Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

‘The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.’

Lolita cost me 99p around 10 years ago.  I always consider it to be one of my favourite books, if not my ultimate favourite, due to the prose.  I find it curious that despite the shocking and taboo subject matter it is a very popular book and numerous people claim it as a favourite.  Due to suffering from rubbish memory syndrome I have decided to read it for the fourth time to discover why.

As I grow older and reread books I tend to feel I misinterpretated them the first time around during my budding youth.   Such as I always though On The Road was about finding happiness in solitary worldly discoveries, and enjoying what the world has to offer, but later figured he was in search of love.  I always thought Lolita was about all consuming love, but this time around I figured it’s just about lust from a cruel, selfish, manipulative man.

‘You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine’

I realise it is not as much as a love story as I first though, Humbert sees Lolita as a possesion, rather than them having a relationship.  Comparing her to other nymphets and reassuring himself he’s got the best one.

‘How smugly I would marvel that she was mine, mine, mine’

In summary the plot of this book could be percieved as evil and dangerous but within the first chapter, Humbert Humbert has somehow managed to convince me to understand and sympathise with him.

‘When I was a child and she was a child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet in my own right, on the same enchanted island of time; but today, in September 1952, after twenty-nine years have elapsed, I think I can distinguish in her the initial fateful elf in my life.  We loved each other with a premature love marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.  I was a strong lad and survived; but the poison was in the wound, and the wound remained ever open, and soon I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-fize to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve.’

The story of his wife leaving him disturbes me.  She told him there was someone else and she was leaving him, he confesses he wanted to beat her up but years of repressing his true feelings helped him control himself.
(it’s always the quiet ones) They got into a taxi for a bit of privacy instead of arguing in the street and it turns out she was leaving him for the taxi driver, who took them home, took all her possesions, took his wife and left him with nothing but boredom, hate and some unflushed piss and a fag end marinading in the toilet.  Though Humbert finally felt his revenge when he heard they’d moved to California to be paid good money to be part of an experiment where they were fed a diet of bananas and dates and had to crawl around on all fours all the time.  She got fat and died in childbirth.  Disturbing.

Chapter upon chapter of the book suddenly flows excitedly into one another and I can’t stop reading or pinpoint any standout phrases used to describe his feelings when Humbert describes his bewitching with Lolita.

‘I am trying to analyse the spine-thrill of delught it gives me’

‘For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet.  It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plain of sensitivity.’

Things soon progress from

‘the hidden tumour of unspeakable passion’

An evil man, having always subjected his adult girlfriends to mental abuse, he plots to kill her mother so he can have Lolita all to himself, but by chance she dies anyway.  Maybe it was fate… perhaps it was meant to be this way… Humbert basically kidnaps Lolita and takes her on a road trip across America, letting her be entertained by tourist attractions and icecreams to keep her sweet and bribe her for when he abuses her.   Tailing on the end of an epic list detailing jaunts of sightseeing all over the country is

‘R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano.  Skull-carved sandstoned festoons.  A man having a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park.’

As there is black humour throughout the book, perhaps fooling me into thinking I get this man, because I get his jokes and dark humour.

‘he produced a vial of violet-blue capsuls banded with dark purple at one end, which, he said, had just been placed on the market and were intended not for neurotics whom a draught of water could calm if properly administered, but only for great sleepless artists who had to die for a few hours in order to live for centuries.’

‘as I lay on my narrow studio bed after a session of adoration and despair’

‘I sat on a marble bench of sorts donated by Cecilia Dalrymple Ramble.  As I waited there, in prostatic discomfort, drunk, sleep-starved, with my gun in my fist in my raincoat pocket’

The book is filled with French phrases and Humbert keeps emphasising what a learned, worldly, intellectual man he is, and many things go over my head, and I wonder if this is on purpose to make sure I think he is far more clever than I, so anything I don’t agree with, perhaps I just don’t understand…

‘any good Freudian, with a German name and some interest in religious prostitution, should recognize at a glance the implication of ‘Dr Kitzler, Eryx, Miss.’

Though he keeps abusing Lolita (yet failing to go into much detail about it, just casually mentioning it in passing, obviously not even giving a thought about how she feels mentally), he likes to let us know just how guilty he is feeling, and he knows he’s doing wrong, yet he continues to let himself be controlled by his lust.

‘Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise – a paradise whose skies were the colour of hell-flames – but still a paradise.’

‘Instead of basking in the beams of smiling Chance I was obsessed by all sorts of purely ethical doubts and fears.’

In his eyes everybody around them is just part of the scenery the world revolves around Lolita.

‘Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public fountain.’

It later becomes aparant, as she grows older, how it as all purely a physical attraction.  And he starts looking at other young girls too, as he is very aware there is an expiration on this girls ‘nymphet’ youth.

‘there are few physiques I loathe more than the heavy low-slung pelvis, thick calves and deplorable complexion of the average co-ed (in whom I see, maybe, the coffin of coarse female flesh within which my nymphets are buried alive)’

‘During the last weeks I had kept noticing that my fat Valeria was not her usual self; had acquired a queer restlessness; even showed something like irritation at times, which was quite out of keeping with the stock character she was supposed to impersonate.’

Lolita had just been a catalyst for his fantasy.  It was all a physical attraction and he later realises he never knew her mind.

‘I detest symbols and allegories’ – Nabokov

At the end of the book there is a few pages written by Nabokov where he explains that the book has no message.  It was just a story he wanted to write, that he though the reader suspected would by a pornographic book at first, then after a few chapters it would turn into a detective novel, by basically using a lot of descrptive words.

‘Lolita has no moral in tow.  For me a work of fiction exists only in so far as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstacy) is the norm.’

I guess I got fooled into thinking it was a beautiful story about love, but realised it’s about lust, obsession, control, and selfishness.

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One Response to Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

  1. We want to use one of your image for academic purpose (non-commercial use) at ILLL University of Delhi (India), therefore we need copyright permission for the same. URL of the Image is given below:

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