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The Annotated Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred Appel (Editor), Vladimir Nabokov

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2,125425,618 (4.5)12
Presents the degeneration which results from a middle-aged professor's desperate obsession with a precocious, callous teenager whose mother he marries just to be near the young girl.

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» See also 12 mentions

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So how do you rate a book that so effectively explores the mind of a pervert? And how do you justify admitting that you think it is a great book?
Admittedly, it's about a relationship that the protagonist in a moment of lucidity admits robbed a child of her childhood. But it's also about the vast landscape of the US in the first post-war years seen through the eyes of an observer experiencing it for the first time, everything from awesome natural beauty to the seedy succession of motor courts. Perhaps this is what makes the book feel creepy at the same time that it reads like great literature: in this experience of America, we sense the voice and reactions of Nabokov the author behind the words of the protagonist. So how can we be sure that the protagonist's taste in sexuality -- something he clearly expects us to disapprove us, despite the repeated allusions to practices in antiquity or to Poe's Annabel Lee -- doesn't in some way have a nod of approval from the author? Nabokov of course denied it, and handles the matter with the refined sensibility of an aesthete (the depiction of Dolores/Lolita on the tennis court is more erotic than the account of the first sex between Humbert Humbert and his step-daughter).
In addition to being about hopeless, self-destructive attraction to a nymphet and omnivorous depictions of America in its grandeur and grit, it is also literature about literature. It feels as Nabokov never forgot a book he admired, and weaves his text into the larger fabric.
So yes, I think it's a great book.
A note on the edition: I bought the annotated edition because I had heard of the author's penchant for obscure literary allusions and multi-lingual puns. Dutiful as I am, I read the lengthy, erudite introduction first, then tackled the novel, looking up every annotation. I gave this up after a few pages, though, and my enjoyment soared. Still glad the notes are there. When it comes time to reread the book, I think I'll read all the annotations first, then the book. But I don't recommend doing this the first time through, though. Just settle in, enjoy the book, and don't worry what obscure reference you might be missing. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Adult lit. Way different this time than the first time I read it (perhaps I never finished it the first time?). ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
It took me years to get the courage to read this book. It really is a masterpiece. The writing is phenomenal and the story psychologically interesting, when you consider the difference between narrator and author.
Not porn or perverted as a story, though it deals with both. Worth its status in the literary canon! ( )
  LDVoorberg | Nov 22, 2020 |
Several correspondents responded to my comments on Nabokov’s Pale Fire by suggesting that I read his most famous novel, Lolita. I am somewhat wary of classics, having the same poor introduction to them as the majority of American public school students, and Lolita has an additional stigma of being a controversial book (some of which, like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, are better forgotten than revered on banned books shelves). The recommendations came from reputable sources, however, and I had determined from Pale Fire that Nabokov was to my liking, so I purchased a copy.

It sat on my shelf for a few weeks, then I ran across this version of the novel, containing notes by Nabokov scholar, Alfred Appel, Jr. For those just tuning in to First Impressions, I am a sucker for annotations. (A quick aside: I like the trend that Dorling Kindersley started with regard to mixing text, notes, and graphics, but I was alarmed to see their initial entry into children’s literature was annotating abridged novels. As much as I love annotations, I hate abridgements.) I knew that I was missing a lot of the allusions in Pale Fire, and the opportunity to read Lolita and not be quite as clueless was too good to pass up.

There are three basic types of annotations: 1) explanations of uncommon terms and phrases, 2) information about the referenced person or thing, and 3) notes on the story itself. The first two I like as footnotes, the last as endnotes. Unfortunately, Appel has all the types mixed together in the back which makes it very difficult for a first time reader to enjoy the allusionary explanations yet skip the references to what occurs later in the book. It would have been better to have split the annotations into footnotes to be read with the text and endnotes for scholarly study.

Even though I was often clued in to later events in the book, I thoroughly enjoyed Lolita. The first half of the book, where Humbert Humbert falls into the seductive trap that he built himself is undeniably erotic, but not pornographic. However, because the erotic object is a 12-year-old, the book does tread fine ground. If Lolita had ended at the Enchanted Hunters Motel, it would not be worth mention here. But it continues for another 200 pages, and the repercussions of both Humbert’s and Lo’s actions are visited upon them.

Having exposed myself to several anonymous novels in my sordid past, I was able to compare Nabokov’s work to those lesser authors. Although everyone’s definition of pornography differs, there does seem to me an obvious difference that goes beyond the question of style or intent. A sex novel relies on a building of intensity, leading the reader from tame necking to pneumatic exercises over the course of a few pages, then rebuilding and doing it again, and again. Nabokov starts intensely and keeps the pressure high until the actual culmination over nearly 200 pages. It takes a strong libido to maintain an interest that long, even for a fast reader like myself.

I’m glad I finally read Lolita, and I expect that you will see more comments on Nabokov in this space. ( )
  engelcox | Nov 3, 2020 |
I’m not even sure where to start. Yes, it’s a masterpiece. No, it’s far from an “easy read.” And having read this novel just once, I suspect that I am barely qualified to offer any kind of critical assessment of it. Therefore, I won’t even attempt to analyze this beguiling and curious work of literary art. I will simply share with you some questions I have:

Humbert Humbert is clearly insane. Eloquent, educated, and witty, yet also lascivious, deluded, and pitiful. How does Nabokov manage to make this most unreliable of narrators (we never even learn his “true” name) so sympathetic?

Is Clare Quilty real? (I mean, within the parameters of the novel—I know all of these characters are fictional…) Or is he simply a product of Humbert’s fertile imagination? Did Humbert invent his own doppelgänger?

Is Lolita one of the first postmodern novels? Its awareness of itself as a narrative and its Möbius strip structure lead me to suspect that it is.

Intriguing, fascinating, frustrating, and peculiar, Lolita is a novel I will need to read again. But not anytime soon. ( )
  jimrgill | Oct 29, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nabokov, VladimirAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Appel, AlfredEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Nabokov, Vladimirmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Presents the degeneration which results from a middle-aged professor's desperate obsession with a precocious, callous teenager whose mother he marries just to be near the young girl.

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