that Charlotte has been hospitalized. Rather than return to Charlotte's home, Humbert takes Lolita to a hotel, where he gives her sleeping pills. As he waits for the pills to take effect, he wanders through the hotel and meets a man who seems to know who he is. Humbert excuses himself from the strange conversation and returns to the room. There, he attempts to molest Lolita but finds that the sedative is too mild. Instead, she initiates sex the next morning, having slept with a boy at camp. Later, Humbert reveals to Lolita that Charlotte is dead, giving her no choice but to accept her stepfather into her life on his terms or face foster care.

Lolita and Humbert drive around the country, moving from state to state and motel to motel. Humbert sees the necessity of maintaining a common base of guilt to keep their relations secret, and wants denial to become second nature for Lolita; he tells her if he is arrested, she will become a ward of the state and lose all her clothes and belongings. He also 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, where Lolita is enrolled in a girls school. Humbert becomes very possessive and strict, forbidding Lolita to take part in after-school activities or to associate with boys; most of the townspeople, however, see this as the action of a loving and concerned, while 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; Lolita runs away while Humbert assures the neighbors everything is fine. He searches frantically until he finds her exiting a phone booth. She is in a bright, pleasant mood, saying she tried to reach him at home and that a "great decision has been made." They go to buy drinks and Lolita tells Humbert she doesn't care about the play, rather, 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 paranoid, suspecting that Lolita is conspiring with others in order to escape. She falls ill and must convalesce in a hospital; Humbert stays in a nearby motel, without Lolita for the first time in years. 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. During this time, Humbert has a two year relationship (ending in 1952) with an adult named Rita, who he describes as a "kind, good sport." She "solemnly approve[s]" of his search for Lolita. Rita figuratively dies when 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 in exchange for the name of the man who abducted her. She reveals the truth: Clare Quilty, an acquaintance of Charlotte's, the writer of the school play, and the man Lolita claims to have loved, checked her out of the hospital after following them throughout their travels and attempted to make her star in one of his pornographic films; when she refused, he threw her out. She worked odd jobs before meeting and marrying her husband, who knows nothing about her past. Humbert asks Lolita to leave her husband, Dick, and live with him, to which she refuses. He gives her a large sum of money anyway, which secures her future. As he leaves she smiles and shouts goodbye in a "sweet, American" way.

Humbert finds Quilty at his mansion; he intends to kill him, but first wants him to understand why he must die; he took advantage of a sinner (Humbert), he took advantage of a disadvantage. Eventually, Humbert shoots him several times (throughout which Quilty is bargaining for his life in a witty, though bizarre, manner). Once Quilty has died, Humbert exits the house. Shortly after, he 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, and reveals the novel in its metafiction to be the memoirs of his life, only to be published after he and Lolita have both died.

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.

Erotic motifs and controversy

Lolita is frequently described as an "erotic novel", both by some critics but also in a standard reference work on literature Facts on File: Companion to the American Short Story.[1] The Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita "an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners,"[2] The same description of the novel is found in Desmond Morris' reference work The Book of Ages.[3] A survey of books for Women's Studies courses describes it as a "tongue-in-cheek erotic novel".[4] Books focused on the history of erotic literature such as Michael Perkins' The Secret Record: Modern Erotic Literature also so classify Lolita.[5]

More cautious classifications have included a "novel with erotic motifs"[6] or one of "a number of works of classical erotic literature and art, and to novels that contain elements of eroticism, like ... Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover".[7]

However, this classification has been disputed. Malcolm Bradbury writes "at first famous as an erotic novel, Lolita soon won its way as a literary one—a late modernist distillation of the whole crucial mythology."[8] Samuel Schuman says that Nabokov "is a surrealist, linked to Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Kafka. Lolita is characterized by irony and sarcasm. It is not an erotic novel".[9]

Lance Olsen writes "The first 13 chapters of the text, culminating with the oft-cited scene of Lo unwittingly stretching her legs across Humbert's excited lap [...] are the only chapters suggestive of the erotic."[10] Nabokov himself observes in the novel's afterword that a few readers were "misled. [by the opening of the book]...into assuming this was going to be a lewd book...[expecting] the rising succession of erotic scenes; when these stopped, the readers stopped, too, and felt bored."[11]

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 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 of the author's name.

Several times, the narrator begs the reader to understand that he is not proud of his rape of Lolita, but is filled with remorse. At one point he listens to the sounds of children playing outdoors, and is stricken with guilt at the realization that he robbed Lolita of her childhood. When he is reunited with the adult Lolita, he realizes that he still loves her even if she no longer is the nymphet of his dreams.

