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"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov (Book Quotes)

  • Jun 3, 2010
The following are a list of quotes from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. They are from the edition with ISBN number 0-679-41043-0. They are listed chronologically and adhere to the Modern Language Association's (MLA) guidelines for quotes to the best of my ability minus the author's last name in the actual parenthetical citation. Regarding this edition of the book, I have included the last name of Martin Amis to distinguish between his quotes and Nabokov's (he wrote the introduction). I have cataloged them under thematic concept and included an introduction sentence to the quote.

Read the book review: Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Title Meaning
Lolita is a surprising novel because of how quickly it affects a reader, either positively or negatively:

In a sense Lolita is too great for its own good. It rushes up on the reader like a recreational drug more powerful than any yet discovered or devised. In common with its narrator, it is both irresistible and unforgivable. And yet it all works out. I shall point the way to what I take to be its livid and juddering heart - which is itself in prethrombotic turmoil, all heaves and lifts and thrills. (Amis vii)

Humbert Humbert
One of the main reasons Lolita is so controversy, other than the pedophile relationship between stepfather and stepdaughter, is the question of the "innocence" of Humbert Humbert:

Although he distances himself with customary hauteur from the world of 'coal sheds and alleyways,' of panting maniacs and howling policemen, Humbert Humbert is without question an honest-to-God, open-and-shut sexual deviant, displaying classic ruthlessness, guile, and (above all) attention to detail. (Amis vii-viii)

Seeing With Different Eyes
Readers tend to forget that Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator, and so we are only seeing the girl Lolita through a broken lens:

Lolita herself is such an anthology piece by now that even non-readers of the novel can close their eyes and see her on the tennis court or in the swimming pool or curled up in the car seat or the motel twin bed with her 'ridiculous' comics. We tend to forget that this blinding creation remains just that: a creation, and a creation of Humbert Humbert's. We have only Humbert's word for her. (Amis x-xi)

It truly is astounding how much an author's everyday life influences and shapes her or his artwork:

In his afterword Nabokov explains that the first 'shiver' of Lolita was inspired by a newspaper story about an ape, 'who after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage.' Inspiration needn't be very apposite; but the appositeness of this 'first little throb' has perhaps been misemphasized. It's no so much that Lolita has been engaged and enslaved, though she has been. Humbert's crime is to force her out of nature-- to force a child through the hoops of womanhood, insulting and degrading her childish essence. (Amis xx)

Often, readers forget that Lolita begins with a diagnosis by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.: 

I have no intention to glorify 'H.H.' No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capricious. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring the author. (5)

Cautionary Tale
John Ray has read Lolita and recommends it as a case study for his colleagues and a cautionary tale for parents of vulnerable girls:  

As a case history, 'Lolita' will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac -- these are not only vivid characters in a unique story; they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. 'Lolita' should make all of us -- parents, social workers, educators -- apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world. (5)

From the very first lines of the book, the reader understands the importance of the name Lolita, which isn't even the young girl's real name, and the obsession the narrator is fraught with: "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" (9).
Humbert lusts after Lolita because she is his nymphet:

But instead I am a lanky, big-boned, wooly-chested Humbert Humbert, with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, and a cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile. And neither is she the fragile child of a feminine novel. What drives me insane is the two-fold nature of this nymphet-- of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels; and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God. And what is most singular is that she, this Lolita, my Lolita, has individualized the writer's ancient lust, so that above and over everything there is --Lolita. (46-47)

Nabokov compares Humbert's actions to that of a spider waiting to catch a juicy fly in its web:

My white pajamas have a lilac design on the back. I am like one of those inflated pale spiders you see in old gardens. Sitting in the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or that strand. My web is spread all over the house as I listen from my chair where I sit like a wily wizard. Is Lo in her room? Gently I tug on the silk. She is not. (52)

In his madness, Humbert desperately tries to justify his reasons for wanting to have sex with a child: 

But in our middle-class nosy era it would not have come off the way it used to in the brocaded palaces of the past. Nowadays you have to be a scientist if you want to be a killer. No, no, I was neither. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentleman, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Empathetically, no killers are we. Poets never kill. Oh, my poor Charlotte, do not hate me in your eternal heaven among an eternity alchemy of asphalt and rubber and metal and stone - but thank God, not water, not water! (92-93)

If Humbert could have his way with Lolita, this is what he would do: "My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys" (174).
Humbert cannot help wanting Lolita despite all her faults: "Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise - a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames - but still a paradise" (176).
Humbert knows that Lolita is a prisoner who despairs, yet he refuses to let his captive go free: 

