Book Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov’s controversial novel is a brilliantly written comedy. Lolita endured scandal; initially banned by the French government and rejected by numerous American publishers, it survived to become one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the twentieth century. Granted the subject matter implies eroticism, after all the story focuses on an illicit affair between a middle-aged pervert and a twelve-year-old girl. A closer look reveals that there is not one obscene or vulgar word in the entire novel. Nabokov is more concerned with expanding the literary landscape, adding spice to pedantry.
Our abominable anti-hero Humbert Humbert has an obsession with barely pubescent girls he affectionately calls “nymphets”. He makes no apologies for his perversity, which he claims stems from an interrupted affair at the age of twelve with a petite fille fatale named Annabel Leigh. According to Humbert, the inability to consummate the childhood passion left him impotent to the allures of adult women and fixated on young girls.
Many years pass until an inheritance lures him to New England where he meets his glorious nymphet Doloros Haze (Lolita), a combination of “tender dreamy childishness and eerie vulgarity”. He marries Mrs Haze, Lolita’s mother, who is later killed in a vehicle accident. Now sole guardian of Lolita, Humbert clumsily seeks her affections. Rather unexpectedly she adopts the role of seducer and their bizarre relationship begins, which takes them from motel to motel across the United States. The story reaches climax when Lolita escapes with a playwright and Humbert plots his revenge.
Nabokov’s entrancing style incorporates puns, Joycean word games and other cleverly crafted wordplay. It may be viewed as a satire of the romantic novel, “Old Europe” interacting with “Young America”. Essentially, it is a tragic love story, a sordid subject humanised and above all a remarkable work of comic genius. Lolita has become so much more than ‘the novel by Nabokov’, it has taken its place as a literary and cultural icon.