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. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar."[12]

Most writers, however, have given less credit to Humbert and more to Nabokov's powers as an ironist. For Richard Rorty, in his 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."[13]

In his essay on Stalinism "Koba the Dread", Martin Amis 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."

Critics have further noted that the novel gives very little information about what Lolita is personally like, that in effect she has been silenced. Nomi Tamir-Ghez writes "Not only is Lolita's voice silenced, her point of view, the way she sees the situation and feels about it, is rarely mentioned and can be only surmised by the reader...since it is Humbert who tells the story...throughout most of the novel, the reader is absorbed in Humbert's feelings".[14] Similarly Mica Howe and Sarah Appleton Aguiar write that the novel silences and objectifies Lolita.[15] Christine Clegg notes that this is a recurring theme in criticism of the novel in the 1990s.[16] Actor Brian Cox who played Humbert in a 2009 one-man monologue show based on the novel stated that the novel is "not about Lolita as a flesh and blood entity. It's Lolita as a memory" and concluded that a stage monologue would be truer to the book than any film could possibly be.[17] Elizabeth Janeway writing in The New York Review of Books holds "Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh".[18]

Clegg sees the novel's non-disclosure of Lolita's feelings as directly linked to the fact that her "real" name is Dolores and (in the novel but not the film) only Humbert refers to her as Lolita.[19] Humbert also states he has effectively "solipsized" Lolita early in the novel.[20] Eric Lemay of Northwestern University writes:

The human child, the one noticed by non-nymphomaniacs, answers to other names, "Lo," "Lola," "Dolly," and, least alluring of all, "Dolores." "But in my arms," asserts Humbert, "she was always Lolita." And in his arms or out, "Lolita" was always the creation of Humbert's craven self.... The Siren-like Humbert sings a song of himself, to himself, and titles that self and that song "Lolita." ... To transform Dolores into Lolita, to seal this sad adolescent within his musky self, Humbert must deny her her humanity.[21]

In 2003 Iranian expatriate Azar Nafisi published the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran about a covert women's reading group. In an NPR interview Nafasi contrasts the sorrowful and seductive sides of Dolores/Lolita's character. She notes "Because her name is not Lolita, her real name is Dolores which as you know in Latin means dolour, so her real name is associated with sorrow and with anguish and with innocence, while Lolita becomes a sort of light-headed, seductive, and airy name. The Lolita of our novel is both of these at the same time and in our culture here today we only associate it with one aspect of that little girl and the crassest interpretation of her." Following Nafasi's comments, the NPR interviewer, Madeleine Brand, lists as embodiments of the latter side of Lolita, "the Long Island Lolita, Britney Spears, the Olsen twins, and Sue Lyons in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita".[22]

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."[23]

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."[24]

Publication and reception

Nabokov finished Lolita on 6 December 1953, five years after starting it.[25] Because of its subject matter, Nabokov intended to publish it pseudonymously (although the anagrammatic character Vivian Darkbloom would tip off the alert reader).[26] The manuscript was turned down, with more or less regret, by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday.[27] After these refusals and warnings, he finally resorted to publication in France. Via his translator Doussia Ergaz, it reached Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, "three quarters of [whose] list was pornographic trash".[28] Underinformed about Olympia, overlooking hints of Girodias's approval of the conduct of a protagonist Girodias presumed was based on the author, and despite warnings from Morris Bishop, his friend at Cornell, Nabokov signed a contract with Olympia Press for publication of the book, to come out under his own name.[29]

Lolita was published in September 1955, as a pair of green paperbacks "swarming with typographical errors".[30] Although the first printing of 5,000 copies sold out,[citation needed] there were no substantial reviews. Eventually, at the very end of 1955, Graham Greene, in the (London) Sunday Times, called it one of the three best books of 1955.[31] This statement provoked a response from the (London) Sunday Express, whose editor John Gordon called it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography."[32] British Customs officers were then instructed by a panicked Home Office to seize all copies entering the United Kingdom.[citation needed] In December 1956, France followed suit, and the Minister of the Interior banned Lolita[33] (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.[34]

The novel then appeared in Danish and Dutch translations (two editions of a Swedish translation were withdrawn at the author's request).[35][36]

