Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lolita

“Light of my life, fire of my loins”—I wondered why the first lines of Lolita* spoke to me in a sultry singing voice as I read them. Then it hit me…Lana Del Rey’s “Off to the Races”. Go read the lyrics and it’ll feel like you’ve kind of read a cheapened summary of the book with an altered ending in order to give the hit more consensual flair. The fact that Lana has read Lolita contributes to the massive girl crush I have on her but doesn’t eliminate the fact that she’s an accursed talent who is too drunk to stand on stage at her own shows (no, I’m not bitter at all).

While Lana certainly lets us know she gets with older, grungy guys (watch the “Ride” music video, good lawd), she doesn’t express interest in the kind of atypical age gap that forms the backbone of this novel. Humbert Humbert (yes, you read that correctly), the 36-year-old narrator of this fine fiction, tells the story of how he falls into a deep, desperate, and dangerous love affair with a little nymph, Dolores Haze (aka Lolita, aka Lo). By his own definition, a nymphet is a sexually bewitching creature between the ages of 9 and 15. This child is not necessarily conventionally pretty; rather, she charms men afflicted by “pederosis” in ineffable ways and often unknowingly. It might be the way her hair curls in the back or the ivory-pink color of her skin. According to H.H., nymphetness is accompanied by a slight evil, daemonic quality because of the perilous magic she possesses. When he sees his Lolita nymph for the first time, he realizes that his undying love for her-- however complex it might be—is the pinnacle of joy; all other so-called happy experiences in his gloomy past and sullen future pale in comparison.

So how did Nabakov pull off this love story without coming off as disgustingly creepy? Couple all of this with the fact that H.H. marries Lolita’s mother in order to become her father. Damn. He’s in love with his legal daughter who is 24 years his junior. Never once did I forget Lolita’s age and fragility; however, because the author honed in on Humbert Humbert’s consumptive passion, I was able to accept the sticky situation for what it was and enjoy the book as a love story. Nabakov, in my opinion, wasn’t trying to make readers sympathetic to H.H…he just wanted us to recognize he was human. Not to mention he was clever and hilarious! H.H. once describes someone as a “sluttish worn out female with rusty hair” (Nabakov, 110). Can you imagine someone casually calling you a sluttish worn out female? At another point, in reference to a newly introduced main character, he explains, “I think I had better describe her right away, to get it over with” (Nabakov, 37). Clearly, he thinks very highly of women.

Additionally, the writer frequently engages in word-play. In the beginning of the novel, H.H. announces that every name in this love story of his is a pseudonym. As such, he is able to have plenty of fun with his concocted aliases. For example, the aforementioned main nymphet Dolores Haze is at one point depicted as “[his] dolorous and hazy darling” (Nabokov, 53). Later on, he coins her “loquacious Lo”… not to be confused with a character in a Tyler Perry movie (Nabakov, 140). His repartee continues when Humbert Humbert dejectedly dictates how his love for Lolita is unrequited. He comedically claims, “[she] would have preferred a Hamburger over a Humburger” (Nabokov, 166). Quite the jokester, that Nabakov.

And indeed, he was reputably light-hearted in real life. He was a Russian born novelist in the early 1900’s who, somewhat hesitantly, switched over to English publications so as to expand his literary career. Fun fact: he was also a lepidopterist (what the hell?). After Lolita was published in 1955, the butterfly professional expressed frustration that critics “pronounce[d] Lolita meaningless because it did not teach them anything” (Nabakov, 314). He was basically like: guys this is good stuff! Why does there always have to be some deep underlying moral implication? What about the fact that this is art? You experience an aesthetic bliss when you read it. Can’t you just enjoy my book without reading between the lines to pinpoint my position on pedophilia? PS I'm not a pedophile I prommmmise.

          I agree wholeheartedly. This book was seriously beautiful-- pure poetry. I wouldn’t say I didn’t learn anything, but I definitely didn’t go looking. Because it was a book about love, I suppose I learned a bit about the elements of love-- or at least his particular concept of love-- from a more objective point of view. According to H.H., love involves:
  •  Possession. He wants all of Lolita all of the time. For him, there is zero moderation in this category. While mutual possession is ideal, he settles for one-sided dominance when his love remains unreciprocated. “Better destroy everything than surrender her” (Nabakov, 235). This can, of course, lead to a lot of…
  • Jealousy. He refuses to allow Lolita to fraternize with boys her age. Hell, he won’t even let her out of his sight. He even gets jealous when Lolita makes girlfriends. Why will she play and giggle and open up to them and not him? He learns to cope with these obstacles through…
  • Manipulation. Very quickly in the relationship, H.H. realizes that Lolita must be carefully appeased if she is to fulfill her “sexual obligations” unforced. Instead of raping her physically, he rapes her emotionally. She’s a kid…why not trade some ice cream and a new dress for a sexual favor? Mid-novel he exclaims, “How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it until she had done her morning duty. And I was such a thoughtful friend, such a passionate father, such a good pediatrician, attending to all the wants of my little auburn brunette’s body!” (Nabakov, 165). And this visibly becomes…
  • Self-deception. He was just being a good, attentive dad! He had needs too, he was “passionately parched” (Nabakov, 239). No one could ever love her like he loved her, so why not make her understand that? He’s not a rapist, he’s a therapist. After all, “the girl forms her ideals of romance and of men from her association with her father” (Nabakov, 150). This sort of delusion quickly escalates into…
  • Hysteria. This kind of love created a “brand new, mad new dream world, where everything was permissible” (Nabakov, 133). For him, it was not just a carnal pursuit but a pursuit of intimacy. When that intimacy shatters, H.H. goes batshit crazy. Their life, and love, was so delicate, condemning him to a “constant state of anxiety in which the guilty, the great, the tenderhearted live” (Nabakov, 188). Truly, in many ways, despite his persistence, he acknowledges his brutish faults and this prompts some serious…
  • Self-loathing. He was robbing this girl of her childhood—of her sanity! It wasn’t the illicit nature of his crime that fueled his self-hatred (he mentions that the law actually unduly disfavors his kind) but the fact that Lolita was suffering as a result. You can only self-deceive so much when the love of your life so candidly discards you.

·                     If you’re truthful with yourself, you’ve experienced some of these elements---hopefully to a much less extreme degree. People rationalize their actions in the name of love and do all sorts of nutty things to garner their loved one’s attention. H. H.’s infatuation with Lo, both erotically and emotionally, shaped his entire life, and the end of the novel was sincere and heart-breaking. He stands firmly in defense of his love, no matter where it leads him, because it’s not something that he can just switch off. He poignantly explains, “I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight” (Nabakov, 270).


          As a final summation, I hope that this novel’s peculiar plot doesn’t render you so uncomfortable that you make the mistake of missing out on Nabakov’s magical prose. I emphatically give Lolita 5 out of 5 camel humps. I have never witnessed a more honest character. True, his desires were outrageous and controversial…but his emotions/feelings/thoughts were so very palpable. His mind was an open book and he wrote with such verve it even took me aback at times. As Nabakov explained, it is enjoyable just as it is.

"Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations" -- Vladimir Nabakov

*Nabakov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

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