Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov was born into an aristocratic St. Petersburg family during the last decades of the Russian Empire. He was raised to speak, read and write in Russian, French, and English. His father was a Liberal politician and former Minister of Justice under the Tsar. The Nabokovs were forced to leave Russia by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They fled to England, and then to Berlin, where they joined the burgeoning community of Russian émigrés. Vladimir studied zoology and literature at Cambridge University before returning to his family in Berlin. In 1922, Nabokov’s father was killed by an assassin, whose real target was another man. Forty years later, the incident would figure in Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire.
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Historical Context of Lolita

In the decades following the end of the Second World War, the United States reached a pinnacle of military power, economic prosperity, and cultural influence. American cars, Hollywood films, popular music, consumer products and fashion swept across Europe. The country was rapidly suburbanizing, and a middle class swelled by the G.I. bill and the booming economy aspired to new ideals of leisure and domesticity. The racial tensions and cultural upheavals of the 1960s had not yet manifested, and many cultural critics of the time believed that a new age of mass-media and conformity had arrived. Lolita satirizes, but also celebrates the culture of this era, epitomized by the clothes, crazes and interests of Lolita herself. Humbert Humbert views America skeptically, sometimes contemptuously, but usually with fascination.

Other Books Related to Lolita

Nabokov’s work affected an entire generation of writers in the United States and England. The energy and excess of detail in his prose, the puzzle-like complexity of his narratives, and his irrepressible love of wordplay exerted a major influence on American and British literature. Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and Martin Amis are among the writers most influenced by Vladimir Nabokov’s work.
Key Facts about Lolita
  • Full Title: Lolita
  • When Written: 1952-1955
  • Where Written: Ithaca, New York; Road Trips across the U.S.
  • When Published: 1955 in Paris, 1958 in the United States
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Postmodern Novel / Road Narrative / American Novel / Immigrant Novel / Metafiction
  • Setting: The French Riviera, Paris, the fictional town of Ramsdale, Massachusetts, Beardsley, motels and tourist attractions across the U.S.
  • Climax: After Lolita refuses to run away with Humbert Humbert, he drives to Clare Quilty’s mansion and kills him in a theatrical shootout.
  • Antagonist: Clare Quilty
  • Point of View: First-person retrospective

Extra Credit for Lolita

Saved by Véra. Nabokov almost incinerated the manuscript of Lolita before submitting it for publication. It was saved by his wife and editor, Véra Nabokov.

Frank Lasalle and Sally Horner. The story of Lolita is at least in part inspired by the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner by Frank Lasalle in 1948.