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92 of 95 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov in a nutshell, October 10, 2000
This review is from: Strong Opinions (Paperback)
This is a pretty good collection of Interviews with Nabokov and Nabokov's letters to editors and stuff like that. For people who want to find out more there's the comprehensive two volume biography of Nabokov by Brian Boyd.
Nabokov's opinions in a nutshell?
Thought everything written by James Joyce was completely mediocre except for "Ulysses," which towered above the rest of his ouvre as one of the supreme literary masterpieces of the 20th century. Loved Flaubert and Proust and Chateaubriand, did not like Stendhal (simple and full of cliches) or Balzac (full of absurdities). Loved Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" (considered it the greatest novel of the 19th century) and "Death of Ivan Illych," hated "Resurrection" and "Kreutzer sonata." Liked Gogol, despised Dostoevsky as a melodramatic mystic (he even once gave a student an F in his course for disagreeing with him). Loathed Conrad and Hemingway, but liked the description of the fish in "Old Man and the Sea" and the short story "Killers." Hated Andre Gide, T.S.Eliot, Faulkner, Thomas Mann and D.H.Lawrence and considered them all frauds. Thought Kafka was great, Orwell mediocre. Despised Camus and Sartre, considered Celine a second rater, but liked H.G.Wells. Loved Kubrick's film of Lolita (thought it was absolutely first-rate in every way) but later in the '70s regretted that Sue Lyon (though instantly picked by Nabokov himself along with Kubrick out of a list of thousands) had been too old for the part & suggested that Catherine Demongeot, the boyish looking 11 year old who appeared in Louis Malle's 1960 film "Zazie dans le Metro" would've been just about perfect to induce the right amount of moral repulsion in the audience towards Humbert (and prevent them from enjoying the work on any superficial level other than the purely artistic). Liked avant-garde writers like Borges and Robbe-Grillet and even went out of his way to see Alain Resnais' film with Robbe-Grillet: "Last Year at Marienband." Didn't care for the films of von Sternberg or Fritz Lang, loved Laurel and Hardy. Made a point of saying how much he hated Lenin when it was fashionable to blame the disasters of the Soviet Union on Stalin. Supported the War in Vietnam and sent President Johnson a note saying he appreciated the good job he was doing bombing Vietnam. Never drove an automobile in his life & his wife was the one who drove him through the United States on scientific butterfly-hunting expeditions, all through the many locales & motels & lodges that later appeared in "Lolita."
Seem interesting? You're bound to be offended even if Nabokov is one of your favorite writers. Genius or madman? I would say both, the 'divine madness' of the greatest of artists. Highly recommended for a peek inside the artistically fertile mind, and the tensions that need to be maintained to produce it.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2010 5:37:14 PM PDT
A. A. Jager says:
He hated the lolita movie (though he was polite enough not to say so to Kubrick)...he privately said it compared to the book like a scenic drive as seen by a patient in the back of an ambulance. Kubrick also thought lolita was his biggest failure.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2011 1:06:43 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 14, 2012 11:54:13 PM PST
TUCO H. says:
Obviously the book is better but Nabokov wasn't comparing it to his book when he said it was absolutely first rate AS A FILM and the three leads deserved the highest praise, he was comparing it to other films. When comparing it to his book it will obviously fall short no matter how good of a film it is. Whatever Kubrick thought of his film of Lolita himself is irrelevant, plenty of artists hate or misjudge some of their best works. In the same way, critical opinion may pan a great work and later completely reverse itself. A good critic will see in a work of art what the artist himself may have not noticed and may not have consciously intended but exists anyway, having subconsciously been thrust forward and onward. An artist of the sophistication of Kubrick knows this, knows that the biggest control freak in the world still cannot keep subconscious intentions from revealing themselves in hidden ways, so he lets the creative process flow and leaves it to the critics to figure out the intentions or messages the work of art exists to illuminate. If it is a true work, then it will have many messages and subtleties. It will express its messages in a complex way that may take years and a whole army of critics to analyze.

