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Banned: Lolita

Wheelock College Library: Banned: Lolita

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Banned: Lolita


Lolita was nearly banned before it even existed-- four publishing houses turned down Vladimir Nabokov's manuscript before its 1955 publication by Paris company Olympia Press. Since then, it's been decried, challenged and banned, often based solely on the bare basics of the plot.

Perhaps understandably. Lolita is the story of a 40ish man attracted to pre-pubescent girls. He marries a woman based on his attraction to her 12-year-old daughter, Dolores (nicknamed Lolita). Once his wife dies, he begins a sexual relationship with Lolita that spans several years and ends when she runs away to live with another (much) older man who is possibly even more depraved than her stepfather/lover.

A warning: readers in search of a salacious thrill will be disappointed. Despite what this crude plot synopsis suggests, Lolita is a complex and beautiful novel, and Vladimir Nabokov is widely considered one of the 20th century's greatest writers. The book accomplishes the rare feat of being a truly enjoyable read at the same time it is dense with symbolism, double meaning and allusion. This is done so deftly that it's possible to read Lolita without realizing that there are entire undiscovered layers of meaning, just lurking beneath the surface prose. To unearth it all, I recommend reading the edition annotated by Alfred Appel (usually located on floor 4M at 813 N11Lza, but currently on reserve).

-Ashley Peterson

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