Despite initial trepidation, there was no official response in the U.S., and the first American edition was issued by G.P. Putnam's Sons in August, 1958. The book was into a third printing within days and became the first since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks.[37]

The novel continues to generate controversy today as modern society has become increasingly aware of the lasting damage created by child sexual abuse. In 2008, an entire book was published on the best ways to teach the novel in a college classroom given that "its particular mix of narrative strategies, ornate allusive prose, and troublesome subject matter complicates its presentation to students."[38] In this book one author urges teachers to note that Lolita's suffering is noted in the book even if the main focus is on Humbert. Many critics describe Humbert as a rapist, notably Azar Nafisi in her bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran,[39] though in a survey of critics David Larmour notes that other interpreters of the novel have been reluctant to use that term.[40] Near the end of the novel, Humbert accuses himself of rape – however, after noting this Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd tries to let Humbert off the hook on the grounds that Dolores was not a virgin and seduced Humbert in the morning of their hotel stay although sex had been suggested by Humbert earlier.[41] This perspective is vigorously disputed by Peter Rabinowitz in his essay "Lolita: Solipsized or Sodomized?".[42]

Today, Lolita is considered by many to be one of the finest novels written in the 20th century. In 1998, it came fourth in a list by the Modern Library of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century.[43]

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 bears many similarities to Lolita, but also has 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 16 and already had an affair when middle-aged Albinus becomes 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 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 (15 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...."[44] The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographical 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.

In Nabokov's 1962 novel Pale Fire, the titular poem by fictional John Shade mentions Hurricane Lolita coming up the American east coast in 1958, and narrator Charles Kinbote (in the commentary later in the book) notes it, questioning why anyone would have chosen an obscure Spanish nickname for a hurricane. There were no hurricanes named Lolita that year, but that is the year that Lolita the novel was published in North America.

The unfinished novel The Original of Laura, published posthumously, features the character Hubert H. Hubert, an older man preying upon then-child protagonist, Flora. In contrast to in Lolita, his advances are unsuccessful.

Literary pastiches, allusions and prototypes

The novel abounds in allusions to classical and modern literature. Virtually all of them have been noted in The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr. Many are references to Humbert's own favorite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

Humbert Humbert's first love, Annabel Leigh, is named after the "maiden" in the poem "Annabel Lee" by Poe; this poem is alluded to many times in the novel, and its lines are borrowed to describe Humbert's love. A passage in chapter 11 reuses verbatim Poe's phrase the side of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride.[45] In the opening of the novel, the phrase Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied, is a pastiche of two passages of the poem, the winged seraphs of heaven (line 11), and The angels, not half so happy in heaven, went envying her and me (lines 21–2).[46] Nabokov originally intended Lolita to be called The Kingdom by the Sea,[47] drawing on the rhyme with Annabel Lee that was used in the first verse of Poe's work. A variant of this line is reprised in the opening of chapter one, which reads ...had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea.[46]

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.

Chapter 27 contains a parody of Joyce's stream of consciousness.[48]

Humbert Humbert's field of expertise is French literature (one of his jobs is writing a series of educational works that compare French writers to English writers), and as such there are several references to French literature, including the authors Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, François Rabelais, Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Remy Belleau, Honoré de Balzac, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the "first Humbert Humbert".[49] Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin's relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel's comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin's life in Nabokov's book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the Alaskan town of Grey Star while Chaplin's The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita's first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as "the silent...but indefatigable Charlie." Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds's painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney's article notes many other parallels as well.[50]

The foreword refers 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 Ulysses was not obscene and could be sold in the United States.

In chapter 29 of Part II, Humbert comments that Lolita looks "like Botticelli's russet Venus—the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty", referencing Sandro Botticelli's depiction of Venus in, perhaps, The Birth of Venus or Venus and Mars.

In chapter 35 of Part II, Humbert's "death sentence" on Quilty parodies the rhythm and use of anaphora in T. S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday.

Many other references to classical and Romantic literature abound, including references to Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and to the poetry of Laurence Sterne.

Other possible real-life prototypes

In addition to the possible prototypes of Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin mentioned above in Allusions, Alexander Dolinin suggests[51] that the prototype of Lolita was 11-year-old Florence Horner, kidnapped in 1948 by 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 notes various similarities in events and descriptions.

