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Novels 1955–1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire / Lolita: A Screenplay

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This Library of America volume is the second of three volumes that contain the most authoritative versions of the English works of the brilliant Russian émigré, Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955), Nabokov’s single most famous work, is one of the most controversial and widely read books of its time. Funny, satiric, poignant, filled with allusions to earlier American writers, it This Library of America volume is the second of three volumes that contain the most authoritative versions of the English works of the brilliant Russian émigré, Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955), Nabokov’s single most famous work, is one of the most controversial and widely read books of its time. Funny, satiric, poignant, filled with allusions to earlier American writers, it is the “confession” of a middle-aged, sophisticated European émigré’s passionate obsession with a 12-year-old American “nymphet,” and the story of their wanderings across a late 1940s America of highways and motels. Of its deeper meanings, Nabokov characteristically wrote: “I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and… Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall 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.” (Nabokov’s film adaptation of Lolita, as originally written for director Stanley Kubrick, is also included.) Pnin (1957) is a comic masterpiece about a gentle, bald Russian émigré professor in an American college town who is never quite able to master its language, its politics, or its train schedule. Nabokov’s years as a teacher provided rich background for this satirical picture of academic life, with an unforgettable figure at its center: “It was the world that was absent-minded and it was Pnin whose business it was to set it straight. His life was a constant war with insensate objects that fell apart, or attacked him, or refused to function, or viciously got themselves lost as soon as they entered the sphere of his existence.” Pale Fire (1962) is a tour de force in the form of an ostensibly autobiographical poem by a recently deceased American poet and a critical commentary by an academic who is something other than what he seems. Its unique structure, pitting artist against seemingly worshipful critic, sets the stage for some of Nabokov’s most intricate games of deception and concealment. “Pretending to be a curio,” wrote Mary McCarthy, “it cannot disguise the fact that it is one of the great works of art of this century.” The texts of this volume incorporate Nabokov’s penciled corrections in his own copies of his works which correct long-standing errors, and have been prepared with the assistance of Dmitri Nabokov, the novelist’s son.


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This Library of America volume is the second of three volumes that contain the most authoritative versions of the English works of the brilliant Russian émigré, Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955), Nabokov’s single most famous work, is one of the most controversial and widely read books of its time. Funny, satiric, poignant, filled with allusions to earlier American writers, it This Library of America volume is the second of three volumes that contain the most authoritative versions of the English works of the brilliant Russian émigré, Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955), Nabokov’s single most famous work, is one of the most controversial and widely read books of its time. Funny, satiric, poignant, filled with allusions to earlier American writers, it is the “confession” of a middle-aged, sophisticated European émigré’s passionate obsession with a 12-year-old American “nymphet,” and the story of their wanderings across a late 1940s America of highways and motels. Of its deeper meanings, Nabokov characteristically wrote: “I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and… Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall 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.” (Nabokov’s film adaptation of Lolita, as originally written for director Stanley Kubrick, is also included.) Pnin (1957) is a comic masterpiece about a gentle, bald Russian émigré professor in an American college town who is never quite able to master its language, its politics, or its train schedule. Nabokov’s years as a teacher provided rich background for this satirical picture of academic life, with an unforgettable figure at its center: “It was the world that was absent-minded and it was Pnin whose business it was to set it straight. His life was a constant war with insensate objects that fell apart, or attacked him, or refused to function, or viciously got themselves lost as soon as they entered the sphere of his existence.” Pale Fire (1962) is a tour de force in the form of an ostensibly autobiographical poem by a recently deceased American poet and a critical commentary by an academic who is something other than what he seems. Its unique structure, pitting artist against seemingly worshipful critic, sets the stage for some of Nabokov’s most intricate games of deception and concealment. “Pretending to be a curio,” wrote Mary McCarthy, “it cannot disguise the fact that it is one of the great works of art of this century.” The texts of this volume incorporate Nabokov’s penciled corrections in his own copies of his works which correct long-standing errors, and have been prepared with the assistance of Dmitri Nabokov, the novelist’s son.

