Finding the “Real” Key to Lolita: A Modest Proposal

Ellen Pifer

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Abstract :
In announcing the topic for this conference, Maurice Couturier pays tribute to the rich benefits Nabokov scholars have reaped from the painstaking efforts of those who have focused on the myriad references-artistic, historical, linguistic-embedded in the author's texts. He goes on to suggest, however, that “there may be limits to such an enterprise,”; although “we have no idea what those limits could be.”; This essay is an attempt to identify some of those limits and to show how annotations can implicitly or inadvertently shape the reader's understanding of a text, even when the annotator disclaims any attempt at interpretation. In Lolita's case, specifically, the annotator striving to “solve”; the novel's puzzles is liable, in the process, to undermine some of its crucial effects-ranging from the subtlest verbal inflection to the cumulative impact of a passage or scene. In the course of my discussion I will offer my own rudimentary version of an interpretive strategy for reading Lolita. While remaining open to both the annotator's discoveries and Nabokov's own reflections on art, it is confined to neither. My approach is based on a hermeneutics that has grown out of my experience as a reader, and re-reader, of Nabokov's texts.
Published : 2008-03-20


Ellen Pifer, « Finding the “Real” Key to Lolita: A Modest Proposal », Cycnos, 2008-03-20. URL :