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Vladimir Nabokov Collection > Lolita: "The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire" By Elizabeth Janeway Sunday, August 17, 1958 *SPOILERS*

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message 1: by MK (last edited Jun 02, 2014 12:07PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita was chosen from monthly nominations as our June 2014 Contemporary Classic Group Read. This thread is open to full discussions about the book, go ahead and spoiler away! :)

Thankyou! Happy Reading :D


message 2: by MK (last edited Jun 02, 2014 12:07PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments Nav links -
(view spoiler)


message 3: by MK (last edited Jun 02, 2014 12:07PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments


Cover of the first edition (Olympia Press, Paris, 1955)
Author Vladimir Nabokov
Country France, UK, USA
Language English
Genre Tragicomedy, novel
Publisher Olympia Press, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Fawcett, Transworld (Corgi), Phaedra
Publication date
1955

source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolita

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The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire
By ELIZABETH JANEWAY

Sunday, August 17, 1958


LOLITA. By Vladimir Nabokov.

The first time I read Lolita I thought it was one of the funniest books I’d ever come on. (This was the abbreviated version published in the Anchor Review last year.) The second time I read it, uncut, I thought it was one of the saddest. I mention this personal reaction only because Lolita is one of those occasional books which arrive swishing behind them a long tail of opinion and reputation which can knock the unwary reader off his feet. Is it shocking, is it pornographic, is it immoral? Is its reading to be undertaken not as a simple experience but as a conscious action which will place one on this, or that, side of a critical dividing line? What does the Watch and Ward Society say of it? What does Sartre, Graham Greene or Partisan Review?

(snip ... )

In his epilogue, Mr. Nabokov informs us that “Lolita” has no moral. I can only say that Humbert’s fate seems to me classically tragic, a most perfectly realized expression of the moral truth that Shakespeare summed up in the sonnet that begins, “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/ Is lust in action”: right down to the detailed working out of Shakespeare’s adjectives, “perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame.” Humbert is the hero with the tragic flaw. Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh 3/4 which is the eternal and universal nature of passion.

The author, that is, is writing about all lust. He has afflicted poor Humbert with a special and taboo variety for a couple of contradictory reasons. In the first place, its illicit nature will both shock the reader into paying attention and prevent sentimentally false sympathy from distorting his judgment. Contrariwise, I believe, Mr. Nabokov is slyly exploiting the American emphasis on the attraction of youth and the importance devoted to the “teen-ager” in order to promote an unconscious identification with Humbert’s agonies. Both techniques are entirely valid. But neither, I hope, will obscure the purpose of the device: namely, to underline the essential, inefficient, painstaking and pain-giving selfishness of all passion, all greed—of all urges, whatever they may be, that insist on being satisfied without regard to the effect their satisfaction has upon the outside world. Humbert is all of us.

So much for the moral of this book, which is not supposed to have one. Technically it is brilliant, Peter-De-Vries humor in a major key, combined with an eye for the revealing, clinching detail of social behavior. If there is one fault to find, it is that in making his hero his narrator, Mr. Nabokov has given him a task that is almost too big for a fictional character. Humbert tends to run over into a figure of allegory, of Everyman. When this happens it unbalances the book, for every other character belongs in a novel and is real as real can be. Humbert alone runs over at the edges, as if in painting him Mr. Nabokov had just a little too much color on his brush; which color is, I suppose, the moral that poor Humbert is carrying for his creator.

Never mind. This is still one of the funniest and one of the saddest books that will be published this year. As for its pornographic content, I can think of few volumes more likely to quench the flames of lust than this exact and immediate description of its consequences.

Mrs. Janeway is both a critic of fiction and, in such books as “The Walsh Girls” and “Leaving Home,” a writer of it.

link - http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02...

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The above article was published in 1958, after the New York publication of the novel. (Lolita had origninally been published in Paris, in 1955 (in English, interestingly)


message 4: by MK (last edited May 03, 2014 06:56AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments This contemporaneously written article about the sexual themes controversy in Lolita, I found very interesting!

Looking forward to some robust and interesting conversation surrounding this book. Remember our group rules, they're pretty easy ;-)

Keep your posts clean! No swearing or foul language. Also, be sure to label any spoilers so that the other readers have been warned.



^^^ on the last, regarding spoilers, this is a spoiler thread, so no worries on that score. Spoiler away! :)


message 5: by MK (last edited May 23, 2014 10:37AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments I just stumbled on an interesting article that is a good followup to this article. Actually, I think it's an excerpt from an intro Erica Jong wrote for a 30th anniversary edition of Lolita.

Kim, if you see this, I think THIS article is much more in line with comments you were posting. I was starting to look for information about the foreward by the fictional John Ray (because I'd forgotten all about that), when I stumbled on this article.

