Lolita, generally considered Nabokov’s greatest novel, unites wildly grotesque parody, farce, and pathos with two powerful, shocking subjects: the passionate feelings of a grown man toward a pubescent girl and the complex nature of romantic love, which is not only tender and generous but also ruthless and even totalitarian.
The novel’s middle-aged, middle-European narrator “writes” this book as his confession while in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. His double-talk name, Humbert Humbert, sets the tone of punning parody that pervades the text, as various people address him as Humberg, Herbert, Humbird, Humberger, and Humbug. Humbert Humbert traces his sexual obsession for “nymphets”—girls between the ages of nine and fourteen—to a case of interrupted coitus when he was thirteen years old; he and a certain Annabel Leigh had the beginnings of their first affair, forever aborted by her premature death of typhus. (The allusions to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem and life number at least twenty; Nabokov refers to many other writers, including Shakespeare, John Keats, Flaubert, James Joyce, Proust, and T. S. Eliot.) After his marriage to a “life-sized” woman in Paris ends ridiculously, Humbert emigrates to the United States.
Here Humbert discovers Lolita Haze, a twelve-year-old, gum-chewing, Coke-gurgling, comic-book-addicted, blatantly bratty schoolgirl. Humbert agrees to marry Charlotte, her vapid, pretentious, widowed mother, in order to be near the irresistible daughter. When Charlotte learns of his pedophilia through reading his diary, she runs distractedly out of the house and conveniently is killed by a passing car before she can publicize his perversion.
Having laid his wife to rest, the widower undertakes the clumsy...
(The entire section is 722 words.)