Lolita

Erotic motifs and controversy

Lolita is frequently described as an "erotic novel", both by some critics but also in a standard reference work on literature Facts on File: Companion to the American Short Story.[2] The Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita "an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners."[3] The same description of the novel is found in Desmond Morris's reference work The Book of Ages.[4] A survey of books for Women's Studies courses describes it as a "tongue-in-cheek erotic novel".[5] Books focused on the history of erotic literature such as Michael Perkins' The Secret Record: Modern Erotic Literature also so classify Lolita.[6]

More cautious classifications have included a "novel with erotic motifs"[7] or one of "a number of works of classical erotic literature and art, and to novels that contain elements of eroticism, like ... Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover".[8]

However, this classification has been disputed. Malcolm Bradbury writes "at first famous as an erotic novel, Lolita soon won its way as a literary one—a late modernist distillation of the whole crucial mythology."[9] Samuel Schuman says that Nabokov "is a surrealist, linked to Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. Lolita is characterized by irony and sarcasm. It is not an erotic novel".[10]

Lance Olsen writes "The first 13 chapters of the text, culminating with the oft-cited scene of Lo unwittingly stretching her legs across Humbert's excited lap [...] are the only chapters suggestive of the erotic."[11] Nabokov himself observes in the novel's afterword that a few readers were "misled. [by the opening of the book]...into assuming this was going to be a lewd book...[expecting] the rising succession of erotic scenes; when these stopped, the readers stopped, too, and felt bored."[12]


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