NABOKV-L post 0017157, Mon, 6 Oct 2008 10:17:47 -0400

Celebrating 50 Years of Nabokov’s Legendary Nymphette ...

Celebrating 50 Years of Nabokov’s Legendary Nymphette

By Sarah Rapp

In 1955, depicting sexuality between two consenting adults was so taboo that the Hays Code mandated that in any filmed bedroom scene including a man and a woman, at least one foot had to be on the floor at all times. At the same time of double beds and chaste marriages, Lolita was published.

Lolita—the novel about the deflowering of a 12-year-old girl by a 37-year-old man. Lolita—immerses readers in the inner workings of the mind of a pedophile, and depicts sexual encounters, obsession, lust, and salacious urges, all for a girl who hadn’t yet reached puberty.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s monumentally celebrated novel. A panel commemorated the occasion in Miller Theater Friday night.

“This book could land us all in jail, but we have to publish it nevertheless,” Jason Epstein remembers thinking when he read Nabokov’s manuscript as a young editor at Doubleday. Epstein, former editorial director at Random House and cofounder of the New York Review of Books, was joined by Michael Wood, one of the foremost Nabokov scholars, Orhan Pamuk, Columbia’s own novelist and Nobel Prize recipient, and Valentina Izmirlieva, Columbia professor and Nabokov scholar.

The first American publication of Lolita fell three years after the novel’s publication in France by the Olympia Press, infamous for publishing erotica. Although seemingly pornographic in content, Lolita is testament to Nabokov’s literary genius, and his novel earned its due rights in 1958, when Putnam finally published it in the States.

Truly a love story to America, Nabokov’s narrative follows Humbert Humbert and his Lolita on their road trip across the country, and features the very real Claire Quilty as well as more elusive constructs of truth, society, and time—which would turn Lolita from the nymphet Humbert lusts after into a young woman.
Full of puns and language plays, Humbert Humbert complains, “Oh my Lolita, I only have words to play with!”
Pamuk sees the “bottom line for defending Lolita as not free speech, but beauty.”

Perhaps an aspect of what made Lolita so scandalous at first, as the panelists discussed, was his penchant for Nabokov creating such a vivid tableau that the reader is immersed in the illicit and passion-filled experience of loving someone off limits. Yet, as Wood stated, “to be in love is to be in love with the wrong person.” Pamuk defended Nabokov’s methods, saying that “beauty requires a suspension of disbelief and a suspension of political correctness.”

Lolita is immortal. It seems clear that Vladimir Nabokov gave himself over to this novel just as Humbert Humbert lets Lolita take over the seminal position in his world as well as his very being.

Fifty years after Lolita first appeared on the literary scene, the impact, scandal, popularity, and esteem of the novel reverberate just as strongly. And whatever else scholars and fans may decide about Lolita, a love song it will always be, from the very first line: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

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