Waiting for a Title
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Who is Nabokov, What is Humbert? Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of, or at least that's what they are supposed to be made of. After reading Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, written almost a half a century ago, one must wonder what he was thinking as he penned the book. Nabokov tells us in his essay, "On a Book Entitled Lolita," that his sole purpose in writing such a controversial novel, had "no purpose other than to get rid of that book"(Brink 311). Nabokov's not-so-clear explanation leads many minds to wonder about the "true meaning" of Lolita. One of the most often asked questions, is, of course, Nabokov's personal sexual preference: was he a pedophile? It seems unimaginable that a person could write the tale of such an incredible obsession and that, that obsession could be pure fiction: "The patterns of Lolita have psychological as well as aesthetic significance, and Humbert's language is more than a virtuoso display of effects: it is a strong but delicate instrument that registers the slightest, as well as the wildest, occillations of Humbert's distressed mind and heart"(Pifer 110). One example of Humbert's obsession with Lolita can be found on page 65 in The Annotated Lolita: I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. She would be thirteen on January 1. In two years or so she would cease being a nymphet and would turn into a "young girl," and then into a "college girl"--that horror of horrors. The word "forever" referred only to my own passion, to the eternal Lolita as reflected in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests had not yet flared, the Lolita that today I could touch and smell and hear and see, the Lolita of strident voice and the rich brown hair--of the bangs and the swirls at the sides and the curls at the back, and the sticky hot neck, and the vulgar vocabulary--"revolting," "super," "luscious," "goon," "drip"--that Lolita, my Lolita, poor Catullus would lose forever. So how could I afford not to see her for two months of summer insomnias? Two whole months out of the two years of her remaining nymphage." For any reader, among the main issues of Lolita are representations of incest, child-molestation, obsession, and pedophilia. This essay will examine relevant details in Nabokov's biography and attempt to discover the connection between Humbert Humbert and Nabokov.
There have been a lot of theories; after all, there is even a name, "Dolorologists," given to people who study Lolita. Lolita is not just a novel that a person reads once and puts it back on the shelf. People reread Lolita over and over again only to become more confused and see so many little hidden and twisted meanings.
Elizabeth Janeway, in a review written in 1958 recalls that, "The first time I read Lolita I thought it was one of the funniest books I'd ever come on. The second time I read it, uncut, I thought it was one of the saddest." One reason for the mixed reviews and the many changes of mind as for who is the victim and who is the seducer should be a hundred percent credited to Nabokov's excellent writing style. "Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! I had thought that months, perhaps years, would elapse before I dared to reveal myself to Dolores Haze; but by six she was wide awake, and by six fifteen we were technically lovers, I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me"(132). While reading the book for the first time, I noticed myself feeling sorry for Humbert Humbert. When you take a step back and think what is this book is about, it is hard to summarize it, or even understand it. The book has so many meanings.
Is it a joke on the Middle Class in America? Is it about Obsession? Is it about Love, or Lust? I have read some peoples' thoughts and feelings toward Nabokov and his work of art, Lolita. Nabokov defines art in two ways. His first definition, is "Art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex"(quoted in Brink 98) and his second theory is, "Beauty plus pity-that is the closest we can get to a definition of art"(Brink 98). There is no single definition of art. When two people look at the same sculpture, painting or even book they will each get something different out of it. No two people ever see the same things in art. Nabokov's artwork is tricky and rather confusing, and typical of art; everyone can reach their own conclusion. Nabokov passed away some time ago but even when he was alive he did not give a reason for Lolita. Nabokov often danced around his purpose for writing the book; for instance, he once wrote, "For me a work of fiction exists only insofar 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, ecstasy) is the norm"(314-5). In that sentence alone, Nabokov reveals much about himself. "Nabokov created a character obsessed with sexual perversity to explore love, passion, art, perception, fate, morality, and their ties to the otherworld"(Alexandrov 160). Nabokov also claims, Lolita was, "my most difficult book-the book that treated of a theme was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real"(Alexandrov 161). Nabokov gives a variety of information about Lolita, but he never gives the answer we the readers want to hear. One is left on her own to conclude Nabokov's purpose. My personal feelings are that Nabokov himself was a victim of abuse and Lolita was his coming out of the closet, if you will.