While Nabokov had already used the same basic idea—that of a child molester and his victim booking into a hotel as father and daughter—in his then-unpublished 1939 work Volshebnik (Волшебник), the Horner 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[52] describes his recent discovery of a 1916 German short story titled "Lolita" whose middle-aged narrator describes travelling abroad as a student. He 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.[53][54] 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.[55]

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.[56]

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.[57]

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".[58] 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".[59]

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".[60]


Nabokov rated the book highly. In an interview for BBC Television in 1962, he said:

Lolita is a special favorite 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.[61]

Over a year later, in an 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.[62]

In the same year, in an interview with Life, Nabokov was asked which of his writings had most pleased him. 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.[63]

Russian translation

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

The translation includes a "Postscriptum"[64] 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."


Lolita has been filmed twice, been a musical, four stage-plays, one completed opera, and two ballets. There is also Nabokov's unfilmed (and re-edited) screenplay, an uncompleted opera based on the work, and an "imagined opera" which combines elements of opera and dance.

Derivative literary works

References in other media

Literary memoir
Popular music about the novel
Popular music about the term "Lolita"

Although Nabokov's focus is mainly on Humbert's infatuation with Lolita, the name has become synonymous with seductive or sexually precocious or sexually responsive young girls.[100] Multiple popular songs employ the name "Lolita" for a girl either infatuated with an older man, or being pursued by an older man.

