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The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated Paperback – April 23, 1991

4.5 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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In 1954 Vladimir Nabokov asked one American publisher to consider "a firebomb that I have just finished putting together." The explosive device: Lolita, his morality play about a middle-aged European's obsession with a 12-year-old American girl. Two years later, the New York Times called it "great art." Other reviewers staked a higher moral ground (the editor of the London Sunday Express declaring it "the filthiest book I've ever read"). Since then, the sinuous novel has never ceased to astound. Even Nabokov was astonished by its place in the popular imagination. One biographer writes that "he was quite shocked when a little girl of eight or nine came to his door for candy on Halloween, dressed up by her parents as Lolita." And when it came time to casting the film, Nabokov declared, "Let them find a dwarfess!"

The character Lolita's power now exists almost separately from the endlessly inventive novel. If only it were read as often as it is alluded to. Alfred Appel Jr., editor of the annotated edition, has appended some 900 notes, an exhaustive, good-humored introduction, and a recent preface in which he admits that the "reader familiar with Lolita can approach the apparatus as a separate unit, but the perspicacious student who keeps turning back and forth from text to Notes risks vertigo." No matter. The notes range from translations to the anatomical to the complex textual. Appel is also happy to point out the Great Punster's supposedly unintended word play: he defends the phrase "Beaver Eaters" as "a portmanteau of 'Beefeaters' (the yeoman of the British royal guard) and their beaver hats."


"...the reader of Lolita attempts to arrive at some sense of its overall 'meaning,' while at the same time having to struggle...with the difficulties posed by the recondite materials and rich, elaborate verbal textures. The main purpose of this edition is to solve such local problems and to show how they contribute to the total design of the novel."--From the Preface by Alfred Appel, Jr.

"Fascinatingly detailed."--Edmund Morris, The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Rev Upd Su edition (April 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679727299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679727293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri. Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing ficticvbn ral books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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It is actually possible to read the story and make sense out of it without reference to any of the annotations, but almost any reader will be keenly aware of having missed a lot in the process. That is, you don't really miss any of the story without the annotations, but much of what makes Lolita famous is what's going on between the lines, and, unless you speak both English and French and have an encyclopedic knowledge of literature in both languages, you probably won't get more than 10% of this "extra" material without a good set of annotations.
As the name implies, "The Annotated Lolita" is superbly annotated, translating foreign phrases, explaining literary references, and pointing out connections between characters in different parts of the story. Unfortunately, this has the effect of sacrificing some of the surprise in the surface story, not to mention giving you neck pain from constantly flipping back and forth while you read.
But if you don't mind taking the time, you can get the best of both worlds from this edition. You begin by reading the text of the novel straight through one time without reference to either the introduction or the annotations. Having done that, you next read the introduction (which is excellent in its own right, but which really does depend on you already having read the story) and finally, skim the text again, checking out each annotation as you go. It will take more time, but you'll get to enjoy the surface story without distractions and you'll have the pleasure of watching all the mysteries clear up on the second pass.
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Format: Paperback
This is my suggestion about reading 'Lolita' - the first time, delve into it without the benefit of annotations. Read an edition other than Appel's, or - if you're a stronger person than I am - simply ignore the numbers in the margin. Digest it for what it is, explore the story, create opinions and thoughts in your own mind. Even the most learned scholar will feel ignorant at times - Nabokov is, unquestionably, a genius of language and allusions - but I cannot stress enough how vital it is to read this book as an outsider. Allow a few months to go by. And then delve heartily into this annotated edition. The insights provided by Appel are gems, and makes an entirely new experience of the story. He's a passionate scholar and that is reflected in his careful detail, his concern with Nabokov's input, and his personal voice coming though the notes. Some of the notes hit you over the head, a few things seem glossed over, and his obsession with Nabokov's other works get slightly tedious to someone who isn't as dedicated to the author as Appel is. However, on the whole, the notes are absolutely precious and give a depth to the book that is continually lurking behind the surface during a first-time "ignorant" reading. I would have been horribly disappointed at the plot disclosures, as well as terribly confused at times, if I had read this version when I first read the book. But to the reader "in-the-know," Nabokov's genius shines through, as does his humor and sly cleverness that don't neccessarily pop out at first. The notes range from the purely practical (translations of the interspersed French phrases) to the explanatory (literary history is invoked at the most unlikelist of places) to the anecdotal (Nabokov's own musings, his expertise in entemology, etc). But take my advice - read it first without the notes, and then go back. You'll thank me!
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Format: Paperback
When I was a young man and first encountered Lolita I was pleasantly taken with the audacity of the good Professor Vladimir Nabokov's intent. Like most undergraduates it was clear to me that "shocking the bourgeoisie" was always good sport. Now that some decades have passed and I have had the opportunity to re-read the novel and then to read it a third time with the insights provided by Professor Alfred Appel's annotations, I can only say, it is a singular pleasure and a troubling experience.

Lolita is everything a great novel should be, challenging us intellectually, disturbing us emotionally, leading us to fascination and revulsion, making us question our values and our preconceptions while compelling us to turn the pages. A close and sober reading leaves one feeling a kind of tristesse, as the French say, that cannot be easily dismissed. On the one hand, the conception and development of the novel is brilliant. The language is Joycean, the ironies delicious, the plot twists delightful, the theme compelling, the characters indelible, the milieu veracious.

On the other hand, the "unreliable narrator"--I never liked that term: he's reliable; he just isn't admirable--who is the novel's central character, Humbert Humbert, the Old World dirty middle-aged man taking sexual advantage of a child whom he has trapped, is without doubt a vile creature. And yet--and this is part of the genius of the novel--one cannot help but identify with his tainted love, his hopeless, doomed passion. And indeed one even identifies with the task he has perversely inherited, that of looking after a teenaged girl and keeping her out of harm's way, a formidable task with which almost any parent can identify.
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