I just finished reading Nabokov’s “Lolita” for an “Autonomy in America” seminar I’m taking at U of T. I’ve heard of the novel and had always wanted to read it, but somehow I didn’t. I’m not sure why exactly. In any case, I read it now and I’m glad I did. It’s a great novel, although it’s very difficult to get through at times.
The general plot of the novel may be familiar to some readers. Humbert Humbert (an older French gentleman) comes to the States and rents a room from Charlotte Haze, the mother of Dolores Haze, nicknamed “Lo” by her mother. Humbert Humbert has an attraction to young girls, mainly those between the age of 9-15. He calls them “nymphets,” pointing at their sexual qualities. Humbert takes the room because he lusts after Lo, who he calls “his Lolita” throughout the novel.
Now I’m not sure how many sexual qualities young girls have because as far as I’m concerned, young girls generally just want to play and don’t really think about sex so much (I guess it’s a bit different now in our day and age when kids are already having sex in GRADE 2!!!)
Humbert admits that he’s a pedophile throughout the novel and he seems to know that his thoughts are wrong since he knows he can’t act on his lustful feelings in public; however this doesn’t stop him from masturbating while looking or thinking of “Lolita.” Gross, I know.
Before actually reading the novel, I thought I would hate Humbert Humbert and hate the novel as a whole, but after finishing it I realized that it’s hard to really pick a side and it’s hard to hate the novel. First off, Humbert doesn’t actually make a move on Lolita; true he marries her mother so he can be close to her and then kidnaps her from camp after Charlotte Haze dies after being run over by a car, BUT he doesn’t actually pursue a full-fledged sexual affair with Lolita until later in the novel. Lolita (or Dolores Haze) is the one to kiss Humbert and tell him that she’s been a “naughty girl” at camp. She admits to having sex with a boy and then proceeds to have sex with Humbert over several years while they’re driving around the country and staying at motels (she’s 13 – 15 years old during this time).
Although Lolita does appear to be a temptress at the beginning of her and Humbert’s “relationship,” she is raped by him several times throughout the novel. This makes the novel a difficult read.
Eventually Lolita does escape Humbert’s abuse, gets married, and is pregnant the last time the reader sees her.
What makes it hard to decide who to “side” with is the fact that Humbert seems to love Lolita, or at least love her as much as he can (seeing as he’s a crazy pedophile). He feels lost without her and eventually kills the man who took her away from him and ends up in jail.
The novel is written as a first-person narrative so it’s important to remember that the narrator (Humbert Humbert) cannot be trusted, especially since he says he thinks things happened this way or that he’s pretty sure things happened this way. He also attempts to rewrite his diary entries after the diary had been destroyed.
It’s a very well-written novel; however, it makes me wonder if Nabokov wasn’t actually a pedophile. Some of the scenes and descriptions are absolutely gruesome and I completely understand that a writer must have a good imagination, but seriously, what kind of writer imagines an old man lusting after and having sex with a twelve-year-old girl?
Also, fun fact: the term “Lolita” meaning “a sexually precocious girl” was coined from this novel.
At the back of my edition there’s a quote from Vanity Fair that states, “The only convincing love story of our century.” I’m not sure if I agree with this, I don’t know if Humbert’s feelings toward Lolita would be considered love. I would think it’s more of an obsession.
It’s a tricky book to get through, but it’s worth a read if you’re up to it.