Vladimir Nabokov - Form or Content?

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  1. Elle Seidman profile image50
    Elle Seidmanposted 8 years ago

    I'm curious what people have to say about this.
    I was recently reading (re-reading,a ctually) Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita." For those of you who haven't read it, the plot would be impossible to simply summarize, but it's the story of an older man with pedophilic urges who falls in love (or in pure lust, depending on how you view it) with a twelve year old girl. A fellow student said to me the other day "wow, I could never get through that book. The prose was so beautiful that I got caught up in it and couldn't make any sense of the plot."
    I agree wholeheartedly that Nabokov's prose is beautiful to the point of being staggeringly distracting, but I really don't understand how someone could lose the story in the face of the words. It sounds sort strange, putting it that way. Anyone have any thoughts about it? Or are we just dealing with the common academic misconception that it's more important how the book says what it does than what it says?

    Feel free to totally disagree with me, by the way, I can take it. wink

  2. gracenotes profile image90
    gracenotesposted 8 years ago

    Elle, welcome to HubPages.

    It has been many years since I read Lolita -- I'm sure my reading goes back to graduate school, and that was a long time ago.

    I think that this novel is character-driven more than plot-driven, but I can't imagine many people losing the plot.  I seem to remember the book had a lot of French phrases in it, and it certainly didn't stop me from finishing the novel, even though I don't know any French.  If the author had been unable to form coherent or accessible imagery, I would have put the book back on the shelf very quickly.  As it was, I read it quickly.  Nabokov is portraying ugliness in his book, but he does it beautifully, and I'm not sure how he accomplishes that.
    I sense that this paradox is what carries the reader along.

    Of course, I did read it about 30 years ago.  I frequently find that I can't go back and view a novel the same way I did when I was an "academic."  I've become more discriminating and picky at age 57.  So who knows?

  3. Elle Seidman profile image50
    Elle Seidmanposted 8 years ago

    I absolutely agree with you about him being able to describe ugliness beautifully - what a great way of putting it. I've always wished that I could write like that...something tells me I shouldn't try too hard on that one, it's probably not an attainable goal.

    I hope that in 30 years I can look back and re-read things with even more wisdom. Thanks for your response. smile

  4. profile image0
    Leta Sposted 8 years ago

    Nabokov is what I call a 'strong' writer.  Yes, it's like every word carries weight, very similar to reading poetry.  And, indeed, it has been said that he took laboriously long to write...as he was very conscious that English was not his first language and he wanted every word to be perfect.

    I completely disagree with your friend.  I think the book is fully conceived as a novel and as a narrative...and would be much less effective without his distinctive poetic verbiage.  smile  Then again, I do have a friend who is a writer who feels that it can be too much--this much attention to the language/symbols, etc.  That the narrative style and story itself must be top priority.

  5. bojanglesk8 profile image59
    bojanglesk8posted 8 years ago

    I really want to read Lolita... I'm going to read it next.

  6. Casper021 profile image56
    Casper021posted 8 years ago

    great book I loved it, will read it again sometime in the future

  7. TKarma profile image54
    TKarmaposted 8 years ago

    I'm new here and just read your question regarding Nabokov. I love his writing because he, I think, teaches writers what it means to give primacy to the evocation of the physical world in our books. In another book of his, Pnin, which is also character driven, he describes in exquisite detail a bowl which has great meaning for the protagonist. It is just a bowl, but because of Nabokov's description of it both physically,its origin and place in his life, I become attached to the bowl as well. That's because the mechanics of his scenes are immaculate and cause me to really 'be' there with him. I believe he does the same in Lolita, which he wrote two years earlier than Pnin. He describes the world his stories take place in just enough so we can join in the characters journey and so become emotionally involved. I find his descriptions intriguing rather than distracting. Then again, on a more contemporary note, I enjoy reading Stephen King, who in his own way does the same thing. I have been told by many that, like your friend, they would rather dispense with the eloquent description and just keep with the plot. Each to his/her own.


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