11:30 to 13:30h (6h in 3 sessions)
This intensive seminar proposes a (re)reading of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 masterpiece which, to this day, has provoked controversy and/or sheer rejection. One might argue that the numerous superficial and moralistic readings of Lolita have been as harmful to the text as Humbert Humbert is to Dolores.
We will look at the novel from the perspective of language and form, approaching it as:
1) Nabokov’s parody and criticism of Modernist form;
2) a masterly example of unreliable narration which tricks the reader into Humbert’s criminal mind and makes him/her question their own morality;
3) a mirror to the rising capitalism of the 50’s America obsessed with youth and immersed in subversive sexualized imagery, Hollywood pulp narratives and excessive consumerism.
Dolores Haze’s diary would have told us a different story, but all we are left with is a testimony of a paedophile narrating his highly aestheticized spiderweb around the reader. Even the girl’s name has to be transformed and aestheticized in order not to remind us of its true meaning — pain and suffering. Lolita of the novel is not a person, but a distorted memory of a distorted, guilt-ridden mind — that of Humbert, whom Nabokov called “a vain and cruel wretch.” A highbrow, educated European roaming the American landscape, Humbert is the dark Everyman of the fifties, the haunting doppelganger of the free self-made man invited to consume the youth and innocence of the new world. This is one of the reasons Lolita is difficult to read: Humbert is to us what Quilty is to Humbert.
“No, I shall never regret Lolita“, Nabokov said once in an interview, “she was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle—its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look.” This July we will try to solve the puzzle again, looking both ways.
- Appel, Alfred, Jr. (1991). The Annotated Lolita (revised ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
- Clegg, Christine (2000). Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita: A reader’s guide to essential criticism. Cambridge: Icon Books.
- Connolly, Julian W. (2005). The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Lennard, John (2008). Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks.
- Pifer, Ellen (2003). Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: A casebook. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
- Wood, Michael (1994). The Magician’s Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.