Many people, including myself consider the Kubrick "Lolita" a classic, as a film. The film stands on its own as great cinema. It is a riff on the novel rather than the novel it obviously can never be, it can only try to approximate a bit of its transcendent charm in a mirrored form. VN picked Sue Lyon as Lolita out of thousands so there you have what he imagined that type of girl, the 'nymphette' to look like, whether she was 14 or not (she was 14 at the time of filming, 16 at the time of the premier). She does a fantastic job in the role, as do James Mason and Shelly Winters and Peter Sellers. No other director of today has the talent to do even half as good a job as Kubrick did back then. No one. They're all mediocre hacks, even Scorsese has turned into a hack. The Jeremy Irons, Adrian Lyne version cannot even be compared to Kubrick's. Unfortunately, no versions even approximating a decent adaptation are likely to be made in these artistically barren times for a very long period to come.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2013 2:25:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2013 2:27:12 PM PDT
Heterotopia says:
Over all, I personally found Kubric's "Lolita" repulsive--it was the main reason I read Nabokov's "Lolita" so late in life. I've watched it several times since and still find no viable appreciation for it other than it's camera angles.

Peter Seller's scenes where excessive, off-putting and superfluous. Because of this, the movie dragged on awkwardly. Winter's take on Mrs. Haze was dreadful. Sue Lyon (she looked like an 18 year-old knockout, which is why she was picked) was wonderful, but played a high-school vixen--not a child, but that's what the screen play called for. While I love James Mason, he is no Humbart Humbart. All victims of a sanitized screenplay.

Now, I should note that all the actors in the film were quite talented, but Kubric and Nabokov created a palatable version of Lolita for the masses, a nauseating move that they both later (or always privately) regretted. Still, it made a notorious book more notorious, so I suppose it served a purpose.

The last theatrical incarnation of "Lolita" was not much better, but slightly more faithful to the book, if one could even say that. I will say that Jeremy Iron's take on Humbert Humbert is spot on, it's a shame this film had the same sanitized restrictions of its fore bearer.

The audio version of Lolita narrated by Iron's is as good as it gets for combining this book with an actor. Other than that, nothing really does the novel justice.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2013 7:22:33 AM PDT
TUCO H. says:
It makes no difference whether you find it repulsive or not. That's just your opinion as a layman. Nabokov himself found it 'first rate' as cinema and a cinematic work that does cinema justice based on the cheapest of novels is still better than one that does the best novel in the world justice but fails in the cinematic medium.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2014 3:32:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 30, 2014 3:45:50 PM PDT
Heterotopia says:
How is my opinion layman? Because it doesn't acquiesce to your opinion? What does it matter that Nabokov thought it "first rate" cinema? I love his written works but that's by no means a reason to give up personal preference to reflect his. "Many people, including myself..." find the movie version of "Lolita" to be sub-par, even when one doesn't compare it to the book. Nabokov admitted to cleaning up "Lolita" for the silver screen and, in retrospect, he regretting a number of things about the film. None of the actors in the movie consider their roles in this film as their best work, nor did the director.

But, of course, this is a matter of opinion that everyone's entitled to without myopic belittlement. I don't mind if people like the movie, but it's petty rather than insightful to undermine someone's preference due to mere predilection.

Posted on Mar 21, 2015 7:05:54 PM PDT
It's not true that Nabokov thought that "everything written by James Joyce was completely mediocre except for 'Ulysses.'" He gave "The Dead" an A+. Also, Nabokov did not send President Johnson "a note saying he appreciated the good job he was doing bombing Vietnam." What he sent was a 16-word telegram in 1965 that wished Johnson a "perfect recovery" from his recent surgery and said nothing about Vietnam. Nabokov was a strong supporter of civil rights, and Johnson had only a couple of months previously signed the Voting Rights Act. Thus the political support implicit in the terse telegram could have as easily been based on civil rights as on the Vietnam war. In fact, support for the former rather than the latter is suggested by the telegram's reference to the "admirable work you are accomplishing." The notion of accomplishment is much more applicable to Johnson's domestic policies than to his ventures in Vietnam.
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