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"Lolita," a controversial novel by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, was first published in 1955. The work centers around Humbert Humbert, a pedophile. Despite its controversial subject, Modern Library called "Lolita" one of the best novels of the 20th century. Elizabeth Janeway, reviewing the book for "The New York Times" in 1958, called it "one of the funniest and one of the saddest books" she'd ever read. The quotes below illustrate Janeway's point.
Over the years, many critics have praised the beauty of the language in the novel, while voicing distress over the monstrous subject matter. The book, according to NPR, "offers a depiction of love that is as patently original as it is brutally shocking."
- "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." - Part One, Chapter 1
- "There, on the soft sand, a few feet away from our elders, we would sprawl all morning, in a petrified paroxysm of desire, and take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to touch each other: her hand, half-hidden in the sand, would creep toward me, its slender brown fingers sleepwalking nearer and nearer; then, her opalescent knee would start on a long cautious journey; sometimes a chance rampart built by younger children granted us sufficient concealment to graze each other's salty lips; these incomplete contacts drove our healthy and inexperienced young bodies to such a state of exasperation that not even the cold blue water, under which we still clawed at each other, could bring relief." - Part One, Chapter 3
- "When I try to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives and which causes each visualized route to fork and re-fork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of my past." - Part One, Chapter 4
"Nabokov revered words and believed that the proper language could elevate any material to the level of art," according to SparkNotes. "In 'Lolita,' language effectively triumphs over shocking content and gives it shades of beauty that perhaps it does not deserve." The following quotes show how Nabokov's character, Humbert, essentially, seduces the reader as easily as he seduces Lolita.
- "Through the darkness and the tender trees, we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards-presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs, her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features." - Part One, Chapter 4
- "All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh." - Part One, Chapter 4
- "Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as 'nymphets.' " - Part One, Chapter 5
- "Oh Lolita, you are my girl, as Vee was Poe's and Bea Dante's, and what little girl would not like to whirl in a circular skirt and scanties?" - Part One, Chapter 25
Obsession eventually consumes Humbert, who at times seems disgusted at himself. But, the reader is also made to feel unclean for being drawn so completely into the story of Lolita.
- "Lolita, when she chose, could be a most exasperating brat. I was not really quite prepared for her fits of disorganized boredom, intense and vehement griping, her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, and what is called goofing off -- a kind of diffused clowning which she thought was tough in a boyish hoodlum way. Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth -- these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal we had!" - Part Two, Chapter 1
- "I seldom if ever dreamed of Lolita as I remembered her -- as I saw her constantly and obsessively in my conscious mind during my daymares and insomnias." - Part Two, Chapter 2
- "My heart was a hysterical unreliable organ." - Part Two, Chapter 25
- "It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight." - Part Two, Chapter 29
- "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita." - Part Two, Chapter 36