Anatomy of a Book: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Hey, if you web search “Lolita images” this is not the first picture. The world is creepy.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. (p.7)

This is the story, told as a recount, of a man named as Humbert Humbert, and how his first love, Annabel, became a life-long lust.

…that little girl with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue haunted me ever since – until at last, twenty-four years later, I broke her spell by incarnating her in another. (p.14)

This incarnation is the young Dolores Haze, Lolita. This tale is told by a man who seeks, what he calls, nymphets. Girls with a certain look and who are between the ages of nine and fourteen-years-old.

…there must be a gap of several years, never less… to enable the latter to come under a nymphet’s spell. (p.17)

It is a very controversial book that was banned in many parts of the world. This is not for the depictions of stalking or sex, as these are actually minor in detail, but seemingly for the concepts in act with young girls in the first place, and for doing so in a creative and enjoyable style.

Then, figuratively speaking, I shattered the glass, and boldly imagined how eventually I might blackmail – no, that is too strong a word – mauvemail big Haze into letting me consort with little Haze… (p.79)

This use of humour is as important as other elements in making this book a classic.

Changing Status:

Humbert drifts in his control. He is a cultured European, and in the American setting this makes him of high standing, though many of his actions and choices are quite low and his control of his actions also shifts. Lolitia’s attraction to Humbert also changes. As she matures in the book it is interesting to note that Humbert’s rarely wavers far from lust – or perhaps love as he calls it.

High Stakes:

Someone will die as Humbert is known to be writing his recount as a form of explanation in a trial for which he could be sentenced to death. Who this is, why, and how are not clear until late in the book. There is also the future of Lolita, who while known to be dead after reading the foreward there are right concerns over her well-being.

Page Turner:

Without the allure of continual jeopardy or time pressure in the situation the reader is drawn on by the pleasant prose of Humbert, not only humour but sometimes he’ll write directly to ‘the reader’ in a colloquial manner, and of course the interest in this character and the questions of the murder and Lolita’s future.

I’ll note that the book was originally written in Russian, Vladimir Nabokov’s native language. This might have helped him write without clichés and thus made the writing more entertaining.

Believable Characters:

Firstly the foreward is part of the fiction. It is an element that gives all kinds of context and makes the world feel real.

Also, it was an important step to make the character of Humbert very charismatic. The engaging writing has the reader enjoying Humbert’s company, and understanding his explanations, so that some disgusting actions shock the reader and have the reader question the relationship built up between themselves and the writer.

There is also the changing status and detail in Humbert’s history, and the occasional use of bland detail, forewarned by Humbert, which gives credence to the whole story.


What goes on inside the mind of a paedophile?


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