Lolita 1955.JPG
First ion
AuthorVladimir Nabokov
PublisherOlympia Press
Publication date
112,473 words[1]

Lolita is a 1955 novel written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a French middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with an American 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, whom he sexually molests after he becomes her stepfather. "Lolita" is his private nickname for Dolores. The novel was originally written in English and first published in Paris in 1955 by Olympia Press. Later it was translated into Russian by Nabokov himself and published in New York City in 1967 by Phaedra Publishers.

Lolita quickly attained a classic status. The novel was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and another film by Adrian Lyne in 1997. It has also been adapted several times for the stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful, Broadway musical. Many authors consider it the greatest work of the 20th century,[2] and it has been included in several lists of best books, such as Time's List of the 100 Best Novels, Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century, Bokklubben World Library, Modern Library's 100 Best Novels, and The Big Read.


The novel is prefaced by a fictitious foreword by John Ray Jr., an or of psychology books. Ray states that he is presenting a memoir written by a man using the pseudonym "Humbert Humbert," who had recently died of heart disease while awaiting a murder trial in jail. The memoir begins with Humbert's birth in Paris in 1910. He spends his childhood on the French Riviera, where he falls in love with his friend Annabel Leigh. This youthful and physically unfulfilled love is interrupted by Annabel's premature death from typhus, which causes Humbert to become sexually obsessed with a specific type of girl, aged 9 to 14, whom he refers to as "nymphets."

After graduation, Humbert works as an English teacher and begins ing an academic literary textbook. Before the outbreak of World War II, Humbert moves to New York. In 1947, he moves to Ramsdale, a small town in New England, where he can calmly continue working on his book. The house that he intends to live in is destroyed in a fire, and in his search for a new home, he meets the widow Charlotte Haze, who is accepting tenants. Humbert visits Charlotte's residence out of politeness and initially intends to decline her offer. However, Charlotte leads Humbert to her garden, where her 12-year-old daughter Dolores (also variably known as Dolly, Dolita, Lo, Lola, and Lolita) is sunbathing. Humbert sees in Dolores the perfect nymphet, the embodiment of his old love Annabel, and quickly decides to move in.

The impassioned Humbert constantly searches for discreet forms of fulfilling his sexual urges, usually via the smallest physical contact with Dolores. When Dolores is sent to summer camp, Humbert receives a letter from Charlotte, who confesses her love for him and gives him an ultimatum – he is to either marry her or move out immediately. Initially terrified, Humbert then begins to see the charm in the situation of being Dolores' stepfather, and so marries Charlotte for instrumental reasons. Charlotte later discovers Humbert's diary, in which she learns of his desire for her daughter and the disgust Charlotte arouses in him. Shocked and humiliated, Charlotte decides to flee with Dolores and writes letters addressed to her friends warning them of Humbert. Disbelieving Humbert's false assurance that the diary is a sketch for a future novel, Charlotte runs out of the house to send the letters but is killed by a swerving car.

Humbert destroys the letters and retrieves Dolores from camp, claiming that her mother has fallen seriously ill and has been hospitalized. He then takes her to a high-end hotel that Charlotte had earlier recommended. Humbert knows he will feel guilty raping Dolores while she is conscious so tricks her into taking a sedative by saying it is a vitamin. As he waits for the pill to take effect, he wanders through the hotel and meets a mysterious man who seems to be aware of Humbert's plan for Dolores.

Humbert excuses himself from the conversation and returns to the hotel room. There, he discovers that he had been fobbed with a milder drug, as Dolores is merely drowsy and wakes up frequently, drifting in and out of sleep. He dares not rape her that night. In the morning, Dolores reveals to Humbert that she actually has already lost her virginity, having engaged in sexual activity with an older boy at a different camp a year ago. He begins sexually abusing her. After leaving the hotel, Humbert reveals to Dolores that her mother is dead.

Humbert and Dolores travel across the country, driving all day and staying in motels. Humbert desperately tries to maintain Dolores' interest in travel and himself, and increasingly bribes her in exchange for sexual favors. They finally settle in Beardsley, a small New England town. Humbert adopts the role of Dolores' father and enrolls her in a local private school for girls.

Humbert jealously and strictly controls all of Dolores' social gatherings and forbids her from dating and attending parties. It is only at the instigation of the school headmaster, who regards Humbert as a strict and conservative European parent, that he agrees to Dolores' participation in the school play, the title of which is the same as the hotel in which Humbert met the mysterious man. The day before the premiere of the performance, a serious quarrel breaks out between Dolores and Humbert, and Dolores runs out of the house. When Humbert finds her a few moments later, she tells him that she wants to leave town and continue traveling. Humbert is initially delighted, but as he travels, he becomes increasingly suspicious – he feels that he is being followed by someone Dolores is familiar with.

