The essay argues that while Nabokov did not express much appreciation for early American writers, apparent parallels between colonial crime literature and the structure of Lolita suggest his familiarity with literary conventions established by his American predecessors. Seventeenth-century American writers created a lasting didactic tradition of writing about crime. They encouraged their compatriots’ interest in scandalous revelations and confessions as long as examples of such crimes were used as occasions for moralizing. In the nineteenth century, another generation of crime writers, with George Thompson as a notable example, challenged that tradition with new forms of crime fiction and journalism that relied on readers’ appreciation of titillating details rather than didacticism. Tensions between two forms of crime literature created an enduring debate about appropriate methods of writing about crime. The debate centered on the question whether readers are expected to enjoy or learn something socially relevant from crime stories. Nabokov’s awareness of that debate is apparent in the structure of Lolita, which, as this essay demonstrates, appropriates many conventions of early American crime literature.
Nabokov and the Puritans: Echoes of Early American Crime Literature in Lolita
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Nabokov Online Journal