Hear Vladimir Nabokov Read From the Penultimate Chapter of Lolita

nabokov quiz

Image by Giuseppe Pino, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

There may be no more a despi­ca­ble yet ridicu­lous nar­ra­tor in twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry fic­tion than the sleazy, con­de­scend­ing Hum­bert Hum­bert. And there may be no bet­ter name in twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry fic­tion than Dolores Haze, Humbert’s 12-year-old step­daugh­ter and love inter­est, whom he calls, among oth­er things, his “nymphette,” Loli­ta.

Vladimir Nabokov’s tragi­com­ic 1955 nov­el Loli­ta still has the pow­er to shock, dis­gust, and elic­it wry laugh­ter from read­ers, with its satir­i­cal take on deca­dent old Europe and wise­crack­ing young Amer­i­ca. True to its mid-cen­tu­ry U.S. set­ting and sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic sub­ject mat­ter, the nov­el is packed not only with Humbert’s obses­sive­ly creepy descrip­tion and lay­ers of lit­er­ary allu­sion, but also with plen­ty of pulpy action, if we are to believe in the events Hum­bert nar­rates.

In the novel’s penul­ti­mate chap­ter, Hum­bert tracks down Clare Quilty, anoth­er preda­to­ry old­er man who takes advan­tage of Loli­ta. Hum­bert con­fronts, then kills Quilty (or so it seems). In the final chap­ter, Hum­bert  also dies, and we learn that the nov­el is in fact his mem­oir, willed only to be pub­lished after he and Loli­ta have died. In the audio clip at the top, hear Vladimir Nabokov him­self read from the cli­mac­tic chap­ter in which Hum­bert faces Quilty down, and direct­ly above, see the author read those first unfor­get­table lines: “Loli­ta, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.”

Find more record­ings of Nabokov read­ing his work here.

Note: You can down­load essen­tial works by Vladimir Nabokov as free audio­books (includ­ing Jere­my Irons read­ing Loli­ta) if you sign up for a free 30 Tri­al with Audi­ble. Find more infor­ma­tion on that pro­gram here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vladimir Nabokov on Loli­ta: Just Anoth­er Great Love Sto­ry?

Vladimir Nabokov Talks About Life, Lit­er­a­ture & Love in a Metic­u­lous­ly Pre­pared Inter­view, 1969

Vladimir Nabokov Mar­vels Over Dif­fer­ent “Loli­ta” Book Cov­ers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • robcrawford says:

    Thanks for post­ing this. It evokes the night­mar­ish con­scious­ness of Hum­bert with a par­tic­u­lar vivid­ness.

    I dis­cov­ered this record­ing more than 40 years ago in Boston Library, just after I had read the nov­el. I made a cas­sette tape of it, soon lost, so this is the first time I have lis­tened to it in decades.

  • vivian darkbloom says:

    Nabokov’s Loli­ta is an exer­cise in cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. We admire and rev­el in the author’s divine word­smith­ery, while at the same time reject and abhor the very mat­ter-of-fact hebephil­ia Hum­bert Hum­bert so glow­ing­ly and abject­ly dis­plays.

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