We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night - every night, every night - the moment I feigned sleep. (186)

When Dolores Haze (her real name) finally escapes Humbert, his loneliness consumes him:

This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal combustion martyr) might be called 'Dolores Disparue, there would be little sense in analyzing the three empty years that followed. While a few pertinent points have to be marked, the general impression I desire to convey is of a side door crashing open in life's full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone disaster. (269)

Although there are critics who argue that Lolita was in fact a nymphet, there are signs throughout the novel that she is merely a helpless child stuck in a horrible situation she cannot escape from:

There was the day when having withdrawn the functional promise I had made her on the eve (whatever she had set her funny little heart on - a roller rink with some plastic floor or a movie matinee to which she wanted to go alone), I happened to glimpse from the bathroom, through a chance combination of mirror aslant and door ajar, a look on her face...that look I cannot exactly describe...an expression of helplessness so perfect that it seemed to grade into one of rather comfortable inanity just because this was the very limit of injustice and frustration - and every limit presupposes something beyond it - hence the neutral illumination. And when you bear in mind that these were the raised eyebrows and parted lips of a child, you may better appreciate what depths of calculated carnality, what reflected despair, restrained me from falling at her dear feet and dissolving in human tears, and sacrificing my jealousy to whatever pleasure Lolita might hope to derive from mixing with dirty and dangerous children in an outside world that was real to her. (300-01)

In a final essay written by Nabokov at the end of this edition of the book, he explains what fiction and literature means in relation to his own writing:

For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann. (333)

What did you think of this list?

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October 28, 2010
Really great quotes here. I enjoyed quotes 4-6 the best since they seem to be sort of a medical analysis for what the book portrays. Interesting.
October 28, 2010
Thanks for checking the quotes out, Pard. The medical analysis quotes were actually a fictional part of the book too, so they were pretty fun to read. John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. is just another Nabokov invention. :)
June 17, 2010
I read the book but I think I was way too young at the time--I should revisit, 12 isn't quite the right age to appreciate Nabokov. Nor was 15 the right age for "Ulysses", but after all those comments about it having been banned in Boston, I just had to see why.
June 18, 2010
You read it when you were 12? I definitely recommend a re-visit. There must be things you missed on a first reading. I read "Speak Memory" when I was 16, and it was superb. It made me fall in love with Nabokov's style. I wish I had his genius.
June 18, 2010
I read a lot of stuff that I probably didn't really "get" to the fullest extent when I was fairly young. I never did understand why "Ulysses was banned. I think that anybody who can wade through all those unpunctuated pages deserves a medal. =)
June 19, 2010
I've never read "Ulysses," so I can't help you there. One of these days I will read it, though. :)
June 19, 2010
I might as well not have read it. After a while it just became a converyor belt of words. I kept going just so that I could say that I had finished it. It'sanother one of those books I'm going to have to revisit.
June 19, 2010
Yeah, I've had those experiences myself. Maybe when I have more free time, we could try to read it together. That might be fun. :)
June 19, 2010
Warning. I'm a very sloooow reader. Slight amblyopia causes me to read off different page/ sentences many times. Most of the times I'll simply close my right eye to solve the problem. I'm surprised I managed to read as much as I did when I was young because the problem was much worse then. Motivation I guess.
June 19, 2010
That's ok. I'm a slow recreational reader myself, by choice. So, if we ever do get to the book, we will take our time. :)
June 20, 2010
We'll be forced to! =)
June 20, 2010
(laughs) Nothing wrong with that. I'll shoot you a message about it sometime in the next couple of months.
June 20, 2010
June 05, 2010
sorry I am a little late for this but I have to say excellent list! My oonly exposure to LOLITA is the movie perhaps I'll have to pick this up! Nice one, Adrianna!
June 08, 2010
Thanks for checking out the quotes, William. The book is simply amazing! It's not as fast-paced as the film, as I recall the movie, and some of the descriptions of the landscapes drag a little bit. Still, it's an amazing read and worth the time!
June 05, 2010
Outstanding list, Adrianna! I will be thinking about this for a while. Nabokov had a way of being both visceral and intellectual. You're perspectives are quite clarifying. Thanks!
June 08, 2010
Thanks for the compliment, Christopher! I love that about Nabokov. I've thought about whether or not I could ever write like him...sadly, my answer is no. I'm just not that intelligent, lol. :)
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