Monday, October 7, 2013

Word Cloud of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

There was certainly no dearth of images to choose from for this book; a tasteful cover for a book about ephebophilia is a challenge that many designers are fascinated by. There is a web site with 185 published book covers, a recent book of 80 commissioned conceptual book cover designs, and plenty of fan cover designs around the Internet.

Finally, I had to go with the iconic heart-shaped sunglasses from the Kubrick film poster (reproduced on many book covers afterwards), despite its notoriously presenting Lolita as a seductress instead of Nabokov's pragmatic, desperate, abused girl. Perhaps we are seeing her through Humbert Humbert's flawed perception.

1962 movie poster

By far the most common word is the title character's name: she appears as Dolores (her given name) 65 times, Dolly 100 times, Lolita 240 times and Lo 273 times, for a total of 678 mentions -- in a 110,000 word book, that's an extremely high rate of 0.6% of all words used. Her name is even repeated eight times in a row by a rapturous narrator in Chapter 26 -- a chapter so short, Lolita's name makes up over 12% of the total words.

The narrator's peculiar reduplicated name, "Humbert Humbert" appears in full 19 times; "Humbert" appears on its own another 87. Among the other strongly represented words are "Haze" (the Lolita's and her mother's surname, an inspiration for many jeux de mots by HH), and of course "young", "child", and HH's neologism "nymphet". Another word which does not appear as often, but is overrepresented in comparison to the English corpus, is "old" -- a contrast, of course, to "young".

The longest oft-repeated or nearly repeated phrase (six times in one form or another) are the lyrics to the half-remembered song "Oh Carmen, ... "the stars and the cars and the barmen", which first appears in the infamous Chapter 13 in which HH steals Lolita's apple (the symbolism is obvious) and maneuvers her onto his lap, where the physical contact makes him near-delirious. Another is "ladies and gentlemen of the jury", said in one form or another ten times, a reminder that HH fully expects to be judged by the reader.

The novel has about 110,000 words, 14,000 unique words, 10,000 unique word stems (e.g. counting "walk", "walking" and "walks" together), and 4,000 word stems used only once -- this is a high variety of words, typical for a master linguist like Nabokov. Many of these singletons are rare French and Latin words like "ensellure", "frétillement" and "quidquam", cultured words like "Chimène" (an opera) and "callypygean" (a classical reference referring to the buttocks" and plays on words like "honeymonsoon" and "dolorous" (referring to Lolita's given name).

"Incest" and "nubile" appear twice each, "tumescent" once, and "pedophilia" and "molest" do not appear at all.

Wikipedia article about the book.

Word cloud created using Tagxedo.


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