Lolita Now

After almost three-quarters of a century, how are we now to think about Lolita? It may well be the most commented on novel written in English in the past hundred years, alongside Joyce’s Ulysses. In the case of Ulysses, the imperative for commentary is chiefly a consequence of the invitation to exegesis generated by that novel’s dense network of allusions and the multiple complexities of its structure. In fact, Alfred Appel, Jr., in the introduction to his splendid Annotated Lolita, has observed certain affinities between Lolita and Ulysses in the centrality of parody for both novels, in their resourceful deployment of popular culture, and, of course in their shared elaborate mobilization of literary allusions. Nabokov, we should recall, was a great admirer of Ulysses, and Lolita has its own formal intricacies, which have been duly explicated by much apt criticism ever since its initial American publication in 1958. Yet the more obvious reason why Lolita has elicited so much commentary through the years is the moral questions raised by its subject. The crudest notes of the discussion were first struck by readers who imagined that the author must be a pervert and that the novel he wrote was altogether a sordid thing. In more sophisticated guise, some conservative critics,  such as Norman Podhoretz, have contended that Lolita may corrupt morals and must be approached with caution by right-thinking people. Inevitably, the novel has also been excoriated by the feminist Left. In her diffuse but influential article “Men Explain Lolita to me,” Rebecca Solnit seems to classify Lolita (her meaning is a bit opaque) as one of the books that “are instructions as why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories.” Serious considerations of the novel have properly dismissed all such views, and, indeed, many of the

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