30 review for Novels 1955–1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire / Lolita: A Screenplay

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim Elkins

    Of these three, the one I hadn't read in years was Lolita. Always on returning to a book, the question is: does it still read well? Or, more "world-historically": does it still need to be read? No. (Judgments are always brief, in the end, even if they come after a lifetime of reading.) For three reasons: first, Nabokov is compulsively excessive in his search for crystalline phrases, but that obsession is disconnected from the narrative, unless we are to believe that Humbert's vocation (scholar, n Of these three, the one I hadn't read in years was Lolita. Always on returning to a book, the question is: does it still read well? Or, more "world-historically": does it still need to be read? No. (Judgments are always brief, in the end, even if they come after a lifetime of reading.) For three reasons: first, Nabokov is compulsively excessive in his search for crystalline phrases, but that obsession is disconnected from the narrative, unless we are to believe that Humbert's vocation (scholar, not pervert) is sufficient justification. Two: Nabokov doesn't notice that Humbert's vocation is so weakly and indifferently limned that it is continuously reminiscent, but insufficiently connected, to his own interests. (Are we supposed to wonder, briefly and distractedly, whether this or that literary judgment of Humbert's corresponds to one of Nabokov's?) Third, and most serious: despite the narrator's protestations, the book is about sex, and so Nabokov's avoidance of that subject creates, in the end, precisely what he did not wish: a prudish book. His evasion reminds me of the book's now-vanished goal: epater le bourgeoisie. On the other hand, when I next re-read Pnin or Pale Fire, I imagine I will be entranced all over again, because there preciousness, evasiveness, and compulsive over-writing all make perfect sense.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I read Lolita any waking free second I had in three days. It's controversial and everyone and their mom has done their dissertation on it, but it's also beautifully written. The psychology behind Humbert...amazing! It's one of those books that takes over your life and you have to read it any free chance you get. When you finish it, you feel like you don't have a life any more and it's hard to find another book to measure up. If you haven't read it, you should.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joey Anderson

    This review only covers Pale Fire. Pale Fire is a “5” reading, which means it is worth a reread whereas a “4” is not. I would also say that the Library of America books are some of finest editions made today. Good hardback bookbinding, great thick paper (it does not seem like cheap recycled stuff), crisp type that holds its ink, easy to hold (you wouldn’t think so for a 900 page volume, but it is), and good price (the three paperbacks of these novels along with the screenplay would cost you more This review only covers Pale Fire. Pale Fire is a “5” reading, which means it is worth a reread whereas a “4” is not. I would also say that the Library of America books are some of finest editions made today. Good hardback bookbinding, great thick paper (it does not seem like cheap recycled stuff), crisp type that holds its ink, easy to hold (you wouldn’t think so for a 900 page volume, but it is), and good price (the three paperbacks of these novels along with the screenplay would cost you more). Pale Fire is a masquerade of a exegesis of a poem by the same name by the poet John Shade. The scholar Dr. Charles Kinbote supposedly analyses the poem line by line, but the reader will soon discover that very little analysis occurs, and the novel is actually an autobiography by Kinbote. Kinbote is a pompous and egotistical college professor who, besides telling us how superior he is, relates a second story about the escape of Charles II, the last king of the country Zembla, from revolution in his country and possible assassination. Before long, we see that Kinbote is writing about himself and he is the supposed king from this mythical country. The plot thickens as the assassin Gradus is hot on Kinbote’s trail (supposedly). Besides the satire on the literary academic community and the books they write, Nabokov delights in uncertainty (it seems at times that Heisenberg influenced writers as much as he did modern physics), for we do not know much for certain since the entire narrative is encased within Kinbote’s narration. Is he the last king of Zembla? Is he the writer of the poem and Shade simply an alter-ego? Are the other characters real or figments of his imagination? We do not know, but the character of Kinbote is a marvelous creation. If he is mad, he is the sanest insane character I have ever known. He is also one of the most intelligent and erudite narrators I've seen. The style is incredibly good and Nabokov’s puns and allusions are fun. And the novel is more fun than sad. And the poem is quite good, but don’t take anything too seriously, for it seems that Nabokov is just having great time. If you do not take it too seriously, you will too.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Howard Cincotta

