Saturday, February 25, 2012

ReView of LOLITA by Nobokov

"You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."

In Nabokov's Lolita, Humbert Humber is one twisted character.  He is a master at teasing, manipulating, hiding and maneuvering to get his way.  His obsession with young girls is both erotically maniacal and perverse.  Nymphets, he calls them.

"Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I suppose to designate as 'nymphets.'"

"What drives me insane is the twofold nature of the nymphet - of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brotherls' and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God."

He does everything and anything possible characteristic of a psycho.  He marries the mother of a child he's obssesed with only to remain close in her vicinity (by the way, even uses mild bromides to 'anoint the nerves' whever he wants to rid of her company).  THEN he doesn't bring the young girl home for her mother's funeral because, he says, "I immediately realized that it would be madness on my part to have her in the house with all those busybodies milling around and scheming to take her away from me."  After her mother's death he continues to find ways to snivel his way into this young girls life as her step-father, taking precautions everywhere and anywhere so that he is not found out to be the perpetrator that he is, of course.  He thinks so highly of himself that he even goes to say, "Years of secret sufferings had taught me superhuman self-control." 

Lolita.  Who is Lolita?  To both her mother and Humbert Humber she is nothing but evil child: "not an easy child to deal with," "intolerable," "spiteful," "villainous infant," "regular pest," "impatient, irritable, inquisitive, listless, negativistic, obstainate."  We never really see Lolita from her own eyes.  The perspective we see of Lolita is always from those looking AT her.  I almost wanted to rip the book apart for this reason.  Why doesn't Lolita get to have a say in her life?  Why is her character dictated by her bizzare mother, and this fanatical man?  We don't even get to know the motivations behind her actions.  We, the readers, know the actions and how they are interpreted... but do we really know who Lolita is?  And why don't we?  Ah, Nobokov, how dare you!

Then, on top of it all, as you read on and on, you find yourself giving Humbert Humbert some bit of sympathy; sometimes even more than you can help yourself.

"But let us be prim and civilized.  Humbert Humbert tried hard to be good.  Really and truly, he did.  He had the utmost respect for ordinary children, with their purity and vulnerability, and under no circumstances would he have interfered with the innocence of a child, if there was the least risk of a row.  But how his heart beat when, among the innocent throng, he espied a demon child, "enfant charmante et fourbe," dim eyes, bright lips, ten years in jail if you only show her you are looking at her."

He talks about his "darling's mind," and how much he "loved" her.  His words give the erotical illusion that he might have possibly 'loved' her.  His actions, on the other hand, oh, well, those action spoke more to his controlling manner to get what he wants, than anything else.  The law was laid down clearly for Lolita with things that were "absolutely forbidden," "reluctantly allowed," and "discreetly at a distance" observed.Then, he dares to say:

"She was, however not easy to deal with.  Only her listlessly did she earn her three penies - or three nickels - per day; and she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever it was in her power to deny me certain life-wrecking, strange, slow paradisal philters without which I could not live more than a few days in a row, and which, because of the very nature of love's langour, I could not obtain by force."

At this point, I feel inclined to punch Humbert in the face, indeed.

But given that he is a fictional character, I'll mosy on with my conclusion (sad-face).  There definitely are disturbing moments in the book, erotically disturbing I should say.  Moments when you realize he's talking about a teenage young girl in a fashion that you can only describe as 'molestation,' yet the prose is eloquent and rhythmic that it carries you through lightly without at first noticing anything wrong.

With certainty, though, I have to say this is one of my favorite books.  As twisted as it may be, it is diabolically GENIUS.  I am going to read this book again sometime in the future, in my life! I know it!  It always keeps you thinking.  It's constantly shocking you into perplexity.  This novel will teach of things you never thought about on your own, and you'll be thankful you gave those things a thought.  It will make you more aware, more knowledgeable, and definitely more observant of things around you in life.

Before ending, though, I have to add.  Do we owe Humbert Humbert any sympathy?  I remember several times in the book as I recount some moments, that I was saying to myself 'poor Humbert, he's hopeless, helpless."  What is it about this character that we can't 100% commit fully guilty?


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