Abstract

Is the ending of Lolita real or imagined? Does Humbert Humbert visit Dolly Schiller and murder Quilty? Or doesn’t he? While most scholars accept the fictional reality of the last three days’ events, a growing number of scholars cite the novel’s chronology to challenge that reading. Since Humbert declares that he has been writing for 56 days, they count back from his reported death and determine that he began writing the day he claims to receive Dolly’s letter. The novel’s chronology thus undermines a realist reading but does not undo it altogether. This article explores the overlooked possibility that Lolita’s ending is deliberately ambiguous. Returning to Nabokov’s roots in the Russian literary tradition, I argue that Lolita, Nabokov’s most American novel, is also a Petersburg text. A native of St. Petersburg, Nabokov adopts the narrative ambiguity that characterizes Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades,” Gogol’s “The Nose,” and Dostoevsky’s The Double. These works not only engage themes of duality, madness, and dreams common to other Petersburg texts, they also raise ontological questions and contain evidence on both sides that cannot be dismissed. Placing Lolita into this tradition thus provides a both/and rather than an either/or solution to the revisionist debate.

Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 95-123
Launched on MUSE
2016-02-14
Open Access
No
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