Try Googling the following list and noting the number of hits: Lolita, George Washington, the Bible, Hamlet, Babe Ruth, the pope, the Koran, Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Mary Mother of God, The Chronicle of Higher Education. You’ll find that Lolita follows the Bible, and none of the others come close. You’ll also find that the term “Lolita” on those 50 million hits does not always refer to the novel. Surprise.
Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, published 50 years ago, has engendered the most embarrassed, looking-sideways-for-the-exit, highfalutin, and obscurantist talk of any book ever written — any. Only a handful of critics have been forthright, most famously, Lionel Trilling: “Lolita is about love. Perhaps I shall be better understood if I put the statement in this form: Lolita is not about sex, but about love.”
Echoing Leslie A. Fiedler’s famous argument from ‘Love and Death in the American Novel’, Trilling defined that rapturous, consuming love as the sort otherwise peculiarly absent from American fiction, contemporary or classic. At last, albeit coming from a Russian immigrant, here was an American love story to take its place alongside that great European tradition we had, until then, been barred from joining.