See also


  1. ^ Whelock, Abby (2008). Facts on File: Companion to the American Short Story. Infobase Publishing. p. 482. 
  2. ^ Prokhorov, Aleksandr Mikhaĭlovich (1982). Great Soviet encyclopedia, Volume 17. Macmillan. p. 292. 
  3. ^ Morris, Desmond (1983). The book of ages. J. Cape. pp. 200. ISBN 0-224-02166-4, 9780224021661. 
  4. ^ Lanigan, Esther F.; Esther Stineman, Catherine Loeb (1979). Women's studies:a recommended core bibliography. Loeb Libraries Unlimited. p. 329. ISBN 0-87287-196-7, 9780872871960. 
  5. ^ Perkins, Michael (1992). The Secret Record: Modern Erotic Literature. Masquerade Books. pp. 281. ISBN 1-56333-039-3, 9781563330391. 
  6. ^ Curtis, Glenn Eldon (1992). Russia: a country study. DIANE Publishing Inc. p. 256. ISBN 0-8444-0866-2, 9780844408668. 
  7. ^ Kon, Igor Semenovich (1993). Sex and Russian society. Indiana University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-253-33201-X, 9780253332011.  The book is an anthology of essays edited by Igor Kon. The opening essay from which this quote is taken is by Kon himself.
  8. ^ Bradbury, Malcolm (1996). Dangerous pilgrimages: transatlantic mythologies and the novel. Viking. p. 451. ISBN 0-670-86625-3, 9780670866250. 
  9. ^ Schuman, Samuel (1979). Vladimir Nabokov, a reference guide. G. K. Hall. p. 30. 
  10. ^ Olsen, lance (1995). Lolita: a Janus text. Twayne Publishers. pp. 143. 
  11. ^ Afterword to Lolita Vintage edition p. 313.
  12. ^ Davies, Robertson. Lolita's Crime: Sex Made Funny. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
  13. ^ Quoted in Levine, 1967.
  14. ^ Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: a casebook by Ellen Pifer, p. 24
  15. ^ He said, she says: an RSVP to the male text by Mica Howe, Sarah Appleton Aguiar p. 132
  16. ^ Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita by Christine Clegg Chapter 5
  17. ^ Grove, Valerie (29 August 2009). "Brian Cox plays Humbert Humbert in Lolita". The Times (London). 
  18. ^ Quoted in the New York Times
  19. ^ See Over her dead body: death, femininity and the aesthetic by Elisabeth Bronfen p. 379
  20. ^ p. 60 of Random House edition
  21. ^ Eric Lemay. "Dolorous Laughter". p. 2. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  22. ^ 2nd audio portion of "50 Years Later, 'Lolita' Still Seduces Readers". NPR. Retrieved 30 January 2011. 
  23. ^ Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran (New York: Random House, 2003) p. 36.
  24. ^ Quoted by Leland de la Durantaye in The Boston Globe writing on the 50th anniversary of Lolita 28 August 2005. Requires subscription Leland de la Durantaye (28 August 2005). "The seduction". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  25. ^ Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991; ISBN 0-691-06797-X), p.226.
  26. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, pp. 220–21.
  27. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, pp. 255, 262–63, 264.
  28. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 266.
  29. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, pp. 266–67.
  30. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 292.
  31. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 293.
  32. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 295.
  33. ^ Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 301.
  34. ^ Laurence W. Martin, "The Bournemouth Affair: Britain's First Primary Election", The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No. 4. (Nov. 1960), pp. 654–681.
  35. ^ Michael Juliar, Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1986; ISBN 0-8240-8590-6), p.541.
  36. ^ Dieter E. Zimmer. "List of Lolita Editions". Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
  37. ^ King, Steve. "Hurricane Lolita". Archived from the original on 29 August 2011. 
  38. ^ Kuzmanovich, Zoran; Galya Diment (2008). Approaches to teaching Nabokov's Lolita. Modern Language Association of America. ISBN 0-87352-942-1, 9780873529426. 
  39. ^ Nafisi, Azar (2008). Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. Random House. p. 51. ISBN 0-8129-7930-3, 9780812979305. 
  40. ^ Larmour, David Henry James (2002). Discourse and ideology in Nabokov's prose. Psychology Press. p. 133. ISBN 0415286581, 9780415286589. 
  41. ^ Boyd, Brian (2003). Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton University Press. p. 230. ISBN 0-691-02471-5, 9780691024714. 
  42. ^ Essay appears in Jost, Walter; Wendy Olmsted (2004). A companion to rhetoric and rhetorical criticism. John Wiley & Sons. p. 230. ISBN 1-4051-0112-1, 9781405101127. 
  43. ^ "100 best novels", Modern Library. Accessed 8 February 2011.
  44. ^ Letter dated 7 April 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.
  45. ^ The Annotated Lolita, p.360
  46. ^ a b The Annotated Lolita, p. 334.
  47. ^ Brian Boyd on Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov Centennial, Random House, Inc.
  48. ^ The Annotated Lolita, p. 379.
  49. ^ Annotated Lolita p. 381
  50. ^ Bill Delaney, "Nabokov's Lolita", The Explicator 56, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 99 – 100.
  51. ^ Ben Dowell, "1940s sex kidnap inspired Lolita", The Sunday Times, 11 September 2005. Retrieved 14 November 2007.
  52. ^ ISBN 1-84467-038-4
  53. ^ "My Sin, My Soul... Whose Lolita?". On the Media. 16 September 2005. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  54. ^ Liane Hansen, "Possible Source for Nabokov's 'Lolita' ", Weekend Edition Sunday, 25 April 2004. Retrieved 14 November 2007.
  55. ^ Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism", Harper's Magazine, February 2007. Retrieved 14 November 2007.
  56. ^ Juliar, Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography, p. 221.
  57. ^ Lolita Random House 1997 p. 314
  58. ^ Lolita Random House 1997 p. 311
  59. ^ Lolita Random House 1997 p. 316
  60. ^ Lolita Random House 1997 p. 317
