Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Excerpt

Lolita, baroque and subtle, is a book written to be reread, but whether its continued force matches the intricacy of its design seems to me problematic. Little is gained for Nabokov by comparing him to Sterne or to Joyce. Borges, who was essentially a parodist, is an apter parallel to Nabokov. Perhaps parodists are fated to resent Sigmund Freud; certainly Borges and Nabokov are the modern writers who most consistently and ignorantly abuse Freud.

Where Nabokov hardly can be overpraised is in his achievement as a stylist. This is one of the endlessly dazzling paragraphs of Lolita:

So Humbert the Cubus schemed and dreamed—and the red sun of desire and decision (the two things that create a live world) rose higher and higher, while upon a succession of balconies a succession of libertines, sparkling glass in hand, toasted the bliss of past and future nights. Then, figuratively speaking, I shattered the glass, and boldly imagined (for I was drunk on those visions by then and underrated the gentleness of my nature) how eventually I might blackmail—no, that is too strong a word— mauvemail big Haze into letting me consort with little Haze by gently threatening the poor doting Big Dove with desertion if she tried to bar me from playing with my legal stepdaughter. In a word, before such an Amazing Offer, before such a vastness and variety of vistas, I was as helpless as Adam at the preview of early oriental history, miraged in his apple orchard.

It is a grand prose-poem, and the entire book in little. Reading it aloud is a shocking pleasure, and analyzing it yet another pleasure, more inward and enduring. Humbert, more "cubus" than "incubus," casts the red sun of . . .

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