Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Olympia Press, 1955
Every serious writer, I dare say, is aware of this or that published book of his as of a constant comforting presence. Its pilot light is steadily burning somewhere in the basement and a mere touch applied to one’s private thermostat instantly results in a quiet little explosion of familiar warmth. This presence, this glow of the book in an ever accessible remoteness is a most companionable feeling, and the better the book has conformed to its prefigured contour and color the ampler and smoother it glows.
-Vladimir Nabokov, on his “Lolita”
After reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, so, too, will a fire burn inside anyone brushing its flame.
For some, the subject matter is enough to spark an inferno of outrage; Nabokov is an arsonist of common decency!
For others, the novel is as welcoming as a campfire under midnight stars in a rustic mountainous canyon, generating inextinguishable embers of its memory that crackle and pop throughout a lifetime.
The divide between the angered and the satiated lacerates deep and wide, but, of the two sides, the vilifier blows the hottest air. Nabokov penned a classic tragic love story, sharing in company with the likes of literary sweethearts Romeo and Juliet or Heathcliff and Catherine. Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, who fashions the pet name Lolita as lusciously as her suitor articulates its pronunciation in his manuscript about their doomed affair—
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
—live similarly, as two individuals in complex entangled passions, confronting societal obstacles that have the capability to threaten the cast of characters and the fears of those off the page alike. Forbidden love has never been so elegantly rendered or doused in such comic aplomb.
Their problems are, without question, unique. The purpose, if any may be cited, is not to shock, provoke or teach a lesson, unless tongue-in-cheek notes (oral fixations pleasure every appendage of the book) from the fictional John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., whose Foreword opens the novel, are misinterpreted:
‘Lolita’ should make all of us—parents, social workers, educators—apply ourselves with still great vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.
Approaching the novel as a morality play is outside the scope of intent, and no part of the novel indicates Nabokov gifted his creation to pander to readers. Debates centering on decency are not of primary concern, although they are the most elementary in which the single-minded may engage. Stripping controversy aside exposes fearless prose so naked, so biting, that it is a wonder the author is writing outside his native Russian tongue. Sentence after sentence furtively guides the reader to an elevated state of presence, whereby sincerity, affection and rapture are the book’s rawest dignities.
Nabokov’s connection with his own work is essential to the enjoyment of a story that triumphs over encumbering declarations about lewdness, reprehensible characters or perversions. Nabokov cherishes the English language and its boundless possibilities. That romance is paramount and comprises the purest love story of all in Lolita.
Quel scandale! Vraiment.