  61. ^ Peter Duval Smith, "Vladimir Nabokov on his life and work", The Listener, 22 November 1962, pp. 856–858. As reprinted in Strong Opinions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973; ISBN 0-07-045737-9), pp. 9–19.
  62. ^ Alvin Toffler, "Playboy interview: Vladimir Nabokov", Playboy, January 1964, pp. 35 et seq. As reprinted in Strong Opinions, pp. 20–45.
  63. ^ Jane Howard, "The master of versatility: Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita, languages, lepidoptery", Life, 20 November 1964, pp. 61 et seq. As reprinted in Strong Opinions, pp. 46–50.
  64. ^ "Postscript to the Russian edition of Lolita", translated by Earl D. Sampson
  65. ^ Taylor, Charles (29 May 1998). "Recent Movies: Home Movies: Nymphet Mania". Salon. Retrieved 25 March 2009. 
  66. ^ The parallel names are in the novel, the picture duplication is not.
  67. ^ Lolita, My Love
  68. ^ Article in the New York Times (requires registration).
  69. ^ Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  70. ^ and this article in Time. See also Graham Vickers, Chasing Lolita: how popular culture corrupted Nabokov's little girl all over again, p. 141.
  71. ^ a b Suellen Stringer-Hye, "VN collation #26", Zembla, 2003. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  72. ^ Mikami, Hiroko (2007). Ireland on stage: Beckett and after. Peter Lang. pp. 41–42. ISBN 1-904505-23-6, 9781904505235. 
  73. ^ Profile of Bombana, Theater u. Philharmonie Thüringen. (German)
  74. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (24 March 2005). "Wrestling With a 'Lolita' Opera and Losing". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 March 2008. 
  75. ^ Steve Smith (7 April 2009). "Humbert Humbert (Conjuring Nymphet)". New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  76. ^ Promotional video, Youtube.
  77. ^ Valerie Grove, "Brian Cox plays Humbert Humbert in Lolita", Times, 29 August 2009. Accessed 6 February 2011.
  78. ^ Martin Garbus, New York Times review, 26 September 1999, reproduced as "Lolita and the lawyers", Evergreen; and Ralph Blumenthal, "Nabokov's son files suit to block a retold Lolita", New York Times, 10 October 1998.
  79. ^ a b Richard Corliss, "Humming along with Nabokov", Time, 10 October 1999. Accessed 8 February 2011.
  80. ^ Transcribed in Camille Paglia "Vamps and Tramps". The quote is on p. 157.
  81. ^ Earlier accounts of this speak of a musical setting for the poems. Later accounts state it was a full length opera. "Coteau Authors: Kim Morrissey". Coteau Books. Retrieved 8 February 2011. "Kim Morrissey". Playwrights Guild. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  82. ^ Emily Prager, author's note, Roger Fishbite (Vintage, 1999).
  83. ^ Eco is by profession a semiotician and medievalist Eco's amazon page
  84. ^ Originally published in the Italian literary periodical Il Verri in 1959, appeared in an Italian anthology of Eco's work in 1963. Published in English for the first time in Eco anthology Misreadings (Mariner Books, 1993)
  85. ^ SUE GAISFORD (26 June 1993). "BOOK REVIEW / War games with Sitting Bull: Misreadings — Umberto Eco Tr. William Weaver: Cape, pounds 9.99". The Independent (UK). Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  86. ^ Nafisi, Azar (2008 (paper reissue)). Reading Lolita in Tehran. Random House Trade Paperbacks. pp. 38, 152, 167. ISBN 0812979303. 
  87. ^ Andrew Beaujon (18 February 2011). "How 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' became an opera". TBD Arts. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  88. ^ Libraries and Culture, Volume 38, No. 2 (Spring, 2003), Discipline and the Discipline: Histories of the British Public Library, pp. 121–146.
  89. ^ Alan A. Stone (February/March 1995). "Where's Woody?". Boston Review. Retrieved 18 December 2010. 
  90. ^ Vickers, Graham (2008). Chasing Lolita: how popular culture corrupted Nabokov's little girl all over again. Chicago Review Press. p. 247. ISBN 1-55652-682-2, 9781556526824. 
  91. ^ Tracy Lemaster, "The Nymphet as Consequence in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Sam Mendes's American Beauty", Trans: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16 (May 2006). Accessed 6 February 2011.
  92. ^ Roger Ebert's review of Broken Flower, 5 August 2005.
  93. ^ Teresa Lopez (30 January 2012). "Pretty Little Liars Review: A Tale of Two Alisons". TV Fanatic. Retrieved 3 July 2012.  TV Fanatic falsely states Vivian Darkbloom is a pseudonym for Vladimir Nabokov. It is actually an anagram of his name, but was never used as a pseudonym.
  94. ^ Morgan Glennon (19 March 2012). "The Feminism of Pretty Little Liars". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  95. ^ JR Huffman, JL Huffman (1987), "Sexism and cultural lag: The rise of the jailbait song, 1955–1985", The Journal of Popular Culture, doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1987.2102_65.x 
  96. ^ She identifies with the character (Clayton Perry (18 July 2008), "Interview: Katy Perry – Singer, Songwriter and Producer",, retrieved 8 February 2011 ), named a guitar of hers Lolita (Scott Thill (16 June 2008), "Katy Perry: Not just one of the boys: A minister's daughter turned pop provocateur brings some candy-colored girl power to the Warped Tour", Katy Perry Forum,, retrieved 8 February 2011 ), and had her fashion sense at a young age influenced by Swain's outfits in the later Adrian Lynne film (Harris, Sophie (30 August 2008), "Katy Perry on the risqué business of I Kissed a Girl", The Times (London),, retrieved 2 March 2009 ).
  97. ^ Reprinted at
  98. ^ Rob Sheffield (30 Jan 2012). "Lana Del Rey:Born to Die". Rolling Stone magazine. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  99. ^ Sasha Frere-Jones (6 February 2012). "Screen Shot: Lana Del Rey's fixed image". New Yorker Magazine. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  100. ^ See mainly Merriam Webster. See also definition at The Free Dictionary. See also Urban Dictionary.

Further reading

External links