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Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 I’m not a squeamish reader, in fact I probably cherish most works that others would ban from the literary world, and I’m drawn particularly to those that cause controversy in culture. Lolita is a novel that has been warped completely by it’s cultural references, it carries around a soiled reputation. naturally when I began reading I expected something troubling and scenes that I would have to spend days getting around. What I actually found was beautifully poetic prose, drawing me into the mind of Humbert Humbert, and manipulating me into accepting the world he was presenting. This has effected me much more than any graphic scene could do because it made me understand how consent and compliance in an act that is truly wrong can be given freely.

             Lolita is told through the middle-age voice of Humbert Humbert; the murderer, who is trying to explain himself fully to his lawyer and the courts and give a detailed account of his life leading up to the point of murder. Humbert has a self-confessed obsession with nymphets, this is the first realization we have to make in the novel, as Humbert isn’t attracted to children… it is in  fact out of his control that nymphets show themselves within the small prepubescent window of girls; and we do see at times the nymphet shadow linger in older girls and woman. There are erotic scenes, particularly in the opening of the novel before we see Lolita, it is here that the narrator takes hold of your perspective; numerous times I felt myself quite disturbed by the beauty of these erotic scenes to be reminded a paragraph later that we are talking about a 9 or 12 year olds. After this introduction to the mind of Humbert in which he gets married as a ruse to disguise his pedophilia, betrayed and shoved unwillingly into the care of Charlotte Haze we encounter, finally, Lolita. 

         We are dealing here with a narrator who is sexually disturbed; after a thwarted love affair in his teens with his beloved Annabel, it seems his sexual development is completely stunted, I haven’t come to the conclusion that his entire emotional development is also stunted but certainly the aspects relating to sexual relationships has gone down with it. This, I am convinced, is the main reason for his numerous mental breaks throughout the novel and his ultimate demise in the final section, and can be seen in his use of language to describe such breaks. When Humbert is a confident narrator we see that reflected in his luscious prose, manipulating and conspiring, later into the novel the events become staked and transparent, at times I took this to be the work of the author but in understanding the narrator it seems to be the only mode of dialogue he can bring to the reader and convey the happenings of his life.  

    I am convinced also that Humbert is the antagonist of this novel, HIS version of Lolita being the protagonist, I would go as far as to say that Lolita and Dolores Haze are two completely different characters. I have said this many times since reading the novel to various people, who probably think I should be sectioned, but Lolita is a bastard…  She is conniving, and false, a shallow seductress and brings many situations upon herself. It is too easy as a reader to become desensitization to the abuse within the novel. This of course is the girl that Humbert wants us to see, in this he is the victim, controlled by this little girl and her wild ways, the truth unfortunately is much more disturbing, and the very fact that he believes his own lies is more problematic for both the reader and culturally.  It is only as Lolita grows up that we are given small glimpses into the true horror of her life, as Humbert says that Dolores could have done so much with her life if he had not taken over her. We are also given very small glimpses (miss able!) into his methods of controlling her; his gifts, threats to the ‘family unit’ and the repercussions on her if she was to reveal the truth of their life together. A handful of times we are given the most harrowing detail about Dolores, she cried herself to sleep most nights, and that broke my heart.

   There are of course many other avenues of looking at this novel, but the most worrying and interesting to me is of my own compliance in the treatment of Lolita. The ruin of Dolores Haze.

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