Wednesday, June 8, 2011
1) The back cover of my edition has a quote from Vanity Fair describing the novel as “The only convincing love story of our century.” This quote is apparently on a number of editions but I cannot find the review it came from (if you know where I can find it please tell me because I’m quite intrigued to read it).
2) If this novel can be described as a love story I would like to present the following description Humbert Humbert (the narrator) gives of the individual he loves; “honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair […] her lovely indrawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed” (Nabokov 39). Pretty lovely and sensual description, right?
3) I was drawn to read this book after it was suggested as a perfect example, during a discussion, of how narration can greatly affect an reader’s view of the subject matter.
If you are not aware, Lolita (317 pages) is Vladmir Nabokov’s infamous novel that at its core is about the love a pedophile, Humbert Humbert, holds for his 12-year-old step-daughter, Dolores Haze (although, you must understand, this is an overly simplified description of this novel). The novel is given as a ‘confession’ from the narrator, Humbert Humbert, as he sits in prison (this is set out by a short introduction from a the friend of a lawyer, John Ray, Jr, Ph.D, who is given the manuscript to edit after Humbert has died in legal captivity).
Although English is not Nabokov’s native language (originally born in Russia) his mastery of the English language and the elegant prose he allows his narrator to use is remarkable. I believe it is this noteworthy use of language that leads to the Vanity Fair review in my first point above.
Throughout my reading of the novel, which I found hard to put down, I found myself feeling considerably sorry for the narrator and somewhat rooting for him. It is only through mentions of Dolores ‘Lolita’ Haze’s age that I was pulled out of these sentimental feelings for Humbert and realized that, no matter what, this protagonist should not get what he wants and desires.
The novel is spilt in two parts (the first part explaining everything leading up to the joining of Humbert and Dolores and the second part explaining everything afterward- including their two plus years living together across America as ‘lovers’) and the first part ends with a particular passage that sent shivers down my spine and really explains the situation the young girl is in. This comes after Humbert has told Dolores that her mother is dead and that she only has him; “At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (my italics, Nabokov 142). If helpless had to be described in one sentence it would be that last line.
I will not lie and say that this novel is an ‘easy’ read (although it flies by) because many of the more descriptive passages can be hard to swallow, as a reader that is disgusted by the idea of pedophilia, but it is worth it in the long run. Nabokov walks a very fine line through Lolita, between an awful subject matter and beautiful narration, but he walks the line well; for this reason I will definitely be reading his work again.
The final comment I want to make about this book is something for you to think about. In my last post, I wrote about E. M Forster’s Maurice; the main controversy around that novel wasn’t about it being a terrible love story but that the main character was in love with somebody they shouldn’t be, another man. If Maurice, viewed by a modern reader, can now be appreciated as a good love story, due to an acceptance of homosexuality, is it possible that one day, in many years to come, Lolita may be viewed the same way? That is not me arguing for an acceptance of pedophilic relationships but rather pointing out that the only difference between the two novels would be that one socially unacceptable love is now more acceptable but the other still isn’t and therefore the latter can only currently be viewed as a sickening love story, with a few exceptions, like Vanity Fair.
The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-679-72316-1.
Nabokov, Vladmir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1997. Print.
Posted by Matthew Dunleavy at 1:13 AM