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Our views on Nabokov's "Lolita"

In March, we have talked about Vladimir Nabokov´s most accessible, but at the same time most controversial novel, "Lolita". How was it written and what is our verdict about the novel? Find out below :)

"Lolita" was composed during Nabokov´s trips to pursue butterflies (often in Rocky Mountains) in the early 1950s. It definitely engraved his name in the American popular culture. 

Initially, even the American publishing houses that admitted Lolita's literary virtues were unwilling to discover the legal ramifications of publishing a novel about a man's affair with his twelve-year old stepdaughter. "Lolita" was first published in France by Olympia Press in 1955, and generated a storm of moral outrage, as well as staunch and significant support for its artistic merit. Eventually it was published in America in 1958 (and in England the following year). The controveries around "Lolita" contributed to a remarkable popular success; it spent six months as the number one bestseller in America (displaced by Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago.) 

Profits from the sale of the novel, combined with the sale of the movie rights and a screenplay deal, enabled Nabokov to stop teaching and retire from Cornell in 1959 and devote himself fully to writing. "Lolita" is Nabokov's 12th novel and 3rd in English, the only one he himself translated into Russian.

Here are some slides to explain how difficult was the reception of Lolita:

The slides are taken from:

Many tried to acuse the author of describing his own life, but neither was that ever proved, nor very probable. He himself always said "Lolita" was a very challenging story to write, so far from his own world and human understanding that he had to research human nature much more than for any other book he ever wrote.

There are 3 main themes in "Lolita":
- lust of a mature man towards a nymphete: a young, 12-year-old girl; definitely the main one and the one that caused (and still causes) lots of controversies;
- the power of language; 
- the conflicts between cultures.

Here you have two more slides explaining the last two points in detail:

Both slides copied from:

When it comes to symbolism. there are many different aspects, but the 4 most visible ones are:
- theatre (a way for Lolita to escape reality; new perspectives)
- prison (psychological freedom for Humbert, honesty)
- literary symbolism (especially all the names Humbert is using in different motels, but also many others; the most complex and difficult to analyse)
- fairy tales (lost slipper, beauty and the beast, a red apple, the Enchanted Hunter)

The last point we had time to talk about were the characters (Lolita, Humbert, Charlotte Haze and Claire Quilty) and the fact that the way we see them (and all the story) is definitely not objective. Lolita is described as a seductive and manipulative girl, BUT don't forget it is all said from Humbert´s point of view! It's a story of a very sick man and he describes all the other characters the way HE saw them, the way HE understood them. It's probably the most important point to have in mind when reading this book!

I hope you enjoyed reading this, please share your thoughts with me in the comments or by email!