Freedom to Read Week 2011

February 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous 1955 novel Lolita is one of the most frequently banned books in the Western canon. It was placed on the Canada Customs list of banned books in 1958, although shipments from the U.S. were eventually allowed into the country. It has also been banned as obscene in countries as diverse as France, England, South Africa, Argentina, and New Zealand. Told from the perspective of Humbert Humbert, unrepentant pedophile and murderer, it is one of the most distinctly uncomfortable novels ever written. It is also a stylistic masterpiece, and a showcase for Nabokov’s mordant humour. In his short essay “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” Nabokov directly addresses the charges of lewdness and immorality that sprang up almost instantly upon the novel’s publication:

I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books.

There are not many such books. Lolita is undoubtedly one of them.

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From Lolita:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

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