Tuesday, February 3, 2009


It may come as a surprise to you but one of my favorite authors (apart from Coetzee and Marquez) is Vladimir Nabokov - who is famous for his masterpiece Lolita.

Lolita, which Nabokov began writing in 1949 and finally published in 1955, was revolutionary for its time.Two other authors whose works I also admire greatly - D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce had written about sexuality at the turn of the century. Few may know it but the evolution of psychology had brought the themes of sexuality and repression to the forefront of popular culture; yet no book had so explicitly explored the darker elements of sex and desire. To put it simply, Lolita was to the 20th century readers as Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (another of my favorites which I read when I was 11) was to those in the 19th centuryor D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover to those in the early 20th century.

Nabokov was not a proponent of Freudian psychology, but one must not ignore its impact on literature or on the study of human emotion. In Lolita, he attempts to subvert the traditional views of sexuality and psychology while pretending to pay homage to them. To me, the beauty of Lolita lies in Nabokov's subtle ability to outrage the reader and then to lure him to adore the protagonist and then to let the reader go through the gamut of feelings of horror, adoration, guilt and confusion until the reader asks himself/herself - How should I feel about Humbert Humbert? Why do I feel this way? Isn't it wrong? Gosh! What if people knew how I feel about Humbert and Lolita or Dolores? And the list of questions is unending...

As an example of postmodern literature, Nabokov successfully explores the fragmentary nature of experience and the complexity of language. From an academic viewpoint, Lolita contains a vast variety of linguistic devices such as puns, multilingual expressions, artistic allusions, word patterns, number patterns and references to other works.

I believe Nabokov has successfully shown us that a novel is not a fixed a work of literature, but rather a more fluid, organic creation that is interconnected with other media. The most engaging part of the book (at least to me) is Humbert's elegant and sinuous prose, which however, conceals a subversive intent. It is this beauty and intensity of the language that allow readers to remain sympathetic to the pedophile protagonist and to compel them to read further, despite the numerous distressing events within the novel. Personally, I hated Humbert at the beginning of the tale and wondered if I should continue; yet the temptation to know more led me to turn page after page of the book.

Though Lolita is a fictional memoir, Nabokov actually shared many personality traits with his protagonist Humbert Humbert.

1. Both men were highly educated, academically oriented European exiles who made their homes in America.

2. They both possessed a compelling gift for language. However, unlike the pedophiliac, delusional Humbert, Nabokov was a devoted family man who lived a quiet, scholarly existence.

3. Because of Lolita's success as a novel and as a film, Nabokov had the funds to retire to Switzerland in 1960 and devote himself exclusively to writing until his death in 1977.

4. A prolific author, Nabokov's other notable works include Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (1951), Pnin (1957), Pale Fire (1962), and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)
5. Nabokov also developed talents and hobbies besides writing.

6. His passion for lepidoptera, the study of butterflies, earned him a position with the Museum of Natural History in New York. He was also a skilled chess player, a creator of Russian crosswords, and an avid tennis player.

For your information, Lolita has been made into two movies. Stanley Kubrick directed the first adaptation, starring James Mason, Sue Lyons, and Peter Sellers, in 1962. Nabokov himself worked on the script, and the controversial film, though generally well received, garnered criticism for being too darkly comical on the subject of pedophilia. Lolita was adapted for film again in 1997, by director Adrian Lyne, and starred Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, and Frank Langella. This is the version which I have bought.

I am not going to say more but if you have not read the book yet, you can download a FREE copy of the e-book here. Please read it, really!

I love Martin Amis' view of Lolita which you can find at this link.

If you have read Lolita and wish to share your views, please leave a comment which I hope may trigger a lively discussion of its style, content, themes etc.

I will be doing a few posts on Lolita and thus, I sincerely hope that you will read it on one fine day to enjoy Lolita.

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