    In today's anything-goes sexually explicit era -- which is also the era of Amber Alerts and church pedophilia -- could anyone write a mainstream literary novel like Lolita? Not sure. Still, Nabokov's nymphet has long rested securely in the literary canon,the result of its limpid gorgeous prose and the creation of Lolita herself, a character of such vividness and individuality, whose combination of innocence and calculation transcends that of merely being the unbearable object of Humbert Humbert's In today's anything-goes sexually explicit era -- which is also the era of Amber Alerts and church pedophilia -- could anyone write a mainstream literary novel like Lolita? Not sure. Still, Nabokov's nymphet has long rested securely in the literary canon,the result of its limpid gorgeous prose and the creation of Lolita herself, a character of such vividness and individuality, whose combination of innocence and calculation transcends that of merely being the unbearable object of Humbert Humbert's obsessions. For me, Lolita moves from brilliance to greatness precisely because Humbert -- a familiar variation on the European intellectual both entranced and repelled by America -- recognizes his own monstrousness, understands fully that he is destroying Lolita's childhood, and Lolita herself, even as he remains helpless in his obsessive love for her. And by the end, in their memorable final encounter, I think love is the proper term for his feelings toward the married pregnant Lolita, who is emphatically no longer a nymphet. Nabokov would sneer, but I can't help thinking that, on one submerged level, Lolita is indeed a parable of Nabokov's simultaneous love and distain for the intoxicating, crude, smug, vulgar, and seductive American society that he experienced in the late 1940s and 1950s. Pnin is a far lighter weight enterprise, almost more a series of sketches of the hapless Russian academic Timofy Pnin, than a novel. But the end, however, it does deepen from comedy to, if not tragedy, to a profounder sadness about the past and present of Pnin's life. (And as someone working on a story/novel about painters and painting, it contains a tour de force description of an artist contemplating the complexity of reflections and perspectives in the hood and headlights of a highly polished car.) Pale Fire was a slog -- a book easier to admire than enjoy. The brilliant minute descriptions are all here -- Nabokov has to be one of the great visual writers of all time -- but the artifice becomes difficult to penetrate to reach the core of the story. First we have the forward, then the 999 lines of heroic couplets by the fictional John Shade, ostensibly centered around the tragic death of his daughter, and finally the academic commentary by Professor Charles Kinbote. Kinbote, no surprise, turns out to be someone else entirely, just as the commentary becomes the tale of the King of the vaguely East European country of Zembla and his escape from the hands of revolutionaries ... a theme hard to discern in the poem itself. Very very clever and inward turning, like a tiny house of mirrors. But hard to grasp and care for its characters. And then, at the end, in the last several paragraphs, it's as if Nabokov puts the pedal to the metal. With masterful ease, he uncorks a moving coda that dispassionately ties together the novel's characters with the flow of history in a manner that I associate with the greatest of Russian writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Moira Burke

    "Zadie Smith said this was her favorite book. Understandably so. Nabokov describes the most sympathetic misplaced Russian protagonist; I frequently found myself sputtering alliteratively along with the narrator: \""Poor, poor Pnin!\"" Few oddballs in literature garner as much fondness from readers as Pnin; Quixote and Raskolnikov come to mind, but both were violent in their delusions. Pnin is just depressing, in a wacky sort of way. Plus, Nabokov and Smith share the same interjecting style; ever "Zadie Smith said this was her favorite book. Understandably so. Nabokov describes the most sympathetic misplaced Russian protagonist; I frequently found myself sputtering alliteratively along with the narrator: \""Poor, poor Pnin!\"" Few oddballs in literature garner as much fondness from readers as Pnin; Quixote and Raskolnikov come to mind, but both were violent in their delusions. Pnin is just depressing, in a wacky sort of way. Plus, Nabokov and Smith share the same interjecting style; every once in a while third person switches to first, as the busybody narrator feels compelled to color a few extra details from his perspective. A delightful, though dense, character study."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rado Baťo

    I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure in the windowpane; I was the smudge of ashen fluff - and I Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky. The finest master of the art of the English language at the height of his magic powers. Enough said.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    A bargain. Of course, PNIN is relatively short, and PALE FIRE is very short, and the screenplay of LOLITA is an adaptation of the celebrated 1955 novel, but a good one. So it's a bargain if you need it or want it! I for one think it's worth it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    James paster

    From Lolita I learned about immortaliy and the cosmc joke of giving us unlimited imagination in a limited lifetime.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Johnson

    This is my second reading of Pnin; best bits: teeth replacement, psychoanalysis quackery and death camp evocation. The brief interpolation of Pnin's father in chapter five's summer retreat was confusing. Pale Fire is experimentally bizarre, a fun puzzle. Lolita a masterwork in one sock.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I'm only writing about Pnin and Pale Fire, since I first read Lolita separately. The two actually work pretty well together since both contain strong elements of academic satire. Pnin was kind of painful right now, since the good professor can't get a decent job at an American university. I liked Pale Fire a lot. It's a prologue, a deliberately terrible narrative poem, and lengthy notes. The real story is about the editor, who it quickly becomes clear isn't entirely right. His notes cast the poe I'm only writing about Pnin and Pale Fire, since I first read Lolita separately. The two actually work pretty well together since both contain strong elements of academic satire. Pnin was kind of painful right now, since the good professor can't get a decent job at an American university. I liked Pale Fire a lot. It's a prologue, a deliberately terrible narrative poem, and lengthy notes. The real story is about the editor, who it quickly becomes clear isn't entirely right. His notes cast the poem, which is actually a banal life story, as an allegory about his own life as an exiled king. It's a pretty funny and original setup.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    I expected to be repelled, disgusted, condescending, and dismissive of this book. Yes I was repelled and at times disgusted, but I see why this book has stood the test of time. I was blown away by Nabokov's mind, his wordplay, and how he never, ever over-explains anything. He always says just enough and then he's tearing off again and my mind rushes to keep up. I can't recall reading another book with an "unreliable narrator" although I'm sure I must have. I certainly can't recall enjoying a boo I expected to be repelled, disgusted, condescending, and dismissive of this book. Yes I was repelled and at times disgusted, but I see why this book has stood the test of time. I was blown away by Nabokov's mind, his wordplay, and how he never, ever over-explains anything. He always says just enough and then he's tearing off again and my mind rushes to keep up. I can't recall reading another book with an "unreliable narrator" although I'm sure I must have. I certainly can't recall enjoying a book or hating the characters in it so much.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Lolita may be my favorite book ever, definitely top 5. Creepy as he is, Humbert's character, arrogant and crazy, is just great. The way Nabokov has him rationalize behaviors is wonderfully written. Pnin was the least impressive of the three, however, it was a good read. Pale Fire was the most difficult to read but the story structure is magnificent and I am not really in to poetry. The notes are great.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hana Kim

