Hello, you lovely little being!
I love Nabokov. I love him so much that, last year, I took an entire course devoted to studying his work.
Lolita was a special project for Nabokov, It was a sort of challenge, to write in the perspective of a pedophile. You could argue that he had succeeded considering the fact that a good chunk of people that read that novel see it as a sort of love story. It’s not.
The problem was (and still is) is that not everybody knows how to critically analyse a novel. Not everybody is familiar with the idea of an ‘unreliable narrator.’ It’s romanticized. The language in this novel is incredibly significant as it demonstrates how Humbert Humbert disguises pedophilia with sophisticated vocabulary and artistic emphasis to entice and charm the reader. He deceives the reader by rejecting certain details of the objective reality, thus the reader is restricted to the reality that the narrator claims. His beautiful, flowery prose seduce both Lolita and the reader.
Humbert Humbert euphemizes sexual encounters with Lolita, referring to them as “caresses.” Be mindful. The narrator is attempting to control the reader’s interpretation of his encounters with Lolita, and downplaying the gravity of his crime- that is to say, the corruption of a young school girl. Also note how Humbert Humbert describes secondary characters subjectively and usually quite negatively.
Nabokov went so far as to control the cover-art of the book, infamously stating that he wanted “no girls” pictured on the cover. And yet. Misrepresentation continued to flourish with the Sue Lyon image of Lolita (now 16 and not 12, with a sort of seducing air about her). And though Nabokov liked the movie, he hated its portrayal of his novel. The movie is separate of the book entirely because it doesn’t capture Humbert Humbert’s disturbing narrative. The image became even more distorted with Lana Del Rey who adopted Lolita as her own image (which is, incidentally, the reason why I’m not a fan of her), leaving us with the quote “The most convincing love story of our century” (Damn it, Vanity Fair) on a modern cover of the book and a tangled, extremely sexualized mess of what once was a 1958 novel by a Russian writer eager to become the next Dostoevsky.
All of this especially kills me knowing well that Nabokov was extremely controlling over the way his novels were analysed.
When interrogated about the novel during its release, Nabokov stated that he purposely didn’t write any explicit scenes. Those who believe that Lolita is controversial and inappropriate have made it inappropriate themselves.
All this said, I do consider Lolita to be one of my favourite novels because it demonstrates just how powerful narration is.
When reading Lolita, be incredibly mindful of Humbert Humbert’s game. Do not succumb to the beauty of the prose. Do not succumb to the incredible power of language.