We take you back to the mid 1950s, to an interview with Vladimir Nabokov and literary critic Lionel Trilling conducted soon after the publication of Lolita (1955). Lolita’s basic plot is well known — middle-aged Humbert Humbert develops a passionate obsession for twelve-year old Dolores Haze and takes her on the road. For some critics, this was enough to reject the book out of hand. One British reviewer called it “the filthiest book I have ever read” (which perhaps didn’t say much about the scope of his reading). Other literary observers, Trilling included, recognized the book’s literary merits straightaway. And years later, critics still agree. Recently, The Modern Library called it the fourth most important novel published in English during the 20th century.
The video above features Nabokov and Trilling talking interestingly about how Lolita finds its place in a grand literary tradition that’s more concerned with love, often scandalous love, than with sex per se. And, it’s in this sense that Lolita sits in the same tradition as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
The video is actually the second part of a longer interview. You can start with Part I here.