The man following them is Clare Quilty – a friend of Charlotte and a famous playwright who wrote the play that Dolores was to participate in. In the Colorado mountains, Dolores falls ill. Humbert checks her into a local hospital, from where she is discharged one night by her "uncle." Humbert knows she has no living relatives and he immediately embarks on a frantic search to find Dolores and her abductor, but initially fails. For the next two years, Humbert barely sustains himself in a moderately functional relationship with a young alcoholic named Rita.

Deeply depressed, Humbert unexpectedly receives a letter from a 17-year-old Dolores (signing as "Dolly (Mrs. Richard F. Schiller)"), telling him that she is married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. Humbert, armed with a pistol, tracks down Dolores' address and gives her the money, which was due as an inheritance from her mother.

Humbert learns that Dolores' husband, a deaf mechanic, is not her abductor. Dolores reveals to Humbert that Quilty took her from the hospital: she was in love with Quilty, but he rejected her when she refused to star in one of his pornographic films. Humbert implores Dolores to leave with him, but she refuses. Humbert then goes to the drug-addled Quilty's mansion and shoots him several times.

Shortly afterward, Humbert is arrested, and in his closing thoughts, he reaffirms his love for Dolores and asks for his memoir to be withheld from public release until after her death. Dolores dies in childbirth on Christmas Day in 1952, disappointing Humbert's prediction that "Dolly Schiller will probably survive me by many years."

Erotic motifs and controversy[]

Lolita is frequently described as an "erotic novel", not only by some critics but also in a standard reference work on literature Facts on File: Companion to the American Short Story.[3] The Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita "an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners."[4] The same description of the novel is found in Desmond Morris's reference work The Book of Ages.[5] A survey of books for Women's Studies courses describes it as a "tongue-in-cheek erotic novel."[6] Books focused on the history of erotic literature such as Michael Perkins' The Secret Record: Modern Erotic Literature also so classify Lolita.[7] More cautious classifications have included a "novel with erotic motifs"[8] or one of "a number of works of classical erotic literature and art, and to novels that contain elements of eroticism, such as Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover."[9]

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."[10] Samuel Schuman says that Nabokov "is a surrealist, linked to Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. Lolita is characterized by irony and sarcasm; it is not an erotic novel."[11]

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."[12] 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."[13]

Style and interpretation[]

The novel is narrated by Humbert, who riddles the narrative with word play and his wry observations of American culture. 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". Most writers see Humbert as an unreliable narrator and cr 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"[14][15] and "a hateful person."[16]

Critics have further noted that, since the novel is a first person narrative by Humbert, the novel gives very little information about what Lolita is like as a person, that in effect she has been silenced by not being the book's narrator. 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."[17] Similarly Mica Howe and Sarah Appleton Aguiar write that the novel silences and objectifies Lolita.[18] Christine Clegg notes that this is a recurring theme in criticism of the novel in the 1990s.[19] Actor Brian Cox, who played Humbert in a 2009 one-man stage monologue based on the novel, stated that the novel is "not about Lolita as a flesh and blood entity. It's Lolita as a memory." He concluded that a stage monologue would be truer to the book than any film could possibly be.[20] Elizabeth Janeway writing in The New York Times Book Review 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."[21]

Clegg sees the novel's non-disclosure of Lolita's feelings as directly linked to the fact that her "real" name is Dolores and only Humbert refers to her as Lolita.[22] Humbert also states he has effectively "solipsized" Lolita early in the novel.[23] Eric Lemay 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.[24]

In 2003, Iranian expatriate Azar Nafisi published the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran about a covert women's reading group. In an NPR interview Nafisi 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 Nafisi'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 Lyon in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita."[25]

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."[26]

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."[27]

In 1958, Dorothy Parker described the novel as "the engrossing, anguished story of a man, a man of taste and culture, who can love only little girls" and Lolita as "a dreadful little creature, selfish, hard, vulgar, and foul-tempered."[28] In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies wrote 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."[29]

External video
video icon Presentation by Martin Amis at the New York Public Library, "Lolita and American Morality", 10 February 1998, C-SPAN

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."

