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Definition: Lolita from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Novel (1955) by US writer Vladimir Nabokov. It is the narrative of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged European academic, whose infatuation with an adolescent girl who becomes his step-daughter and his mistress leads to murder. A darkly comic work about erotic obsession and artistic desire, whose subject matter caused great controversy, it is regarded as a modern masterpiece.

Summary Article: Lolita
from The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A novel by Vladimir Nabokov, published in France by Maurice Girodias in 1955 and in the USA in 1958. Between these dates it had begun its rise from the status of underground pornography to that of a work exploring the discrepancies of texts, languages and cultures and belonging more to the literature of courtly love than to any other defined category. It is presented as a document (‘Lolita: or, The Confession of a White Widowed Male’), edited and introduced by an unhelpful Freudian psychiatrist, written by the pseudonymous Humbert Humbert before his death in prison while awaiting trial for murder.

Its avowed focus is the fascination Humbert Humbert feels with ‘nymphets’, or young girls. An Englishman teaching in New England, he lodges with the widowed Charlotte Haze and marries her to remain near her 12-year-old daughter Lolita. Charlotte dies in a car accident in distraction after discovering his private diaries. Humbert and Lolita embark on a year-long journey together across America, before she seduces and leaves him, apparently for Clare Quilty. After tracking her down to an unsatisfactory meeting. Humbert locates Quality and kills him.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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