To return to the question of Nabokov's slippery reasons for writing such a novel, many critics have been able to piece together some of Nabokov's early childhood. According to Brandon Centerwall, as a young boy Nabokov had an uncle who was a pedophile. Uncle Ruka abused Nabokov as a boy, and although his parents knew of the abuse, they did nothing to stop the scandal. Uncle Ruka was Nabokov's mother's brother, who had no children of his own. When Uncle Ruka died he left his fortune to Nabokov. It was a little bit strange that a teenager was left millions, but it can be thought of as some sort of compensation for his sexual services provided for Uncle Ruka. There are many parallels between Uncle Ruka and Nabokov, and Humbert Humbert and Lolita. The first and most obvious similarity is that Nabokov was age twelve during the escapade and Uncle Ruka was thirty-seven Lolita was a young nymphet of twelve and Humbert Humbert was thirty-seven. Another similarity between Nabokov and Humbert is that Nabokovs given name is Vladimir Vladimirovich(V.V.) Nabokov which is correlated to Humbert Humbert(H.H.). In one psychoanalytic study, doubles are thought of as fear and hate and is usually closely related to narcissistic love and/or resistance to love (Green 79). Another interesting thing about Nabokovs childhood is that he had a sort of special relationship with his sister Olga; it is thought that in some of his other pieces he may have incorporated Olga into a twine of incest and other sexual intimacies. As I mentioned earlier, Nabokov is long since gone; therefore, our questions and curiosities are left unanswered. But another similarity between Nabokov and Humbert was, Nabokov had a strange relationship with his own mother, as did Lolita with Charlotte. One critic points out that all the women in Lolita die. Humberts mother also died when he was very young, and then his care taker took a turn for the worse, Charlotte was killed, and lastly Lolita died during childbirth, (the passage through life when she is to become a mother). Sigmund Freud did numerous studies on the Oedipus complex, when a young boy has intimate feelings towards his mother and has a dislike to his father, or the other man in his mothers life.
Although Freuds preoccupation with the Oedipus (incest) wish is subject to question, psychological evidence confirms that incestuous thoughts and feeling-- largely out of ones awareness-- do play a part in human behavior(Justice & Justice 53). Nabokov did not keep his dislike of Sigmund Freud a secret; at the end of The Annotated Lolita, Nabokov wrote, I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and part to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)(Nabokov 314). It can be argued that Nabokovs strong dislike for Freud and his theories may have something to do with the fact that his secrets were being uncovered, analyzed and even explained. Nabokov did not like these analysis of his writing, or his personal life. Nabokov has said many times in (incest) wish is subject to question, psychological evidence confirms that incestuous thoughts and feeling-- largely out of ones awareness-- do play a part in human behavior(Justice & Justice 53).
Nabokov did not keep his dislike of Sigmund Freud a secret; at the end of The Annotated Lolita, Nabokov wrote, I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and part to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)(Nabokov 314). It can be argued that Nabokovs strong dislike for Freud and his theories may have something to do with the fact that his secrets were being uncovered, analyzed and even explained. Nabokov did not like these analysis of his writing, or his personal life. Nabokov has said many times in much of his personal life a secret. One thing he openly admits is that he had an obsession with butterflies. One summer he went with his wife on a drive through fortysome states, and go figure he and his wife took pretty much the same route as Humbert and Lolita did on their long drive from Camp Q. It was then that began our extensive travels all over the States. To any other type of tourist accommodation I soon grew to prefer the Functional motel--clean, neat, safe nooks, ideal places for sleep, argument, reconciliation, insatiable illicit love(145). Another interesting fact about Nabokov, is that many of his writings including Lolita paralleled the writing of two other authors, Edgar Allen Poe, and Lewis Carroll. Both Poe and Carroll wrote about similar fantasies as Nabokov, and both of them openly admit to being personally involved in their fantasies(Brink 105). Nabokov actually got mad at people for questioning his novel, and analyzing him.
Nabokov was once quoted as saying, Its childish to study the work of fiction in order to gain information...about the author(Brink 108). It is comments like these that lead one to believe that he too may have been involved in his so-called fictional fantasies. Nabokov openly admits to having obsessions, but he explains that he is much smarter than to reveal his secrets in his fiction. Oftentimes people write about topics that they can relate to or have experienced, thus it makes sense that Nabokov would be a pedophile. In his writing he is so descriptive and so emotional about Humberts passion for Lolita that it is hard to believe that Humbert is not Nabokov: Oh, winged gentlemen of the jury! And she was mine, she was mine, the key was in my fist, my fist was in my pocket, she was mine. In the course of the evocations and schemes to which I had dedicated so many insomnias, I had gradually eliminated all the superfluous blur, and by stacking level upon level of translucent vision, had evolved a final picture. Naked except for one sock and her charm bracelet, spread-eagled on the bed where my philter had felled her--so I foreglimpsed her; a velvet hair ribbon was still clutched in her hand; her honey-brown body, with white negative image of a rudimentary swimsuit patterned against her tan, presented to me its pale breastbuds; in the rosy lamplight, a little pubic floss glistened on its plump hillock. The cold key with its warm wooden addendum was in my pocket(125). Nabokov has an argument for every attack made on him. Nabokov says, that People tend to underestimate the power of my imagination and my capacity of evolving serial selves in my writing. In conclusion, it is easy to see from various passages throughout the novel and information donated by numerous Dolorologists, Nabokov was in fact an obsessive man. It is up to the reader to decide if Humbert is Nabokov and if Nabokov is truly a pedophile. All the information that has been previously documented connects Nabokov with pedophilia. Despite Nabokovs sexual preferences, Lolita has been a controversy for the past forty years, and will continue to be a controversy for the next forty years plus. The themes of the novel: obsession, incest, and pedophilia were important problems in society then, and still today. Obviously Nabokov cannot defend himself, so it is up to us, the readers, to interpret the book simply as an elaborate and obsessive work of art.