Looking at Lolita

Lolita Book Sculpture by Jamie HanniganThe DePaul Humanities Center continues its Making the Novel Novel series this Wednesday, January 20 with a discussion of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial 1955 novel. Just what is the controversy? The book’s narrator, Humbert Humbert, is a literature professor in his late thirties who has a sexual obsession with his twelve-year-old step-daughter, Dolores “Lolita” Haze. The event will feature a premiere performance of Dan Christmann’s stage adaptation of the work, “Young Matrix, Unknown Heart,” and will continue with panel discussions centered around the artwork used for the novel’s book covers over time. Lolita has been judged– and celebrated– for more than its covers, so panelists will explore the interplay between visual images, troubling narrative, and the questions of morality that have provoked Nabokov’s readers for the last sixty years. An original commissioned book sculpture by Jamie B. Hannigan will also be on display.

Lolita book coverTo continue the exploration, the DePaul University Library would like to point you toward some resources to further engage with Lolita, its author, and its themes. You may want to begin with the book itself, which is available at the John T. Richardson Library. Or, if you’d rather take in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation, you can pick up the dvd at the library as well. When the movie gives you more to think about, head back to the bookshelf for Barbara Wyllie’s Nabokov at the Movies: Film Perspectives in Fiction, a 2003 analysis of how Nabokov’s work has been influenced by both literary and cinematic traditions.

Has all of the discussion of visual art made you yearn for more? Check out Art for the Written Word: Twenty-five Years of Book Cover Art by Wendell Minor, which has over 100 full-color reproductions of jacket art from best-selling books, along with commentary from the authors. To focus more closely on Nabokov, try Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Painting, a 2006 work by Gerard de Vries et al that delves into the role of visual aesthetics in Nabokov’s body of work.

Innocence and Rapture book coverIf the questions of morality and controversy are more intriguing, learn why the book was temporarily banned in Great Britain and France in Elisabeth Ladenson’s 2007 work, Dirt for Art’s Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita. Trace how the name “Lolita” came to be a euphemism for a sexually precocious girl in texts such as Meenakshi Gigi Durham’s 2008 book, The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, or Kevin Ohi’s 2005 book, Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov.

Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov book coverWhat about the man behind the novel? The John T. Richardson Library has many volumes concerning Nabokov’s biography, writing style, prevalent themes, and critical reception. For instance, Brian Boyd’s 1990 biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, focuses on the early life that made Nabokov a “permanent wanderer,” while Andrea Pitzer’s 2013 biography, The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, promises to reveal socio-historical commentaries that the writer himself might have hidden within his own fiction. Boyd returns to Nabokov as a subject in his 2011 collection of essays, Stalking Nabokov, which recounts further insights into Nabokov’s life and work, as well as Boyd’s own fascinating journey through archives and unpublished works to get to the bottom of the author’s genius. For an overview on how to read Lolita and other Nabokov works in political, historical, and stylistic contexts, reach for The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov, a 2005 volume edited by Julian W. Connolly that offers concise insights from several writers.

Selected Letters book coverVladimir Nabokov wrote much more than novels– though novels he wrote aplenty, including King, Queen, Knave (1968); Glory (1971); and Transparent Things (1972). He wrote plays, poetry, translations, and scientific papers (when not writing, Nabokov was collecting butterfly specimens for his other passion, entomology.) Theater fans might like The Man from the USSR and Other Plays : With Two Essays on the Drama, translated into English by Dmitri Nabokov. Poetry afficionados may enjoy Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry, which contains Nabokov’s English translations of other writers’ poems alongside the Russian originals, as well as Nabokov’s thoughts on translation. Those curious about Nabokov’s personal life may find answers in Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters, 1940-1977 or his 1966 autobiography, Speak, Memory, which also contains photographs. Can’t decide which of his works to bring home? The John T. Richardson Library also has several anthologies that span time and form, such as Novels and Memoirs, 1941-1951 from the Library of America, and Vintage Nabokov, a 2004 collection of short stories and selected book chapters.

If you also attended the first installment of Making the Novel Novel that celebrated Don Quixote, and you’d like all of your literary planets to align, you are in luck. Nabokov wrote his own Lectures on Don Quixote and delivered them at Harvard between 1951-1952.

Happy reading and exploring from the DePaul University Library!

Making the Novel Novel: Lolita is on January 20, 2016 at 7pm.
Location details:
DePaul Student Center, Room 120
2250 N. Sheffield Ave, Chicago

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