Chasing Lolita
Graham Vickers
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Buy *Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again* by Graham Vickers online

Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again
Graham Vickers
Chicago Review Press
256 pages
August 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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“You must be confusing me with some other fast little article,” says Lolita to her stepfather, Humbert, in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita. Ever since its publication in 1958, readers, critics, media personalities, journalists, and the general public have been busy confusing Lolita, twisting her story to conform to their own preconceived ideas. Graham Vickers gives us the history of Lolita and examines what 50 years of pop culture have done to co-opt the image of Lolita into the seductive temptress she is known as today.

Vickers gives readers a brief synopsis of Nabokov’s novel and stresses that, when Dolores Haze was first introduced to readers, she was a 12-year-old child, not the brazen seductress she has morphed into. Nabokov gives no indication that she was anything other than a normal, somewhat gawky schoolgirl. The first vision of Lolita as overtly sexual comes in a publicity poster for Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film version of the story, and from then on Lolita’s fate has been sealed.

Vickers spends times investigating the real-life precursors to the Lolita story, focusing on Charles Dodgson’s fascination with Alice Liddell and Charlie Chaplin’s fondness for young girls, including his short marriage to the teenaged Lillita. He then examines the difficulties Nabokov experienced in getting Lolita published, fighting worldwide censors and allegations of obscenity.

Vickers then examines the many attempts at bringing Lolita off the printed page and into visual media. The first attempt was Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film. Despite a screenplay written by Nabokov himself, Kubrick elected to change so much of the story that Lolita and Humbert become different characters, and Nabokov was vocally disappointed. In 1971, famed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner opened a musical called Lolita, My Love, which received such bad reviews that it closed after only nine performances. In 2005, playwright Edward Albee’s Lolita debuted in New York City to equally dismal reviews.

Not until director Adrian Lyne’s movie in 1997 did Lolita receive critical acclaim. Because of it’s proximity to the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, Lyne’s movie almost never got distributed and eventually opened in Europe. While Lyne takes liberties with the story, he retains many of the novel’s unique details, and Nabokov’s son, Dmitri has openly endorsed it.

Vicker’s book is most interesting when he breaks away from the history and examines the ways in which pop culture has changed the meaning of the word Lolita. Beginning with Kubrick’s promotional posters for his movie, the media has been purposefully portraying Lolita in overtly sexual poses. The famous lollipop and heart-shaped sunglasses are fully inventions of a media intent on promoting Lolita as a purely sexual entity. Artist Graham Ovenden’s series of "Lolita" paintings seem to eroticize Lolita in ways that Nabokov never intended.

In the famous case of Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita, the blame for a horrifying sequence of events is placed on the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old girl while the man involved was practically absolved of guilt. Overnight, the term Lolita came to be synonymous with slut, a young woman who sets out to seduce and destroy an older man. One of the most tragic uses of the Lolita image is in the series of pornographic films produced in the 1970s featuring young girls between the ages of seven and eleven. Photos from these movies were then sold to the Dutch pornographic magazine Lolita.

Vickers writes an interesting, entertaining look at the history and myth of the famous, and infamous, Lolita. An obvious fan of the novel, Vickers assembles an interesting and thought-provoking collection of anecdotes about a novel that has been fascinating readers for 50 years. Readers who love the novel, or who are interested in the portrayal of women in society, will find much in this book to enjoy.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elizabeth Schulenberg, 2008

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