Author: Vladimir Nabokov
The story of Lolita is a famous one. It is the romanticised tale of a pedaphile, although many seem to ignore this little fact. Readers have fallen in love with the characters and with the often swaying writing ability of our author, Russian American novelist, Vladimir Nabokov. Written in 1955 the book is known for its controversy, however, it has still achieved undeniable success being adapted into a film twice: as well as numerous numerous stage productions. I would like to review the implorable actions of our main character, Humbert. Humbert, and the writing of the character Lolita. Also how communities in the text allow for the sexualisation, and objectification of young girls and women as a whole in the text and in our own world. Personally I find this text hard to read due to the underlying context I will further discuss, and because of the way in which the writing allows for the excuse of the actions of Humbert.
Our storyline follows as such, our protagonist Humbert.Humbert describes his life before his incarceration, firstly his failed marriage to a Russian woman in France, to a run in with an underage prostitute. This event leads him on to see that his “urges” towards young girls for sexual pleasure are what he really wishes for. After having two mental breakdowns, putting him in an asylum ( These episodes are skipped over quickly in the text). Humbert then moves to America to live with a family as a boarder. He arrives to find that the family he ends up staying with has a twelve year old girl, whom which he becomes infatuated with and gives the secret nickname of “Lolita.” Humbert later goes on to kidnap Lolita, following the death of her mother, and they start a sexual relationship while road tripping across the US; they are always on the run to avoid suspicion about their relationship. Our story ends with Humbert incarcerated for the murder of a man whom had tried to employ Lolita, now fourteen, in a porn film. Humbert describes how he found out Lolita has died in childbirth at the age of seventeen, and finally we learn how Humbert himself has died a couple of months later, still believing in his own innocence of taking away Lolita’s.
Our narrator, I will not say protagonist as that implies a hero aspect to this character who I believe to be disgusting, for this text is Humbert. Humbert. A man in his early thirties who has had two mental breakdowns and one failed marriage, he is also a pedophile. Humbert masquerades as a gentleman, kind, smart and respectable in every sense of the word. The people he surrounds himself with, are those who can adore him while never glimpsing what’s below the shallow facade that he has built: “ But in our middle-class nosy era it would not have come off the way it used to in the brocaded palaces of the past” I thought that this quote gleaned to the reader Humbert’s real thoughts on the society he lives in. His abhorrent actions are narrated by himself in the story, giving only an sugarcoated account of his own doings. As the reader we soon learn that we must take every memory of his with a pinch of salt; because with Humbert things are never as then seem, often far darker than what they are written as. Vladimir Nabokov, has said in interviews that he doesn’t agree with the actions of his own character, and that he wrote Humbert as a challenge, a person so far removed from himself that he could allow his imagination to roam. Humbert charms those he meets and tries to also charm his reader. This has worked for many fans of the novel who have defended his actions, claiming Humbert to be the victim of this story instead of the predator that even Nabokov has stated Humbert is. From Humbert we learn how even the most charming of people can have a darker side, and to be weary of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
While reading the text I found that the writing of the character Lolita is done in such a way, that shows how our narrator, Humbert, has stripped away Lolita as a person. Lolita’s real name is Dolores Haze, she is a girl of twelve years when she meets Humbert, and like many young girls develops a small crush. This is all normal behaviour of a troublesome twelve year old, but this innocent development is not how Dolores is portrayed in the text. To Humbert, and as presented to us the readers, she is Lolita; the “nymphet” of Humbert’s dreams, and to him, shows her eagerness to become involved. The reality of the situation is skewed by Humbert, so that Lolita is seen as more of a woman than she is, more ready for a relationship with a man, more ready to be Humberts, and that all that is stopping her is the society she lives in. To me, the obvious reality is that she is a vulnerable child, susceptible to outside influence, as such from Humbert:“nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I had inflicted upon her.” Vladimir Nabokov seems to have written this way on purpose, Dolores loses her identity when she renamed Lolita, she becomes everything that Humbert imagines, giving the reader no other guide as to the actual events or actions of Dolores other than how Humbert perceives them to be. Elizabeth Janeway from the The New York Times Book Review describes this behaviour with this quote: “Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh.” As that is what Lolita becomes, a dream made flesh. She is not a real person, she is a figment of Humbert’s pleasure driven imagination, he even admits that Lolita was a creation of his own making in this quote here: “In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child.” Dolores is the reality, one that Humbert changes for his own desires. Dolores is essentially written out of the story. She only exists in the text when other characters are also in the scene with her, she is never Dolores when alone or with Humbert, she is Lolita then. Dolores’ humanity is stolen from her, as is her innocence, at the hands of Humbert. Ultimately I learnt from Dolores situation the importance of hearing two sides of every story. For without the whole picture, actions can be called into question and some key motivations and evidence can be blanked over completely.
