Sixty-four years after its first publication, it appears that the day will never come when ‘Lolita’ [which tells the story of a stepfather serially defiling his adolescent stepdaughter] will not be considered, at least by some, as a not-disgusting book. And yet having stayed so petulant, it remains succulent as ever. To entirely relish its tenacity one must first recognise that it is not explicit. If you’re unable to work past Lolita’s splendour you will never be able to identify how appalling it is. And for all its beauty, for all its inventiveness and hilarity, one easily forgets how outrageous Lolita is. If you don’t believe me, then take a look: “She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled on in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola, the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipper-less foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa -and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty- between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock..” In a feeble attempt to shed light on Nabokov’s mindset one of his biographers quotes Havelock Ellis: “the individuality of each case is respected and catalogued in the same way that butterflies are carefully classified.”
Lolita is most commonly remembered as one man’s living poem to his own Mephistophelian waywardness, and therefore, is belauded by its emulators for its technical finesse and buoyancy, and misinterpreted by its disparagers as little more than a frost-adorned monolith to Nabokov’s own hauteur. In doing so, its true virtuoso is too easily missed. It lies in what Nabokov called the “nerves of the novel,” the “secret points, the subliminal coordinates by employing which the book is plotted.” In these, Nabokov has hinted at the life that exceeds the outer limits of Humbert’s contiguous fixation -at the inner lives of those others whom he so casually dismisses or destroys. It cost Nabokov, by his own admission, “a month of work” to write one sentence in which Humbert gets his hair cut by a barber who has never stopped mourning his dead son – a fact that hardly perforates Humbert’s ethereal advertence.