This article references the Janeway article at the top post of this thread:

SUMMER READING; TIME HAS BEEN KIND TO THE NYMPHET: 'LOLITA' 30 YEARS LATER

Date: June 5, 1988, Sunday, Late City Final Edition Section 7; Page 3, Column 1; Book Review Desk
Byline: By ERICA JONG; Erica Jong, poet and novelist, has most recently published ''Serenissima: A Novel of Venice.'' She is at work on her sixth novel.
Lead: LEAD: ''Lolita is famous, not I,'' Nabokov said to one of the many interviewers who came to interrogate him after the succes de scandale of ''Lolita.'' And like so many Nabokovian utterances, it was both true and the mirror image of true. Lolita's fame made her creator both a ''brand-name'' author - to use that distressing contemporary locution -and an adjective.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, alias V. Sirin (Volodya to his friends), born on Shakespeare's birthday, 1899, became famous in 1958-59, at the fairly ripe age of 60, through the notoriety of his fictive daughter Lolita, Dolly, Lo, Dolores Haze, of the soft brown puppybody and equivalently gamy aroma.

Like most famous literary books, ''Lolita'' seduced the world for the wrong reasons. It was thought to be dirty. It has this in common with ''Ulysses,'' Miller's Tropics, ''Lady Chatterley's Lover'': it won its first passionate proponents by being banned. When it came to wide public consciousness, it was reputed to be a scandalous book about a scandalous subject: the passion of an aging roue for a 12-year-old girl.

As one whose literary debut was also steeped in scandal, I know intimately the ambivalent feelings of an author who gains wide fame and commercial acceptance through a misunderstanding of motives. Much as one wants the acceptance conferred by best-sellerdom, it is bittersweet to win this by being thought a pervert. This alone explains Nabokov's half-mocking reference to ''Lolita'' 's fame. Nabokov knew that he had been toiling in the vineyards of the muse since adolescence. The public did not. Nabokov knew that he had translated ''Alice in Wonderland'' into Russian, the public did not. With 11 extraordinary novels, a study of Gogol, an autobiography, numerous short stories, poems and translations behind him, the author of ''Lolita'' was hardly a literary novice. His identity as a novelist, poet and literary scholar had been honed and polished in three languages since he privately printed his poems in St. Petersburg at the age of 15, and he had endured more traumas than sudden fame. The generous, amused, self-mocking way he reacted to ''Lolita'' 's stardom contains within it all the paradoxes of a career rich in paradoxes, a career that seems to have the very symmetry, balance and irony of his novels themselves.

It is almost superfluous to introduce ''Lolita'' -even on her 30th birthday - because Nabokov, who thought an author should control the world in his book with godlike authority, anticipated all the possible front (and rear) matter any reader could wish.

(snip ...)

Most of ''Lolita'' 's reviews paid more attention to ''l'Affaire Lolita'' than to the book. One exception was Elizabeth Janeway, writing in The New York Times Book Review, who understood that the tragicomedy was Shakespearean in nature

more: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/07/20...



message 6: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim (whatkimreads) Most of ''Lolita'' 's reviews paid more attention to ''l'Affaire Lolita'' than to the book. "


Oh that is actually so true! I think people find it really difficult to discuss the book in itself, just because you can't ignore the "affaire". Well said!

I'd like to find that article in which is Lolita is compared to Shakespearean tragicomedy!


Pink | 6556 comments MK thanks for posting this, I read the article in full and found it really interesting.


message 8: by MK (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments Pink wrote: "MK thanks for posting this, I read the article in full and found it really interesting."

My pleasure, Pink :).


Kim wrote: "I'd like to find that article in which is Lolita is compared to Shakespearean tragicomedy! ..."

Kim, it's the first article posted in this thread. It was written by Elizabeth Janeway right around the time of the book's initial US publication.

Janeway doesn't use those words together (tragicomedy, or Shakespearean), but she describes how the first time she read the book she thought it was the funniest book she'd read, then next time the saddest. Then later in the article Janeway talks about Shakespeare in relation to Nabakov and Lolita:
(snip)

In his epilogue, Mr. Nabokov informs us that “Lolita” has no moral. I can only say that Humbert’s fate seems to me classically tragic, a most perfectly realized expression of the moral truth that Shakespeare summed up in the sonnet that begins, “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/ Is lust in action”: right down to the detailed working out of Shakespeare’s adjectives, “perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame.” Humbert is the hero with the tragic flaw. Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh 3/4 which is the eternal and universal nature of passion."

source - http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02...



The link to the article, and an excerpt, is also in the first post to this thread.


message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim (whatkimreads) Oh sorry MK, I didn't see that :P


message 10: by MK (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments Kim wrote: "Oh sorry MK, I didn't see that :P"

No worries! :)


message 11: by MK (last edited May 30, 2014 11:18AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments We have Janeway at US publication, and Jong at 30yrs on. Now, how about Stephen Metcalf at 50 yrs on?

Sorry Janeway and Jong, I agree with Metcalf! "Lolita is a disgusting book. Furthermore, the day will never come when it is not a disgusting book."

:-O


Article excerpt!