One of the main themes of this text is the sexualisation of a young girl. This type of theme is apparent in a large amount of modern and classic texts, ranging from movies and songs to comics and books. In “ Lolita” this girl is Dolores. She is sexualised by Humbert, and his actions towards her are ignored by the society of Ramsdale, Dolores’ own mother, and the others of the communities that the two travel to while on the run. Our own real life society has allowed for Dolores sexualisation, by defending Humbert and also by coining the novel’s name “Lolita” to refer to child like women, dolls, and also to young girls who are interpreted by adults to be more explicit than others their own age. An example of this can be seen in the “Lolita” fashion trend. This is where, woman primarily, dress in doll-like or childlike clothing to appear cute. These costumes are however, often sexualised in some form with very short skirts, extremely low necklines or skimpy stockings. This example shows how our societies, even in the 21st century, are allowing for the sexualistation of young girls or images associated with young girls, and passing it off as normal behaviour to do so. This is a form of objectification as well, where the women in these texts are not often viewed as people but as an object of beauty of pleasure for the other characters for us, the consumers, to enjoy and the expense of the image we are creating of the women and girls in the texts. Lolita is almost always written objectively, seen here in this quote, “I seldom if ever dreamed of Lolita as I remembered her — as I saw her constantly and obsessively in my conscious mind during my daymares and insomnias.” This novel shows objectification and sexualisation in a very raw form, everything is a male perspective and one driven by pleasure. Fundamentally I think this novel should have been a warning against the culture we have created around the name, maybe Nabokov even intended it to be written as one, but the point that has come across to readers is that the vulnerability of a young girl can be ignored in some cases in the pursuit of romantic interest. A troubling conclusion coming to life, through a a piece of literature that I believe has almost single handedly become the excuse for this behaviour.
The novel of “Lolita,” written by Vladimir Nabokov, tells the romanticised tale of the loss of innocence of a young girl at the hands of a charming gentleman. As a novel I thought the writing was poetic and brilliant at persuading the reader into condoning the acts of the predator. Narrated by the predator himself the novel twists our ideas of what is and isn’t allowed in society, but the author leaves hints as to tell the reader to tread carefully; seeing if we will find the signs that the bystanders of the story miss. I want to believe that Nabokov tries to show the readers the way in which Dolores becomes Lolita, how she is written out of her own story and how the signs of a predator are missed by so many that could have saved her; but from what has come from this novel I am not so sure as to Nabokov’s stance on his characters actions. As the readers we learn these things, as well as get an insight into how this writing style can lead some to miss the point entirely. People have gone onto praise a novel not for raising awareness but for the tale itself and the gentleman at the wheel. In conclusion, this novel shows the objectification of women and young girls from a young age, that has started to teach societies in and out of the novel that it’s okay to sexualise a girl at whatever her age, and that some will still not see her as the victim. And for me that is more than reason enough to want to forget this book entirely, for its original message I believe will never be heard by the colossal fan base this novel has created around itself.