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 middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved 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 again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. 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. Its assimilation into popular culture is such that the name “Lolita” has been used to imply that a young girl is sexually precocious.
Lolita is included on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels published from 1923 to 2005. It holds a place in the Bokklubben World Library, a 2002 collection of the most celebrated books in history. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC’s The Big Read poll of the UK’s 200 “best-loved novels.”
“The only convincing love story of our century.” —Vanity Fair
“Lolita blazes with a perversity of a most original kind. For Mr. Nabokov has distilled from his shocking material hundred-proof intellectual farce…Lolita seems an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read; and the vision of its abominable hero, who never deludes or excuses himself, brings into grotesque relief the cant, the vulgarity, and the hypocritical conventions that pervade the human comedy.” —Atlantic Monthly
“Intensely lyrical and wildly funny.” —Time
“The conjunction of a sense of humor with a sense of horror [results in] satire of a very special kind, in which vice or folly is regarded not so much with scorn as with profound dismay and a measure of tragic sympathy…The reciprocal flow of irony gives to both the characters and their surroundings the peculiar intensity of significance that attends the highest art.” —The New Yorker
“Lolita is an authentic work of art which compels our immediate response and serious reflection–a revealing and indispensable comedy of horrors.” —San Francisco Chronicle
From the Inside Flap
With an Introduction by Martin Amis
When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause celebre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov’s wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the twentieth century’s novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author’s use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness.
Awe and exhilaration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love–love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
Top customer reviews
Spare yourself from this hassle and just buy “The Annotated Lolita.”
This was my first time reading Lolita, but I understand that there are some people here who, having already read this classic before, have decided to look into an annotated version to see how those extra appendages might contribute to the overall experience of a second read through. With this in mind, I’ll try to first review the novel itself for those who are unfamiliar, and perhaps undecided, and then I will add my own thoughts on the Introduction and annotations that have been provided by Alfred Appel, Jr.
On the surface, you might imagine it uncomfortable to read a story in which our narrator and protagonist is a middle aged man with an obsessive fetish for “nymphets,” who forms a sexual relationship with a 12 year old girl, traveling around the country while cunningly passing himself off as her father. But readers might find it reassuring(or disappointing) to know that there’s actually very little obscenity in this novel, that sex is never actually described in detail, that the closest it comes to erotica would be when Lo reclines and naively rests her legs on the narrator’s lap for the first time, that this book is actually a highbrow comedy. Humbert Humbert(or H.H.), as he calls himself, is a handsome, wealthy, and intelligent man, who, seemingly bored and callous to the world, constantly injects his uniquely blithe and sardonic humor into the text. Every character he meets is mocked with a jolly contempt. Every scenario in this book is turned into a parody. Consciously aware of his own creepiness and mental fragility, “lucidly insane,” H.H. even parodies himself.
Here you will find a writing style that will make you feel more sophisticated just for having understood it. There are literary allusions to please the English buffs, along with an expansive vocabulary including, but not limited to, some rare and exotic words which do not even appear in the standard Kindle dictionary. But most of the humor, I think, is really in the tone and the way characters are portrayed, and even if you don’t quite understand every remark H.H. makes, none of this is really necessary to appreciate the story.
In Part Two, the focus starts to shift a bit to some of the more subtle features of their relationship: the places they visited, Dolly growing up, Dolly bringing friends over, Dolly playing tennis, etc. I found it impressive to see how the characters changed and developed throughout this part, and Humbert Humbert’s reflections on their relationship were even somewhat profound sometimes. Some people who aren’t interested in the aesthetics here might find this area to be a little slow, but I promise you’ll be rewarded soon after. The second to last chapter is hilarious.
As for the annotations, they were ok. They provide some extra background information, they translate the French for you, but they were nothing special. Some reviewers have complained about the lack of in-text hyperlinks, but I honestly don’t think these would have been beneficial. The numerical chapter headings already have hyperlinks, my kindle app lets me jump back and forth with just a couple finger taps, and in-text hyperlinks would have been distracting. However, A.A. does seem to give away some spoilers in his annotations, so for those who would prefer a full immersion experience and who would like to try to predict some mysteries on their own, I might suggest actually ignoring the annotations the first time they read Lolita, or at least the ones that don’t translate French.
The introduction seemed to start off well until Appel started talking about literary involution. There is a lot of involution in Lolita, realism is deliberately thrown out the window sometimes, but I saw this as contributing to the comical effect and nothing more. Appel seems to interpret some kind of subjectivist philosophical meaning in it which I thought just went too far. His anecdote about the Puppet Show, and how his 5 and 3 year old children began laughing to steel themselves against the terror of questioning the reality of reality(whatever that means) was so stupid, I immediately skipped the rest of the Introduction and continued onto the Foreword. Nabokov’s commentary on Lolita at the end, however, was pleasant.