‘Lolita’, a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, starts with a preface written by a fictitious editor named John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., who states that he received the manuscript of ‘Lolita’ from the lawyer of a person, Humbert Humbert, who died in jail waiting for a trial.
The manuscript opens with Humbert's description of his family background. He is European, born in 1910 in Paris, on the Rivera and has a mixed European background. His mother had died when he was quite young. He describes his childhood memory of his first love, Annabel Leigh, the daughter of some of his aunt's friends. Annabel was his first real sexual experience. He was twelve and she was a few months younger and they were madly in love one summer. They would explore each other's body on the beach. Unfortunately, they were interrupted before consummation on their last day together. They never got a second chance to fulfill their desire, since Annabel left the Riviera and four months later died of typhus.
The memory of Annabel haunted Humbert throughout his life and consequently, he became obsessed with finding young, honey-skinned girls with soft ‘down’ on their arms in order to fulfill his primal desires. Though, he got married later in his life, his obsession for the ‘nymphets’, sexually desirable prepubescent girls, never ceased, as they reminded him of Annabel. The nymphets reminded him of Annabel, though he failed to find another girl like her.
Humbert received his education in France and England. He married Valeria, who left him for a Russian cab driver. Receiving an inheritance from an uncle, he moved to a sleepy town in New England in the United States, where he took a room in the house of a widow, Charlotte Haze and became instantly infatuated with her twelve-year-old daughter Dolores, his Lolita. He started to constantly follow Lolita's moves, occasionally flirted with her, and confided his pedophiliac longings in a journal.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Haze surprisingly declares her undying love for Humbert and asks for his hand in marriage. Though he could barely tolerate the vulgar, middlebrow widow, Humbert readily agreed, as that would give him the guarantee to stay close to his little nymphet. But, it makes him upset, when disgusted with her daughter's bratty behavior, Charlotte packs Lolita off to a summer camp and Humbert is left pretending to love his new wife, while pining for her daughter. He writes his obsessive thoughts about his little Lolita and his utmost hate about her mother in his journal, which the wife eventually discovers. Consequently, Charlotte gets mad as she discovers Humbert’s dark lust for her daughter and deep hatred of her. She tears out some pages from his diary, with the intention to mail them to the police. Humbert denies everything, tries to pacify her, but Charlotte storms out of the house with those papers. Humbert desperately chases her to the mailbox trying to intercept the intended mail and in between fate intervenes, when Charlotte is struck by a vehicle while crossing the street and is killed instantly.
Humbert picked up Lolita from the summer camp, with the decision to drive across the country with her. They spent their first night together in a motel, where Humbert divulged her about her mother’s death and as per his version, it was Lolita who seduced him that night, not the other way round. Thus begins their erotic journey across the United States filled with teen tantrums and ecstatic nights in motor court hotels.
During the trip, they travel across the country for a year, during which Humbert becomes more and more obsessed with his nymphet and she becomes more and more experienced in manipulating him. When she starts getting a little bratty, challenging Humbert's sexual demands and when she starts tantrums or refuses his advances, Humbert threatens to put her in an orphanage. He also feeds her constant craving for souvenirs, Hollywood movies, and pop culture junk.
While in Beardsley, Humbert gets a teaching job in a collage and she enrolls in a school for girls, run by Mrs. Pratt. To make her happy, Humbert allows Lolita to take part in the school play, but as the girl initiates to socialize more and more with boys of her own age, Humbert becomes more possessive and restrictive in his rules. As a result, Lolita begins to behave secretively around Humbert and Humbert starts getting nervous about Lolita's fidelity to him and finally, he decides to take her on another road trip. This time she plans the itinerary and during this trip, the climax of the turbulent love story reaches its height. Along the road, Humbert suspects that they are being followed by a man in a red car. As Dolores Lolita claims that, she is not aware of any such thing, Humbert accuses her of conspiring with their stalker.
During their trip, suddenly Lolita falls ill and is taken to the hospital and while Humbert is back at the motel, Lolita leaves the hospital with an unknown person. However, when Humbert returns to visit her, he is told by the nurses that her ‘uncle’ has already picked her up. Humbert flies into a rage, but then calms himself and leaves the hospital, heartbroken and angry.
Humbert begins his obsessed hunt for Lolita and for the next two years he checks every motel they visited and tries to unearth clues about her kidnapper in order to exact his revenge. During this time, he hooks up with a kind-hearted alcoholic named Rita.
All of a sudden, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita and he tracks her down to a shanty in Coalmont. He finds his little Lolita, poor and pregnant at seventeen. He realizes that Lolita’s husband is not the man who kidnapped her from the hospital. Lolita admits that, it is Clare Quilty, a playwright, the author of the school play in which Lolita appeared. She was in love with Quilty, but he kicked her out when she refused to take part in a child pornography orgy. At this stage Humbert realizes that he ruined Lolita’s childhood and that he truly loves her. He begs her to return to him, but Lolita refuses gently. Before taking his leave, Humbert gives her 4,000 dollars and then tracks down Quilty at his house and shoots him multiple times, killing him. As the case is very clear, Humbert is caught within no time and put in jail, where he writes his memoir, stipulating that it can only be published upon Lolita’s death. Lolita dies in childbirth and as Humbert dies of heart failure, the manuscript is sent to his lawyer, for taking necessary action.
‘Lolita’, the immaculate and disturbing masterpiece by Vladimir Nabokov, is the odyssey of a venerable European man and a prepubescent American girl, trying to outrun the past and find a non-existing future. It explores the relationship between an unsettling yet educated and intelligent pedophile and his young nymphet as their lives become increasingly intertwined over the span of five years. This is an extremely passionate but ultimately one-sided love story, where Humbert, the narrator of the story describes his feelings about this girl of 12 in a charming, adoring and beautifully disgusting way, as the light of his life, fire of his loins, his sin and his soul. Despite his illicit relationship with a minor girl, he constantly tries to rationalize his unusual and strange behavior, stating multiple times that he was a good father to the scared Dolly Haze. On the other hand, the little nymphet in the story had her childhood robbed of her and had no self awareness. To her, sex was not a precious feeling, but merely something an older man demands and did to her in exchange for pretty clothes and movie theater tickets.
There is no doubt that, this storyline is extremely unconventional, bizarre, disturbing and sickening. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that, the story is rendered by Vladimir Nabokov in the most beautiful and elegant arrangement. Today an oversexed teenage siren is called as ‘Lolita’, but Vladimir Nabokov never intended to create any such association. However, as Pedophiles are never the traditional subject matter for stories and fictions ‘Lolita’ will probably never shed its infamous impact. It is certainly not meant for the conventional or orthodox readers.
‘Lolita’, arguably one of the most controversial novels of the 20th century, was first released by a noted pornographic press in France in 1955. Despite winning instant acclaim, even from the renowned British author Graham Greene, customs officers were ordered to seize all copies of the book entering the UK. In the following year it was banned in France too. Actually, in its first decade of publication, the book was banned in France, England, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as in some American communities. It was not until Lolita was published in the U.S. by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1958, that the novel finally became widely distributed. It was eventually released in Britain in 1959, but the following uproar forced publisher Nigel Nicolson to stand down as a Conservative MP. Today 'Lolita' enjoys a ban-free status and is considered as one of the most groundbreaking novels of the 20th century.