First Lines: Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has been called sheer unrestrained pornography, the filthiest book I have ever read, perverse, repulsive, obscene and indecent. It has been banned in France, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Argentina. If you go with what I suspect is the common preconceived notion—i.e., that book about this older guy with his unhealthy obsession with this little twelve-year-old girl—it’s easy to see how it earned its scandalous reputation.

And yet, there are those who claim that Lolita is one of the finest books in English literature. And I strongly lean towards the latter qualification, because Lolita is, indeed, a mighty fine book.

That my novel contains various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. says Nabokov in the afterword. But after all, we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents … If you take Lolita at face value, sure, it is the story of a 37-year old Humbert Humbert becoming sexually involved with a teenager. But to boil it down to just that would be missing the point entirely. Make no mistake, Humbert is a pervert, but little Lolita is far from innocent. And in my mind, flawed characters are always a good basis for a captivating novel.

While the first line of Lolita can very well hold its ground as one of the best first lines I’ve encountered, it would be shame to cut off the rest of the first paragraph of what has been described as a record of Nabokov’s love affair with the English language.

Book read
Vladimir Nabokov — Lolita
First line
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.