The term "Lolita" has been assimilated into popular culture as a description of a young girl who is "precociously seductive...without connotations of victimization."[30]

Publication and reception[]

Nabokov finished Lolita on 6 December 1953, five years after starting it.[31] Because of its subject matter, Nabokov intended to publish it pseudonymously (although the anagrammatic character Vivian Darkbloom would tip off the alert reader).[32] The manuscript was turned down, with more or less regret, by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday.[33] 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."[34] 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.[35]

Lolita was published in September 1955, as a pair of green paperbacks "swarming with typographical errors."[36] Although the first printing of 5,000 copies sold out, there were no substantial reviews.[37] Eventually, at the very end of 1955, Graham Greene, in the London Sunday Times, called it one of the three best books of 1955.[38] This statement provoked a response from the London Sunday Express, whose or John Gordon called it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography."[39] British Customs officers were then instructed by the Home Office to seize all copies entering the United Kingdom.[40] In December 1956, France followed suit, and the Minister of the Interior banned Lolita;[41] the ban lasted for two years. Its eventual British publication by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in London in 1959 was controversial enough to contribute to the end of the political career of the Conservative member of parliament Nigel Nicolson, one of the company's partners.[42]

The novel then appeared in Danish and Dutch translations. Two ions of a Swedish translation were withdrawn at the author's request.[43][44]

Despite initial trepidation, there was no official response in the U.S., and the first American ion 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.[45] Orville Prescott, the influential book reviewer of the New York Times, greatly disliked the book, describing it as "dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion."[46] This review failed to influence the book's sales.[citation needed]

Present-day views[]

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."[47] In this book, one author urges teachers to note that Dolores' suffering is noted in the book even if the main focus is on Humbert.[citation needed]

Many critics describe Humbert as a rapist, notably Azar Nafisi in her best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran,[48] though in a survey of critics David Larmour notes that other interpreters of the novel have been reluctant to use that term.[49] Near the end of the novel, Humbert accuses himself, as noted in the above plot synopsis, of statutory rape, which his behavior clearly was. However, Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd denies that it was rape "in any ordinary sense," on the grounds that "it is she who suggests that they try out the naughty trick" which she has already learned at summer camp.[50] This perspective is vigorously disputed by Peter Rabinowitz in his essay "Lolita: Solipsized or Sodomized?".[51] In 2020, a podcast hosted by Jamie Loftus set out to examine the cultural legacy of the novel, and argued that depictions and adaptations have "twisted" Nabokov's original intention of condemning Humbert in Lolita.[52][53]

Sources and links[]

Links in Nabokov's work[]

In 1928 Nabokov wrote a poem named Lilith (Лилит), depicting a sexually attractive underage girl who seduces the male protagonist just to leave him humiliated in public.[54] In 1939 he 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 hebephilia 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 had already had an affair when middle-aged Albinus becomes attracted to her.

In chapter three of the novel The Gift (written in Russian in 1935–37) the similar gist of Lolita's first chapter is outlined to the protagonist, Fyodor Cherdyntsev, by his 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 Shchyogolev's marriage to her mother) who becomes the love of Fyodor's life.

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."[55] 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. Unlike those of Humbert Humbert in Lolita, Hubert's 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, ed and annotated by Alfred Appel Jr. Many are references to Humbert's own favorite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

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.[56] 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).[57] Nabokov originally intended Lolita to be called The Kingdom by the Sea,[58] 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.[57]

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. The theme of the doppelgänger also occurs in Nabokov's earlier novel, Despair.

Chapter 26 of Part One contains a parody of Joyce's stream of consciousness.[59]

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.

Nabokov was fond of the works of Lewis Carroll, and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the "first Humbert Humbert."[60] 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 fictional Alaskan town of "Gray 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.[61]

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 Joyce's Ulysses was not obscene and could be sold in the United States.

In chapter 29 of Part Two, 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 Two, 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, Alexander Dolinin suggests[62] 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 The Enchanter (Волшебник), he mentions the Horner case explicitly in Chapter 33 of Part II of Lolita: "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[63] describes his 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 ("hidden memory") 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.[64][65] 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."[66] See also Jonathan Lethem's essay "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" in Harper's Magazine on this story.[67]

Nabokov on Lolita[]


In 1956, Nabokov wrote an afterword to Lolita ("On a Book Entitled Lolita"), that first appeared in the first U.S. ion and has appeared thereafter.[68]

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.[69]

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."[70] 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."[71]

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."[72]


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.[73]

Over a year later, in an interview for Playboy, he said:

No, 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.[16][74]

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.[75]

Russian translation[]

The Russian translation includes a "Postscriptum"[76] in which Nabokov reconsiders his relationship with his native language. Referring to the afterword to the English ion, 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 adapted as two films, a musical, four stage-plays, one completed opera, and two ballets. There is also Nabokov's unfilmed (and re-ed) screenplay, an uncompleted opera based on the work, and an "imagined opera" which combines elements of opera and dance.

Derivative literary works[]

References in media[]



Popular music[]

See also[]


  1. ^ "Lolita Text Stats". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  2. ^ Popova, Maria (30 January 2012). "The Greatest Books of All Time, as Voted by 125 Famous Authors". The Atlantic. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  3. ^ Whelock, Abby (2008). Facts on File: Companion to the American Short Story. Infobase. p. 482. ISBN 978-1438127439.
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Cited sources[]

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