In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita," Nabokov traced the first inspiration for the novel to a newspaper story about an ape "who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." As many critics have remarked, Lolita is not about sex but about love. Even more, it is about obsession — and the destructive power it can hold over the lives of its victims.
Humbert Humbert, the novel's narrator and protagonist, is, in addition to his passion for preadolescent girls, a consummate solipsist. He is incapable of seeing any of the other characters as human beings; he perceives Lolita as merely an extension of his own obsessions and fantasies. He does not understand that, in spite of some rudimentary sexual experience, her conceptions of sex, love, and life are very much those of a child raised on sundaes and movie magazines. It is only after he has lost Lolita — after he realizes that he has destroyed her — that Humbert can see her as a being separate from himself, and thus realize that he truly loves her. Thus, the novel which was condemned for its "immorality" and its "corrupting influence" actually contains one of Nabokov's most poignant moral messages.
A major theme in nearly all of Nabokov's works is memory, the attempt to capture, even create, the past. Thus, the novel is in the form of Humbert's reminiscences, written in prison as he...
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