I have been reading some so-called “academic” articles about Lolita with the intention of commenting on their arguments here, but I’ve yet to come across anything that didn’t leave me (at best) uninspired or (at worst) disgusted. Half-cooked arguments about mermaids and symbolism in Lolita remind me of something Nabokov wrote to Alfred Appel, Jr. when the latter was composing his Annotated Lolita. Appel writes, and I agree, that it is “one of the most significant statements Nabokov made about his own art.” Nabokov’s “Note about Symbols and Colors re ‘Annotated Lolita’” is quoted in Appel’s book:
There exist novelists and poets, and ecclesiastic writers, who deliberately use color terms, or numbers, in a strictly symbolic sense. The type of writer I am, half-painter, half-naturalist, finds the use of symbols hateful because it substitutes a dead general idea for a live specific impression. I am therefore puzzled and distressed by the significance you lend to the general idea of “red” in my book. When the intellect limits itself to the general notion, or primitive notion, of a certain color it deprives the senses of its shades. In different languages different colors were used in a general sense before shades were distinguished. (In French, for example, the “redness” of hair is now expressed by “roux” meaning rufous, or russet, or fulvous with a reddish cast.) For me the shades, or rather colors, of, say, a fox, a ruby, a carrot, a pink rose, a dark cherry, a flushed cheek, are as different as blue is from green or the royal purple of blood (Fr. “pourpre”) from the English sense of violet blue. I think your students, your readers, should be taught to see things, to discriminate between visual shades as the author does, and not to lump them under such arbitrary labels as “red” (using it, moreover, as a sexual symbol, though actually the dominant shades in males are mauve-to bright blue, in certain monkeys). …Roses may be white, and even black-red. Only cartoonists, having three colors at their disposal, use red for hair, cheek, and blood.
I leave you, simply, with Nabokov’s own words. Never substitute a dead general idea for a live specific impression.