Vladimir Nabokov & Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita’
Shocking Books and Human Frailties: Seeking “that little sob in the spine”
Watch these clips from the 1950s show “Close Up” in which Nabokov tells how he enjoyed breeding Lolita “in his own laboratory” and refers to the novel as “a fruit salad”. He calls Humbert Humbert “a baboon of genius” and likens him to an ape that’s learned to sketch the bars of his own cage. Nabokov remains tongue-in-cheek throughout, pointing out important differences between Humbert and himself. For example, Humbert hates American hotels, while Nabokov has had many fine experiences in them. Also, Humbert confuses a hummingbird with a particular type of butterfly, something as an entomologist Nabokov would never do.
Trilling, on the other hand, glamourously fingers his cigarette and keeps to a loftier plane. The love between Humbert Humbert and Lolita, he claims, is not “an aberration but an actual love with all the terrible demands of love” — much like that between Tolstoy’s Kitty and Levin, in fact.