    I only finished reading Lolita from this collection, because i couldn't handle another Nabokov quite yet. At times it became a bit dull but it had it's moments. I would recommend it & most likely read it again. I plan on reading both Pnin & Pale Fire as well. As for Lolita, everyone seems to have their own opinion on Humbert Humbert. I for one, feel for him both pity & shame. He didn't mean any harm, yet i do not agree at all with his actions.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pats

    Pnin: 5 Lolita: 4 Pale Fire: 4.8 Not to be read back to back to back. The further I get, the more I think Nabokov 1955-1962 was a pretentious a-hole, and the less I get to really focus on the works. I'm glad I read Pnin first. Fantastic. Lolita's good, but not Pnin quality. Again, the verdict is not out on Pale Fire. Although I'm glad it has not yet turned into a TOTAL [a-hole:] regurgitation of the first two.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The language in "Lo" was maddening, the novel should've been in three parts, and I can't name an interesting "participant." HH's pathos is pathets. Such a tard needs some S. King to steam you. D puts on unconvincing squabbles, acting 5 when she's twice-plus, and the roadtrip/s is/are limp...as...eff. I remember Pnin also buggin'. Pale Fire? Later. Later later.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nerissa

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. DON'T RECOMMEND. After reading the to about page 70, I put down the book and vowed never to return to it. The narrator of the book is a pedophile and his perverted thoughts about young girls are more than I can handle. I stopped reading because I was defintely not becoming a better person by continuing the book. His psyche was quite disturbing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charles Kinbote

    I have set up a Tumblr blog, where I, Charles Kinbote, will be posting each couplet of John Shade’s Pale Fire. If you are interested, you can find it here

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    OMG! My God but Mr. Humbert is a filthy, frightening perv. This book should be required reading for ALL parents of girls! What an eloquent representation of a sick bastard completely drowning in his pedophilic obsessions. Christ!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Monika

    I really enjoyed Lolita, up til about p. 188, when I began to get weary of the incessant descriptive passages about fondling and groping, etc. Nabokov is an amazing writer, so it's worth it to get through the novel, even though it's at times stomach-wrenching and other times, a snore.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    I borrowed this from the library to read Lolita. The playfulness of the language delighted me, and I enjoyed H.H.'s unreliable voice as narrator, but in the end, I was left cold by the novel.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Liddy

    i respect this book for it's beautiful language and ability to break through the perverse nature of the theme. Nabokov is an incredible writer and I enjoyed all the imagery. It's been awhile since I've read non-fiction literature though, so it was refreshing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bhole

    Though english was third language of Nabokov, he has written such beautiful prose. but it was hard for me to decide what i liked more...the honesty and frankness that he adopted for his character to write what he does in the book or the plot itself....

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I finished Lolita, started Pnin, but didn't even begin Pale Fire. Sometimes I wonder what makes "classics" become "classics". I do find it remarkable though that anyone can become an author in a language not their native tongue.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brytanni Burtner

    just lolita.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mk Miller

    The one with Bend Sinister is better I think, but this has the more well known ones.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Read Pale Fire and Lolita a while back. Loved both. Started Pnin a few days ago and am already half way through. Its great so far.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I have read Lolita, and placed this edition on both my to read and to reread shelves because I wish to read the other two novels, and wish to reread Lolita.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Falls

    Read Lolita last year. Shocking and depressing. Nabokov was a genius. Will read other stories at some point.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I just read Lolita. What amazing language!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I'm trying to actually read this since I couldn't find the audio version. Not going so well. :/ I need more hours in the day. Eerie "story," but lots of good vocabulary words.

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