Bouchet, Marie. Music and Songs in Lolita, Novel and Film. 2010

Bibliographic title

Music and Songs in Lolita, Novel and Film

Periodical or collection
Periodical issue
no. 3
Publication year

The aim of this paper is to stress the importance of music and song in Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), and also in Kubrick’s interpretation of it in his film (1962). Indeed Kubrick’s adaptation does bring about, as Linda Hutcheon puts it, a “transcoding process” from the code of writing into the code of film (Hutcheon 7), which is itself multi-semiotic, as film associates moving and still images, language, and, of course, music. The analysis begins with a scrutiny of songs in the novel, as Humbert uses songs to not only screen his deeds like in the davenport scene, but also to fuel his contemptuous vision of Lolita. Then the study turns to the function of music in characterization, in both novel and film: the film's characters are associated to musical themes that reflect thematic patterns of characterization in the novel. We will finally draw from those analyses the illustration of how both works use music to organize a subtle destabilization of signs that undermines the first-degree reading or viewing.