Looking Beyond "Lolita" Part 1

Posted by M ws On Saturday, August 13, 2011 0 comments
Earlier today, I put up "Lolita" and me to revisit Nabokov's famous novel. I was supposed to write this post after that but was a tad distracted by the issue of patrol boats. Now that I have finished that post Lest We Forget, the time has come for me to talk about Lolita - again. :-) You can read Lolita online HERE.



Scholars who read the original manuscript of "Lolita" aka "The Confession of a White Widowed Male" surmise that the story is a confession as Humbert, the protagonist dies in jail. While some argue he is a pedophile, he is in fact being tried for murder rather than pedophilia. The book, "Lolita" can be viewed as Humbert's confession about his  pedophiliac affair (or love affair, as Humbert argues) and of the strange nymphet character, Lolita.

What I find interesting is Nabokov's doubling of the title that mimics the doubling of the author’s pseudonym, Humbert Humbert. Throughout the book, Nabokov uses the linguistic pattern of doubled words and doubled characters to suggest the play of and even the overlap between opposites. .

Many readers wonder if indeed 'Lolita' existed in Nabokov's life. Obviously, Nabokov teases us and plays games in order to keep us guessing. What is most interesting is that factual truth is ultimately less interesting than the manner in which that truth is recounted by Humbert!

If you have read Nabokov's other works which you can view HERE, you can clearly see that to him, words are meant to be revered and if used properly, language can elevate anything to an art form. Despite the shocking content, Nabokov uses language to give the story the shades of beauty which some may feel it does not deserve! And why? "Lolita"  is filled with elements of rape, murder, pedophilia, and incest.

And yet, via the use of puns, literary allusions, and repeating linguistic patterns Humbert Humbert tells his story, most enchantingly. You may be filled with chagrin, like I was, because Nabokov craftily uses Humbert to 'seduce' us and win us over, much like the way Humbert seduces Lolita!

In the story, Humbert's power and strength lies in his words which he uses to the max to distract, to charm and even to confuse! Despite being a pedophile and a murderer, he builds up elaborate justifications for his actions, and his mastery in the use of language shields him from condemnation.

I don't know about you, but I feel that the winning element about "Lolita" is that fact that Nabokov subtly transforms readers to be complicit in Humbert’s crimes. The worse thing is, much as I may hate the whole question of pedophilia, rape, and murder, as I read and move into the story, I am completely immersed in Humbert's words, forced to think about the hidden meanings in a feeble attempt to understand what makes Humbert tick and who he is! As one falls prey to Nabokov's persuasive and skillful use of language, I really cannot keep Humbert at a distance far enough to assess who he is! In short, I became an unwilling victim of Nabokov's wiles and charms! Sighs.

"Lolita" also shows us how the interactions between European (Humbert) and American cultures (think Charlotte Haze) result in perpetual misunderstandings and conflict.While Charlotte Haze accepts Humbert  because she is charmed by his glamour and intellect, Humbert does not reciprocate accordingly for Charlotte.

Quite openly, Humbert mocks the superficiality and transience of American culture and most condescendingly, regards Charlotte as nothing but a simple-minded housewife. In sharp contrast, he adores every one of Lolita’s vulgarities and chronicles every detail of his tour of America. Perhaps this is a subtle hint as to how much he enjoys the possibilities for freedom along the open American road. Eventually, Humbert admits that it is he who has defiled the country rather than the other way around.

As Humbert and Lolita travel together, they develop their own version of peace. Ironically, their union is clearly not based on understanding or acceptance. On one hand, Lolita cannot understand the depth of Humbert’s devotion for art, history, and culture. On the other hand, Humbert could never truly recognize Lolita’s unwillingness to let him sophisticate her. As the story develops, Lolita abandons Humbert for the American Quilty, who does not bore her with any high culture or grand passions.

I guess we can never understand Humbert’s passion for Lolita which goes beyond basic psychological analysis. In the story,  Humbert does his best to discredit the entire field of psychology thrown scorn on Freudian psychology.

A good example is how Humbert lies through his teeth to the psychiatrists at the sanitarium. He states that Pratt, the headmistress of Lolita’s school, has diagnosed Lolita as sexually immature, completely ignorant that Lolita has an overly active sex life with her stepfather.

With such a plot. Nabokov goes against authority and logic by demanding that readers view Humbert as a unique and deeply flawed human being, but not an insane one! As Humbert rationalizes in his thoughts and descriptions of his feelings for Lolita, Humbert has actually redefined his feelings as one huge and uncontrollable emotion beyond comprehension or classification. Obviously, since Nabokov himself was deeply critical of psychiatry, he uses "Lolita" to attack that field.

There is so much more that I want to discuss in this post but it is 7.07pm and I am supposed to be at a friend's bbq by 8 p.m and have not showered because I have been at the laptop since 2pm. I started this post and then detoured to Lest We Forget and then came back to this post. I will continue in Part 2 after the bbq. :-(  Have a lovely evening!

* Update @ 12.30am...Too tired to write Part 2 of this post.....To be continued tomorrow....Good night!

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