Before the publication of Lolita, the Russian-born Vladimir Nabokov was not widely known in English-speaking literary circles; most of his early work had not yet been translated from Russian. After Lolita was rejected by four American publishers, Nabokov’s French agent sent it to Olympia Press in Paris, which quickly published it. Although Olympia published many controversial works by writers such as Jean Genet, it was notorious for cheap editions of pornographic books, a fact of which Nabokov was ignorant at the time. The novel went virtually unnoticed until novelist Graham Greene praised it in London’s Daily Express. When Putnam published the first American edition in 1958, it became a best seller. Many readers, expecting salacious fun, were disappointed by the book’s lack of overt sexual content and dismayed by its demanding style. Still others attacked it as immoral. Nabokov’s fiction is not for passive readers who resist being drawn into the author’s linguistic games. Lolita is considered one of this highly acclaimed writer’s two greatest novels—Pale Fire (1962) is the other—and a masterpiece of American comic fiction.
Lolita is a highly literary work, filled with allusions to famous and little-known novels, poems, and plays. Many of the allusions are to Edgar Allan Poe, who, at twenty-seven, married his thirteen-year-old cousin. Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” (1849), a poem about a...
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