Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

An obsessed pedophile comically comments on post war America

I almost wrote, This is about a rapist. Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert, who is sexually obsessed with pre teen girls. Suddenly Fate throws one in his lap (literally). Her name is Dolores, but in his deluded heart, she is his Lolita. He flees with this reluctant step daughter/concubine across American byways and highways. It’s the tale of a sordid seduction and imprisonment and destruction of a 12 year old girl told by a narrator with a superhuman mastery of English prose. Each sentence was like its own novel, very mean and very funny.

I was uncomfortably appalled (though giggling) until the final part, when Humbert’s world starts falling apart, and he allows himself to accept the enormity of his crime. The book takes a turn into tragedy and greatness at the very end. The feeling of sadness, of important things that are broken and never can be fixed, is much stronger than the satirical tone that underlies most of the book. Do I detect here a Russian sense of crime and punishment and atonement?

I don’t know if I felt sympathy for Humbert but at the end I felt I understood him. His plan for Lolita reads like a synopsis of a child molester textbook.   He isolates her, spoils her, makes her helpless.  Humbert is delusional, selfish, impatient. The book is also a meditation on how evil pedophilia (and maybe lust) is, how it demands an object rather than a living person. Humbert puts his lust first. He only destroys her because fate gives her to him. He’s too much of a mild mannered academic to ever abduct her otherwise.

This is part of my Rereading the Classics and ultimately I felt it was a work of genius, though a little cold and sordid. And what’s with all the Hunters? The book is stuffed with allusions and you could spend years trying to figure them all out.

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