I’m finishing my review of Vladimir Nabokov’s short stories, which I loved reading. I hope to have it done by tomorrow.

But I feel I can’t write a post about Nabokov (even his short stories) without mentioning another work by this author that I probably don’t even need to name.

After all, twice in the past month I mentioned that I was reading Nabokov’s short stories, and the comment was one of these two reactionst:

“Yuck! I tried to read Lolita once … I couldn’t handle it!” [grimace, and frown]

“That porn author, right?” [look at me curiously]

I haven’t read Lolita. But those that have studied it (such as Thomas Foster) or read it (some other bloggers) seem to indicate that:

  1. It’s not a porn novel: it’s about a man in love. It just happens that he fell in with a 1512-year-old girl who is his step-daughter.
  2. It’s beautifully written and well worth your time because it is well written.

I can appreciate those thoughts. I can also appreciate people concerned by the underlying theme of it. I haven’t read it, so I really can’t comment on Lolita.

But I can tell you that I loved Nabokov’s short stories. It’s probably wrong to say that Nabokov’s reputation was ruined: many, many people still read his works every year. But the image associated with his name, at least among those I talked to this month, is pretty badly “tarnished.” I imagine people hesitate to pick up his stories, if they know what Lolita is about.

I think it is a shame that people might avoid Nabokov’s incredible writing because of the stigma associated with his most well-known novel. After all, this man wrote 17 novels, as well as short-fiction, drama, biography, and literary criticism. That’s a lot of writing. If the other works are as good as his short stories, they deserve to be devoured by bibliophiles.

And, while I really can’t tell you which books I will read next, I will tell you I plan to read more of his writing. It’s good.

I’m hoping I’ll convince you to read his stories by my post tomorrow.

There are so many reasons why authors are unfairly ignored: negative publicity, one novel that just wasn’t good, one novel that is over-praised, etc.

What writers do you think have been “ruined” unfairly?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. People are most bothered by Lolita because the object of Humbert Humbert’s affections is only 12 (she hasn’t hit puberty yet, which is very important to Humbert’s lust), and because Nabokov writes so well from the point of view of this despicable, deceptive man.

    I think it’s funny people think Lolita is pornographic, because the sex scenes are so artfully glossed over–like a scene in a movie where they close the door just before you see anything, but you know what’s going to happen next.

  2. Lolita is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I think the problem is that Nabokov is SO good at writing that he makes his reader empathize with this disgusting perverted pedophile.  People don’t WANT to empathize with him.  But Nabokov is so convincing that you almost – almost – catch yourself rooting for him at one point.  Then, of course, you get the the “climax” of the book, which is totally not climactic, and he twists it in such a way as to say – “what the heck is wrong with you??  You’re empathizing with a pedophile!”  It is genius.  Sheer brilliance.  Humbert Humbert looks a million times more disgusting after you’ve seen the world from his point of view.  The entire second half of the book, you no longer see it from his point of view, and you’re left knowing that these acts, these hungers, are the absolute most shameful base acts ever.

    I’ve read about half of Nabokov’s repetoire over the years, and nothing so far has affected me like Lolita.  It’s one of my favorite books, for the pure brilliance.

    I would disagree with one thing you quoted above – this is NOT a book about a man who fell in love.  It may seem that way, at the beginning, but by the end, it’s clear that it’s not.

    I can’t wait to read your review of the short stories.  I wasn’t actually aware that he’d written a lot of those.  My husband and I own every single one of his books, but no short stories.  I’m going to have to look into that.

  3. Jena and Amanda, thanks for your insights! Because I think Nabokov’s writing is amazing, I understand what your saying happening, Amanda. As for the “love story” thing, I’m not sure where I heard that. Thanks for your clarification. I did love the short stories….review up soon.

  4. I think pedophilia is a horrendous crime for which there are no excuses.

    I think banning of books is a crime against the free world, free thinking and freedom of speech and I can’t stand that no matter what the book is about.

    I have not read Lolita myself. I have only heard the raves about its very fine literary qualities. And I am curious to read it myself, but I never get around to it as I have so many other books that I am even more curious to read. I am not not reading it because I think it is about porn or pedophilia. I am very curious to hear what you have to say about it and then I think I will quote some of the things I have heard about it. Right now I will not, as I am afraid it will color your view of the book, but definitely looking forward to hear what you have to say.

    Those of us who are daring enough to read those dangerous books abot religion, porn, politics, magic, scorcery, satan, death, depraved youth, smoking etc (yes, I am ironic) are not necessarily into whatever non-pc subject the book is about!

    (you just hit a nerve and a sore spot here bringing up subjects like banned books 😉 )

  5. Hi Louise, I didn’t read Lolita; I read stories by the same author. I just found it interesting that so many people thought that reading the stories meant reading Lolita or something similar.

  6. Oh, I know you didn’t read it yet. But I got the impression that you wanted to..? In any case, I think it is an interesting discussion 🙂

  7. Louise, I’m not sure if I want to read Lolita or not (although Amanda’s praise of it was pretty convincing.) I just find it sad that people tend to associate Nabokov with pedophilia; his short stories, at least, weren’t about that at all. I hope those people still give him a chance.

  8. Lolita is one of the best books I ever read despite the subject matter. I can’t describe how great a novel it is. You just have to read it.

  9. I’ll be reading Lolita in the next few weeks and I’ve heard similar sentiments…that the subject matter is horrid and difficult to read.  But, I’ve also heard that his writing is gorgeous (I haven’t read anything by him), and for that apsect I’m looking forward to it.  It is interesting how polarized the reactions to Nabokov seem to be!

  10. I think the big thing about going into Lolita is that you have to go in knowing that it’ll be about a really nasty subject, and that at the beginning, it’ll seem like Nabokov approves and wants you, as the reader, to approve.  Many people start Lolita and give it up in distaste, and therefore never get to the point of the book.  Nabokov certainly doesn’t approve of HH, nor does he want the reader to.

  11. Chris, I think you’re all convincing me I need to read it! 

    Trish, yes, intriguing to see the discussion.

    Amanda, I think that makes tons of sense. One of the people who told me “yuck” above admitted only reading the beginning and stopping in disgust….

  12. Lolita is the first Nabokov I read.  I actually listened to it on CD, and while the content is incredibly disturbing, the language is breathtaking.  I second Chris’ comment.

  13. I read Lolita a year or two ago, and yes, the subject matter is difficult and a little revolting at times. But Nabokov does such an amazing job of portraying this absolutely hideous, creepy man that the novel as a whole is just brilliant. It works.

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