Foreword Summary

Lolita is a work of fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, but it is presented it as if it were the memoir of a real man who calls himself by a strange pseudonym, Humbert Humbert. The book opens with a foreword written by an imaginary scholar, Dr. John Ray, Jr., who supposedly edited the book at the request of the author’s lawyer. Ray explains that Humbert Humbert died in prison before he could be convicted of the crimes he describes in his memoir, which is now being released to the world.

Ray explains that he made only a few edits to Humbert Humbert’s original manuscript, correcting obvious mistakes, removing a few details for the sake of propriety, and deleting anything that might violate the privacy of people mentioned in the book. Otherwise, he has left the memoir exactly as its author wrote it. He notes that the main female character’s real first name had to be retained in the manuscript because it is important to the story. However, her last name, Haze, is a pseudonym. All other names in the book are aliases as well.

The editor notes that the prose style of Lolita is sometimes vague and always free of the obscenities that are common to the modern “banal novel.” However, he says, many scenes have a sexual nature that could not be deleted without destroying the sense of the work. Although he notes that some readers may find such scenes offensive, he also states that they are artistically valid and that they lead to a “moral apotheosis” at the end.

Ray praises Humbert Humbert’s prose style and notes that the memoir inspires the reader to feel deep empathy for Lolita. However, he states vehemently that the author was a terrible person:

I have no intention to glorify “H.H.” No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness....He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman.

In conclusion, Ray argues that Lolita will soon become a classic case history for psychiatrists as well as a revered work of literature. However, he argues that the book’s real value lies in its moral lessons about trends in human behavior. He states that the descriptions of such characters as “the wayward child, the egotistic mother, [and] the panting maniac” should inspire ethical citizens to be more suspicious of the evil that lurks in the world around them. Ultimately, he hopes, the book will help good people to create a world that is safer for girls like Lolita.