|Stanley Kubrick made a movie out of Lolita in 1962, only a few years after it was published in the United States.|
by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita starts with one of the best opening lines of all time, "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. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."
Those opening sentences set the stage for one of the best novels of all time. Certainly top ten. Maybe top five. Possibly number one. Given the subject matter and the date of publication, it was impossible that Lolita would be uncontroversial, but the controversy was muted by the fact that it was just so damn good. Unlike James Joyce's' Ulysses, you didn't have to be a scholar to "get" Lolita. Nabokov was such a transparently brilliant prose stylist that Lolita enthralls even as it repels.
Often described as an "erotic novel" I would have to agree with the author that this is inaccurate. There is no explicit sex in Lolita, even though the opening half of the book describes several instances of intercourse between the mid 30s protagonist, Humbert Humbert and his child-lover Delores "Lolita" Haze. In the afterword to the 50th anniversary edition I read, Nabokov scoffs at the idea that Lolita could be considered in any way, shape or form "pornographic," and again, I agree with him.
The entire subject of sex between an older man and a young girl continues to be a third rail of public morality, and indeed, a crime. As a criminal defense lawyer I have represent several people charged with either collecting sexually explicit media of children and those charged with actual sex crimes, and I can tell you that none of them had read Lolita. I have, in my professional capacity, had the opportunity to review several works that did fall into that category- including novels, and Lolita is nothing like those books.
Which is not to say that Lolita isn't one of the most transgressive works of fiction of all time. That it surely is. Compared to Nabokov, the Marquis de Sade is a mere mechanic of perversion. Humbert Humbert is such an indelible character that I was able to recall entire portions of this book from the first time I read it over 20 years ago. I didn't appreciate it as I should have, but it stuck with me, and upon revisiting it I found it to be simply pleasurable, in a way that eludes many other works of 20th century modernist fiction. Nabokov has fun with his words, with his characters- Lolita breaths life even as it dwells in the darkest realm of the human spirit,