Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955, 317 pages)

Not long ago I read Vladimir Nabokov's (1899 to 1971)   Pale Fire and was totally taken in my the beauty of the language and the sheer originality of the book.   I loved Pale Fire.    Of course I knew it was not his most famous book and also not the book that he himself set most store on.

Lolita is a book about a lot of things.    In the mind's of those who have not read it and never will it is about a middle aged pedophile in love with his step daughter.    If we say a man has a "Lolita Complex" people will have an idea what you mean.   I was trying to think who the previous author might be who had created the name for a complex of some kind and I had to go back to Sophocles to come up with an author's name.     Lolita is already considered by many to be a classic and it appears on a lot of best 100 novels of all times list.   The success of this book gave Nabokov the ability to write full time.

The lead male  character of the book, who calls himself Humbert Humbert, is a very cultivated European who by circumstances not fully of his own choosing is living in America.   One of the themes of the book is the seeming contrast of European culture and decadence with American naivety and obsession with consumerism.

As I began to read Lolita, of course I already knew the basics of the book before starting it (or at least I thought I did).    I was really struck by the beauty of the language then I was a bit shocked by what he was talking about.    It seems Nabokov is trying to pull from us a response that makes us feel partially complicit in what happens.     The fact that Lolita herself has such few redeeming qualities makes it hard to care about what is happening to her.    Of course given how she was raised it is not surprising that she has serious issues.

It is hard to care about Lolita even though she is a terribly abused and exploited young girl.     I think this is somehow a commentary on the fact that those who seem "nice and sweet" get more of our sympathy than others, no matter how young they are.

I am not inclined  to feel a need to  post a lot about Lolita.    It is exquisitely written by one of the master prose stylists of the English language.     It is not a celebration of pedophilia, quite the opposite.  

A very interesting pairing of reads might be Lolita and Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki.    Naomi (1924) is about a man's obsession and virtual enslavement by a 14 year old girl.  

Of Pale Fire and Lolita I guess I would suggest Lolita first for the sake of its great fame but do not deprive yourself of the pleasure of Pale Fire.

If anyone has any suggestions as to my third Nabokov please leave a comment.

Also please leave a comment as to whether or not you think Lolita or Pale Fire will still be in print and widely read in 2060.    


Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Pnin or Speak, Memory.

I actually plan to expand on this exact subject later this week.

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-I will look forward to your post and thanks for your suggestions-

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mel! I read Lolita back in 1998 and I enjoyed it immensely! I also read The Complete Stories of Vladimir Nabokov shortly after. Yes, I do believe that the works of Nabokov will be continued to read and enjoyed by several generations of readers.

Sarah Joyce said...

I got halfway through Lolita and had to stop. I couldn't handle not carrying about Lolita and desperately hating Humbert. I keep saying I'm going to go back to it, but really it's at the bottom of my tbr pile right now. I do love Nabokov's writing style though, I'll have to check out Pale Fire.

Mystica said...

I think Lolita will appeal for many many more years - there is a stage in your life where this book will appeal. I did not like it when I was in my twenties - in fact it was rather distasteful but now that I am much much older I liked the nuances of the book. Lolita herself not a likeable character at all. A very hardened character for such a young girl I thought.

Suko said...

Lolita is a book I know I should read. I hope that Lolita and Pale Fire will be read in 2060; they may well be ebooks (of some sort).

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I think you're right that Nabokov tries to make you a bit complicit with Humbert and that he makes it hard to care about Lolita. Although you do get some glimpses now and again that Lolita's behaviour is just a front.

I do think Lolita will be widely read in times to come, if only because the subject matter is so controversial.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Sam's got it right. Everything we know about Lolita comes from HH. If we don't care about her, if we fail in our sympathy, it's because the sociopathic Humbert was successful.

The experience of re-reading can be quite different. You will see the cracks Nabokov built into Humbert's facade.

M. Reka said...

I so enjoy reading your interesting posts !
Short Poems

Ben said...

I think it's still be going strong in 100 years. Nabokov has already beat father time and his angle on difficult subject such as paedophilia is only getting more pertinent.

BookQuoter said...

You know how good a writer is when he enthralls you with his language and one forgets what the subject is all about. That's what happened to me. Even now, I feel almost guilty that I love this book!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I loved this one too and I've got to read Pale Fire!

Mel u said...

Avid Reader-I think I might prefer Pale Fire but both works need a reread!

BookQuoter-the exact thing happened to me as I read Lolita

Ben-sounds like a very astute prediction on your part

Marinela Reka-thanks very much for your comment and visit

Sam-yes if we are totally out of sympathy with Lolita we are missing a lot of the point of the book

Suko-yes I agree

Peter S-I saw the complete short stories on sale at National Book stores not long ago-should have bought it

Letter4no1-I understand your point of view-it is hard not to feel the same way

Mystica-thanks for your very insightful comments

Suzanne Yester said...

Lolita was one of the most controversial reading club selections we've ever had in almost 6 years. Of course we all knew the premise going in, and I think that really prejudiced a few of my members into disliking it from the start. I thought the prose was beautiful, and like you said, Lolita isn't praising pedophilia, as Humbert actually rebukes himself. Though Lolita herself did not garner a lot of sympathy from me, I did feel sorry for her life being taken away from her.

I've heard Pale Fire was good, I'll have to put it on my TBR list now!

Tony D said...

It will be a great tragedy if Lolita is not read in 2060. It is one of my favorite novels.

Mel u said...

Suzanne-it was interesting to here about the reaction of your book club to Lolita

Tony D-it will be a sadder world if Lolita is not still read in 2060-That and Pale Fire Also-thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting

Ash said...

Definitely read Speak, Memory. I've only read a few essays from it but I've loved every one. A lot more than Lolita.