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Lolita (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Craig Raine , Vladimir Nabokov
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Feb 2000 Penguin Modern Classics

One of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is a strange, troubling love story told by the one of the most unreliable narrators in literature. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an afterword by Craig Raine.

Poet and pervert, Humbert Humbert becomes obsessed by twelve-year-old Lolita and seeks to possess her, first carnally and then artistically, out of love, 'to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets'. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these? Humbert Humbert's seduction is one of many dimensions in Nabokov's dizzying masterpiece, which is suffused with a savage humour and rich, elaborate verbal textures. Filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1962 starring James Mason and Peter Sellers, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne starring Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith, Lolita has lost none of its power to shock and awe.

Vladimir Nabokov (1977-1899) was born in St Petersburg, but left Russia when the Bolsheviks seized power. His family moved to England for a brief spell and finally settled in Berlin. His first novel in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, published in 1941. His other books include Ada or Ardor (1969), Laughter in the Dark (1933), Pale Fire (1962), the short story collection Details of a Sunset (1976) and Lolita (1955), his best-known novel.

If you enjoyed Lolita, you might like Nabokov's Pale Fire, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'Lolita is comedy, subversive yet divine ... You read Lolita sprawling limply in your chair, ravished, overcome, nodding scandalized assent'

Martin Amis, Observer


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (3 Feb 2000)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141182539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182537
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri. Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover. Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov's 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author's delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the "frail honey-hued shoulders ... the silky supple bare back" of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion: "She was musical and apple-sweet ... Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice ... and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty--between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock. " Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of post-war America are filled with both attraction and repulsion: "Those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads." Yet however tempting the novel's symbolism may be, its chief delight--and power--lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov's celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can't help it--linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. --Simon Leake --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Irons gives a brilliant performance in this unabridged reading, savouring Nabokov's dazzling word play and wringing every drop of savage black humour from a text that is much funnier than its perverse subject would suggest' Daily Express ('Lolita is pornography, and we do not plan to review it' Frederic Babcock, editor of the Chicago Tribune Magazine of Books)

Now. after several years of subterranean fame, Lolita has finally found a US publisher . . . Lolita should give his name its true dimensions and expose a wider U.S. public to his special gift -- which is to deal with life as if it were a thing created by ('It is repulsive . . . He writes highbrow pornography. Perhaps that is not his intention. Perhaps he thinks of his book as a satirical comedy and as an exploration of abnormal psychology. Nevertheless, "Lolita" is disgusting.' New York Times (August, 1958)

Here it is at last . . . 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' Atlantic Monthly (September, 1958) ('Lolita is comedy, subversive yet divine ... You read Lolita sprawling limply in your chair, ravished, overcome, nodding scandalized assent')

Martin Amis, Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
87 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly sensuous and disturbingly beautiful 21 Feb 2003
By Tom
Format:Paperback
Lolita is in many ways an extraordinary book. Not only in its choice of subject matter which is perhaps more controversial today then it was in the 1950s but also in the style of writing. It is perhaps the best written book that I have ever read. Nabokov's writing style has a richness that is even more remarkable given that it is not his native tongue. The expert use of allusion, extended metaphor and generously evocative imagery makes this a book to savour slowly and one that is closer at times to poetry than prose.
But what a poem. Humbert Humbert is perhaps the very model of the antihero but as he is also the narrator everything is seen through the prism of his own monstrous and predatory lusts. Lolita herself, as Humbert admits, remains something of an enigma throughout. The narrator is unable to see her as an individual and she is portrayed as the archetypal 'nymphet,' who serves merely to serve his own needs. Any deviation from this role is regarded as betrayal. But then the book is entitled Lolita not Delores Hayes and 'Lolita' is no more than the perfect nymphet lurking inside Humbert's diseased brain never a girl of blood and flesh.
Humbert does not in fact offer much in the way of self justification beyond the occasional admission of insanity and his sickening claims to truly love the girl. He also seems to grow in awareness of his perversion as the novel goes on but never seems to regret it. He starts by offering various justifications of child brides from history but his final allusion is to Sade's Justine which is surely an admission of guilt. But the prose is so tender and so darkly comic that all this is repeatedly obscured and Nabokov manages to win you a twisted sympathy for his protagonist even, almost, for his predicament.
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108 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing 21 Jun 2006
Format:Paperback
I was interested to see how `Lolita' would read, given the current climate, and was worried that Nabokov, writing in the 1950s, would somehow see paedophilia as being less serious than we would view it today. `Lolita' is undoubtedly an uncomfortable read. It is related from the perspective of a relatively unrepentant paedophile, Humbert Humbert. He documents the origins of his obsession with `nymphets' - pre-pubescent girls - and his pursuit of them. Eventually he meets Lolita, his landlady's daughter, and recounts his (eventually successful) plot to run away with her and take her for his lover while pretending to be father and daughter. Humbert's dual roles, as father and abuser, leads him to obsessive jealousy, and Lolita's accelerated adolescence leave her as a precocious adult in a child's body, scarred and cynical. Both lead to tragic consequences, and wasted lives in more ways than one.

