Vladimir Nabokov

June 12, 2006


Russian-American author, critic, and acknowledged lepidopterist and chess player

“The good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense – which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance.”

“…’reality’ (one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes)…”

“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.”

Lolita (1955)

Deals with the desire of a middle-aged pedophile Humbert Humbert, the narrator, for a 12-year-old girl, Lolita; Humbert keeps a prison-diary of his lifelong fascination with pubescent “nymphets”
Famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject

“As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, 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.”


“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.”

“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.'”

“I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay;  I want them to examine its every detail and see for themselves how careful, how chaste, the whole wine-sweet event is if viewed with what my lawyer has called, in a private talk we have had, ‘impartial sympathy.’  So let us get started.  I have a difficult job before me.”

“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”

“…desire and decision (the two things that create a live world)…”

“We are not sex fiends!  We do not rape as good soldiers do.  We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, 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.  Emphatically, no killers are we.  Poets never kill.”

“‘The Girl Scout’s motto,’ said Lo rhapsodically, ‘is also mine.  I fill my life with worthwhile deeds such as- well, never mind what.  My duty is- to be useful.  I am a friend to male animals.  I obey orders.  I am cheerful.  That was another police car.  I am thrifty and I am absolutely filthy in thought, word and deed.'”

“…for the look of lust always is gloomy; lust is never quite sure- even when the velvety victim is locked up in one’s dungeon…”

“Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me; try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity; let’s even smile a little.”

“‘You chump,’ she said, sweetly smiling at me.  ‘You revolting creature.  I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you’ve done to me.  I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me.  Oh, you dirty, dirty old man.'”

“…every now and then I would take a bed-and-cot or twin-bed cabine, a prison cell of paradise, with yellow window shades pulled down to create a morning illusion of Venice and sunshine when actually it was Pennsylvania and rain.”

“After they had all gone my Lo said ugh, closed her eyes, and dropped into a chair with all four limbs starfished to express the utmost disgust and exhaustion and swore it was the most revolting bunch of boys she had ever seen.  I bought her a new tennis racket for that remark.”

“…I was so struck by the radiant tenderness of her smile that for an instant I believed all our troubles gone.”

“Wildly, I pursued the shadow of her infidelity; but the scent I traveled upon was so slight as to be practically undistinguishable from a mad-man’s fancy.”

“Being a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and unorthodox memory, I cannot tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the exact day when I first knew with utter certainty that the red convertible was following us.”

“Three of four miles out of Wace, I turned into the shadow of a picnic ground where the morning had dumped its litter of light on an empty table; Lo looked up with a semi-smile and without a word I delivered a tremendous backhand cut that caught her smack on her hot hard little cheekbone.
And then the remorse, the poignant sweetness of sobbing atonement, groveling love, the hopelessness of sensual reconciliation.  In the velvet night, at Mirana Motel (Mirana!) I kissed the yellowish soles of her long-toed feet, I immolated myself…But it was all of no avail.  Both doomed were we.  And soon I was to enter a new cycle of persecution.”

“A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs, rely.”

“Freedom for the moment is everything… To myself I whispered that I still had my gun, and was still a free man- free to trace the fugitive, free to destroy my brother.”

“It is not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual characters as some shams and shamans have said; it is the other way around: sex is but the ancilla of art.”

“Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book.  But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska.  Be true to your Dick.  Do not let other fellows touch you.  Do not talk to strangers.  I hope you will love your baby.  I hope it will be a boy.  That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve.  And do not pity C.Q.  One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple moths longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations.  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.” 


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