Lolita at 50
Is Nabokov's masterpiece still shocking?
DEC. 19 2005 1:31 PM
By Stephen Metcalf


Every now and again it's probably healthy to crack open the glass, remove a certain world masterpiece from the display case, and in re-reading it recall that—unlike Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover, two other novels once deemed obscene by the tribunes of moral upkeep— Lolita is a disgusting book. Furthermore, the day will never come when it is not a disgusting book. By comparison, in fact, it can make Lawrence and Joyce look like a pair of old village bluenoses. For all its arduous recourse to the c-word, Lady Chatterley's Lover places its faith in the sexually fulfilled marriage, a ho-hum piety in the age of divorce. For all its scatological frankness, Ulysses tells the touching story of a surrogate father finding his surrogate son. Lolita, meanwhile, tells the story of a stepfather serially defiling his adolescent stepdaughter. * Public taste was meant to catch up to Lady Chatterley screwing her gamekeeper, to Leopold Bloom sitting on his jakes. Public taste was never meant to catch up to Humbert Humbert.

(snip ... )

Lolita turns 50 this year, and having stayed so perverse, it remains fresh as ever. To fully appreciate its perversity, though, one must first appreciate that it is not obscene. Your run-of-the-mill obscene masterwork—Tropic of Cancer, say—demands that you, enlightened reader, work your way past the sex and excrement to recognize how beautiful it is. But with Lolita, you must work past its beauty to recognize how shocking it is. And for all its beauty, for all its immense ingenuity and humor, one easily forgets how shocking Lolita is. To wit: Later in the narrative, Humbert has settled with Lolita in a small town called Beardsley and set up a semblance of a normal suburban life. Humbert is called into Lolita's private school for a parent-teacher conference, where he is told that she is "antagonistic, dissatisfied, cagey" and "obsessed with sexual thoughts for which she finds no outlet." In essence, Humbert is being offered an inventory of the damage he has wrought on his stepdaughter, but all he can do is sneer inwardly at the messenger, a psychobabbling crone named Pratt, and then … and then … well, what happens next is so shocking, and yet so calmly and economically detailed, it had somehow absented itself from my memory of the novel. Humbert finds Lolita sitting in a study hall

(snip ... )

Accustomed to receiving Lolita as evidence of towering genius, we hide a question in plain sight: Why did Nabokov choose to inhabit Humbert Humbert, a pitiable half-mad émigré suffering from acute nympholepsy, in the first place?

(snip ... )

Lolita is most commonly remembered as one man's living poem to his own daemonic perversity, and as such, is overpraised by its adherents for its technical virtuosity and hilarity, and misconstrued by its detractors as little more than a frost-encrusted monument to Nabokov's own monumental arrogance. Its real genius is too easily missed. It lies in what Nabokov called the "nerves of the novel," the "secret points, the subliminal coordinates by means of which the book is plotted." In these, Nabokov has hinted at the life that exceeds the perimeter of Humbert's encompassing obsession—at the inner lives of those others whom he so casually dismisses or destroys.

more at source: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/bo...



message 12: by MK (last edited May 30, 2014 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MK (wisny) | 2993 comments But, then again, on the other hand ... here is another article written contemporaneously with its original US publication, that stresses the brilliance of the wordplay, and calls the novel the funniest serious book the reviewer had read:


S E P T E M B E R 1 9 5 8

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
A review by Charles Rolo

(snip ... )


The novel's scandal-tinted history and its subject--the affair between a middle-aged sexual pervert and a twelve-year-old girl--inevitably conjure up expectations of pornography. But there is not a single obscene term in Lolita, and aficionados of erotica are likely to find it a dud. Lolita blazes, however, with a perversity of a most original kind. For Mr. Nabokov has distilled from his shocking material hundred-proof intellectual farce. His book is slightly reminiscent of Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull; but Lolita has a stronger charge of comic genius and is more brilliantly written. Mr. Nabokov, a Russian émigré now working in his second tongue, has few living equals as a virtuoso in the handling of the English language.

(snip ... )

What is one to make of Lolita? In a prickly postscript to the novel, Mr. Nabokov dismisses this question as a problem dreamed up by "Teachers of Literature": he rejects the satiric interpretations which critics have put upon Lolita and asserts, in effect, that it is simply a story he had to get off his chest. That all of this is too ingenuous by half is evident from the parodic style in which Lolita is written: a combination of pastiches of well-known styles, spoofing pedantry, analysis of passion à la français, Joycean word games, puns, and all kinds of verbal play. Wild, fantastic, wonderfully imaginative, it is a style which parodies everything it touches. It surely justifies, at least in part, those critics who have seen in Lolita a satire of the romantic novel, of "Old Europe" in contact with "Young America," or of "chronic American adolescence and shabby materialism." But above all Lolita seems to me 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.

more at source link - http://www.theatlantic.com/past/unbou...



Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 1791 comments I'm only into ch 8 but as early as the forward, I had a sneaking feeling that VN is making fun of something or being humorous about something that I am not well-read enough of literature and it's devices to identify. But I have realized that despite VNs dark topic, he has a sense of humor.


Sorento62 These are some great articles linked in this thread. I especially like Janeway's.


Michele | 1008 comments Why does the book as listed in the title of this thread say it's by Elizabeth Janeway?


Melanti | 2386 comments I think the thread was originally intended to be about the article M.K. copied into message 3. (And other articles about Lolita, rather than the book alone.)


Michele | 1008 comments Ah, ok. I was confoozed :)


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