Although Humbert is both the villain and narrator, he doesn't hide the sordidness of his crime, and the effects of abuse on Lolita are acknowledged. Nabokov brilliantly treads a fine line between making Humbert human (and seeing the world through his eyes) and recognising the reality of his crimes. Despite Nabokov's choice of making a paedophile his narrator and central character, there is little sympathy for Humbert throughout the book, and paedophilia is presented as being every bit as repugnant as it is generally viewed today. Where Humbert makes excuses for himself, it is clear that they are Humbert's, not Nabokov's, excuses, and we are not expected to sympathise. Humbert's actions are also not presented as being in any way erotic. There are no graphic descriptions either, the suggestion is enough.

Because Nabokov treats his subject so skilfully, `Lolita' was a fantastic book.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enrapture 21 Aug 2004
Format:Paperback
I read this book expecting to be sickened. The story of a 40-year-old's obsession with very young girls (or "nymphets") as said 40-year-old calls them) and in particular the beautiful Dolores "Lolita" Haze, there is certainly plenty of material in this book for controversy. However, as soon as I had read the first page I know that this was no deliberately shocking novel, but instead a subtle, enchanting story of enrapture and lust. Everyone can relate to the longing Humbert feels for someone he knows will never lust after him, and the agony and ecstasy of his forced yet somehow tender affair with 12-year-old Dolores is described in absolutely stunning detail. I finished the novel enchanted but also subtly disturbed, as you have to keep reminding yourself that this man is obviously a ruthless paedophile. Read this and prepare to be both symapthetic and disgusted towards your narrator. A beautiful, daring and subversive work of almost-genius.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the 20C's greatest 14 Jun 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I recall when I read this in college and was thunderstruck by the imagery, the allusions, and the bizarre humor. For years, it stood out in my mind as one of the greatest novels I had ever read, and it started me on a binge of Nabokov reading of novels that never quite equalled this one. So it was with great anticipation that I re-opened after over 30 years from the first reading. I am happy to say that, as with all truly great works of art, my experience of it today was completely different than my initial one. That, for me, is the mark of great literature: there are innumerable possible readings and ways to see it and put it together as a reflection of reality: it grows along with one's mind and in accordance with one's experience. As such, it is an endless resource for the imagination.

This time around, I did not see it as a book about obsessive love, but about a very sick man trying to control a young person absolutely, to conform to the images and needs of a deteriorating mind. While learned and funny, HH is a horrible person and is twisting Lolita at a crucial point in her early adolescence, damaging her permanently. It is sad and frightening, pathetic and full of despair amidst spurts of (never smutty) ecstacy.

Beyond the incredible intricacy of the plot - a patchwork of clues and deadends - what is a great wonder is the consistent texture of the language, which radiates confusion, lack of direction, and alcoholic depression. SLowly, HH loses his grip on reality and begins to live in a nightmare of dissolution, nihilism, and pain.

This is so good and rich that it will live forever as a classic, with all the layers of Stendahl or Joyce, but written in the Nab's inimitable style.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Horrible
Well, it’s a classic, much discussed, much admired, but I’ll add my two pennies. Wonderful writing; stellar stylistically, each paragraph a work of art. Read more
Published 3 hours ago by Troy Parfitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Lolita
A timeless classic which is incredibly well written and thought provoking. Psychologically fascinating in terms of the two main chatacters.
Published 4 days ago by Dr cc you
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, disturbing and slightly heavy-going - wouldn't...
A fascinating (and yet disturbing) book. Some excellent humour in parts and some brilliant sections of well-written narrative, but overall a bit too long-winded for me. Read more
Published 6 days ago by J B
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Its an interesting book but there is some foreign language inside I don't really understand. Overall it's still a good book!
Published 15 days ago by ern
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 Stars
This book was very engaging, well written and original. It draws you in despite despite the controversial subject matter. Interesting read.
Published 1 month ago by Fran
5.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov a genius
The subject is a No no, but Nabokov's dark and brilliant word mongering somehow transcends the subject. Read more
Published 1 month ago by colin bond
5.0 out of 5 stars Not politically etcetc
I first read this back in the 1960's as a very young person, and I did not remember the force and intensity of Nabokov's words, until a recent re-reading. Read more
Published 1 month ago by bondy
3.0 out of 5 stars Shocking but worth the read
Shocking confession, challenging to read and to see how much society turned a blind eye to then and now. Word required by the rules so here it is.
Published 2 months ago by David Doyle
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't put down
Although the book is hard to read in parts, once you get a few pages in - you are hooked. Much more twisted than the movie would suggest, this book is even better when you realise... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hanna
4.0 out of 5 stars lolita
Lolita is a interesting read which with vivid imagery and beautiful writing can lead the reader into he dreamlike haze of Humberts obsession. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Rosemary Blessitt
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