“As readers of imaginative literature, we are always seeking clues, warnings: where in life to search more assiduously; what not to overlook; what’s the origin of this sort of human calamity, that sort of joy and pleasure. . . . And to such seekers as we are, Chekhov...
This one-meeting study is an opportunity to notice and savour the details in two of Nabokov’s short stories. We will see things and hear things; we will visualize the rooms, the clothes and the manners of the author’s people. We will read not just with our hearts, not...
This Salon Intensive offers a one-meeting study that ambitiously considers two short stories in one big, energetic gulp. Participants have described this as a wonderfully dynamic approach– we work hard and have a joyous time. Our short story study will take two of the...
Everybody knows what a house does, how it encloses space and makes connections between one enclosed space and another and presents what is outside in a new way. This is the nearest I can come to explaining what a story does for me, and what I want my stories to do for...
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
-Opening lines of Humbert Humbert’s confession in Lolita
Subtitled “the confessions of a white widowed male, Lolita is an intoxicating mix of apologia, prison diary and urgent appeal to the members of a jury by a 38-year old defendant, Dr Humbert Humbert, an urbane European professor of literature in 1950s America. Humbert, who is obsessed with “nymphets” (Nabokov’s coinage), girls on the edge of puberty, has been charged with the murder of Clare Quilty, a playwright. As Humbert’s confession unfolds, the reader discovers that his defence is a “crime of passion”: he slaughtered Quilty out of love for Dolores Haze, his “Lolita”.
Lolita is a landmark twentieth century novel which explores the wonder and terror of obsessional love. It is, by turns, dazzling and shocking, very funny and very disturbing, both tender and troubling. It’s also an unforgettable reading experience, due in large part to Nabokov’s language: in the words of critic Michael Wood, “a fabulous, freaky, singing, acrobatic, unheard-of English”.
In his Lectures on Literature (1980) Vladimir Nabokov asserted that : “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only re-read it.” Our text will be The Annotated Lolita but I recommend an initial reading of the text straight through – without consulting the notes. You might have a richer reading experience if you monitor your initial responses before delving into the commentary of the annotated edition.
Facilitated by Marcy Kahan
Wednesday afternoons 12 pm – 2 pm
Five meeting study 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th February & 11th March.
Location: Central London: a few minutes walk from Paddington Station
Recommended edition: The Annotated Lolita. Edited by Alfred Appel Jr. [Penguin]
£125 for five meeting study includes background materials and opening notes
***As of Jan 1st, only two spaces available for this study**
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I consider this to be one of the greatest works of American Literature. The unnamed protagonist’s search for identity in a world that will not see him gives us as readers an opportunity to try to understand the psychological devastation of racism in its subtle as well as its violent forms and to consider how each of us participates in the fate of all humanity. Ellison weaves in themes and images from Virgil, Dante, Emerson, and TS Eliot while also using the structure and transcendence of Jazz to create a work that haunts and stirs to the core of our experience.
Monday afternoons 12:30-2:30 pm ** If you are interested in an early-evening study of this work, please contact us
Eight meetings over eight weeks
Meetings in Kentish Town
Recommended edition: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Penguin Modern Classics (Aug. 2001); ISBN-13: 978-0141184425
£180 for the eight-week study
TO REGISTER for the study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £95. Opening notes will be sent shortly after registration. The study is limited to 11 participants. Please contact us if you have any questions.
From Saul Bellow’s essay:
Review of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
published in Commentary (June 1952)
“It is commonly felt that there is no strength to match the strength of those powers which attack and cripple modern mankind. And this feeling is, for the reader of modern fiction, all too often confirmed when he approaches a new book. He is prepared, skeptically, to find what he has found before, namely, that family and class, university, fashion, the giants of publicity and manufacture, have had a larger share in the creation of someone called a writer than truth or imagination that Bendix and Studebaker and the nylon division of Du Pont, and the University of Chicago, or Columbia or Harvard or Kenyon College, have once more proved mightier than the single soul of an individual; to find that one more lightly manned position has been taken. But what a great thing it is when a brilliant individual victory occurs, like Mr. Ellison’s, proving that a truly heroic quality can exist among our contemporaries. People too thoroughly determined and our institutions by their size and force too thoroughly determine can’t approach this quality. That can only be done by those who resist the heavy influences and make their own synthesis out of the vast mass of phenomena, the seething, swarming body of appearances, facts, and details. From this harassment and threatened dissolution by details, a writer tries to rescue what is important. Even when he is most bitter, he makes by his tone a declaration of values and he says, in effect: There is something nevertheless that a man may hope to be. This tone, in the best pages of Invisible Man, those pages, for instance, in which an incestuous Negro farmer tells his tale to a white New England philanthropist, comes through very powerfully; it is tragi-comic, poetic, the tone of the very strongest sort of creative intelligence. In a time of specialized intelligences, modern imaginative writers make the effort to maintain themselves as unspecialists, and their quest is for a true middle-of-consciousness for everyone. What language is it that we can all speak, and what is it that we can all recognize, burn at, weep over, what is the stature we can without exaggeration claim for ourselves; what is the main address of consciousness?
“I was keenly aware, as I read this book, of a very significant kind of independence in the writing. For there is a way for Negro novelists to go at their problems, just as there are Jewish or Italian ways. Mr. Ellison has not adopted a minority tone. If he had done so, he would have failed to establish a true middle-of-consciousness for everyone.”