…because I like reading stories about pedophiles(?)
I wanted to read this book forever. For those of you who don’t know, Lolita’s a classic, and highly controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, who – going by his first name – was obviously Russian. The book follows the story of a Mr. Humbert Humbert (which is a terrible name – thank goodness it’s revealed to be a pseudonym), who happens to have a particular attraction to certain young girls. This leads him into a dark affair with one particular Dolores Haze, and his eventual capture. I promise there aren’t any spoilers in what I just said, if this particular kind of novel tickles your fancy.
I’m not entirely sure what I had been expecting going into it. Of course, the book is written from Hum-creeper’s perspective, and thus making it a wonderful example of the ‘unreliable narrator trope.’ I wanted to study that for my own writing. However, despite Vladimir the obvious Russian, stating at the end of the book that he meant no meaning or moral when writing the story, I found one. A really deep and profound one that really speaks to the sort of thing I’m going through at the moment, and because of this meaning, I’d implore you to read it as well (if you’re into the sort of prose he writes in).
And after this, there will be spoilers. Just as a fair warning.
On the surface, Lolita’s a book about a creep who manipulates and rapes a young girl, holding her captive for years. He marries her mother to get to her, does a whole manner of other deplorable things, and is essentially an atrocious person. But if you look beyond that, Nabokov is examining two very familiar (to me at least) aspects of unhealthy love. He’s pulling apart a bad relationship, splitting it into two parts, and creating characters that represent two of the largest downfalls we face when dealing with relations between people. Getting out of a bad relationship myself, I relate highly to both characters – yes, the pedo included – and the story was almost therapeutic to me, in a weird way.
Lo, one of the many nicknames given to Dolores, is the most obvious one, so we’ll start with her. Despite how Humbert tells the story, spouting all sorts of nonsense about how good he was to her and what not, it’s quite obvious throughout the story that you’re not actually seeing what’s going on. Unreliable narrator, right? He describes her as being seductive, pulling the first moves on him, and so on and so forth. It’s up to us then, as the reader, to figure out what’s actually happening beyond Humbert’s insane and vastly biased account of events.
It’s important to note that Lo was twelve when Humbert came to live with them. Although it’s mentioned that she kissed him one night, had had other sexual encounters before this, and had an obvious crush on him, it becomes very doubtable based on the rest of the evidence in the story. She’s twelve, for goodness sakes, and her father’s dead. As soon as there’s another man in the house, she’s going to want him around – getting attached to him just like she would a dad figure. Whether she had a crush on him or not is irrelevant, and if she did kiss him, then it would have been nothing more than a child exploring her own feelings. She simply could not be the seductress she’s made out to be.
Later on in the book, it’s explained that she spends a massive amount of time crying. She gets more and more miserable the longer the story goes on. Humbert bribes her for sex, keeps her away from everything and everyone, forces her to stay with him – and thus the exchange is born. Her mom just died, so of course, she’s got nowhere else to go. So in exchange for sex (which she seems to have a very lowkey reaction to – probably because she’s already been raped at this point), she gets a home, security, clothes, food, and pretty much whatever else she wants.
Lo’s just doing what she needs to do in order to stay alive. She’s hugely damaged, very much traumatized, and freezes up. She lets things happen to her because really, she’s got no other choice. This guy’s absolutely obsessed with her and she knows it, and having nothing else to do, she uses that to her advantage to get what she needs. Horribly sad, really.
So that’s where we get the whole victim thing from. Awesome.
Then what’s the deal with Humbert? I find it so insanely interesting that he never sees anything wrong. He talks adamantly about how much he loves Lo, how happy he knows he makes her, how much she needs to be touched by him, and how well he treats her. Utter crap, of course, but even to the end, he never seems to understand that! Oh yeah, he’s got some sense of guilt, mentioning that he ruined her life or something of the like, but he never seems to clue in to exactly what he had been doing. Everything he sees is through this super cloudy perspective, the rose coloured haze of love that can so easily blind a person to what’s really going on. He justifies everything, thinks everything’s perfect, and has no comprehension at all about the horrors of the situation.
So here’s where we get the breakdown of a relationship here – the victim who hardly has a choice, and the one blinded to reality. And haven’t we all, at one point or another, been in both positions? Either we’re held prisoner by the whims of another, learning how to manipulate just to stay alive, or the fool who’s so caught up in their own emotions that they become completely disconnected from reality. In my own relationship, I was both. I was Lo, doing what I needed to in order to survive, and I was Humbert, lost so much in my own delusions and justifications that I honestly thought there was nothing wrong going on at all.
While Nabokov may not have intentionally put any deeper meaning in Lolita, it’s there. Throughout the story, he dives into the dangers of unhealthy love, the harsh reality of it all, and why relationships like that so often thrive. That’s why I think it’s so important to be aware of this, and how easy it is to fall into either the Humbert trap, or the Lo one. Analyse your relationships. Really take time to figure out whether you’re putting yourself in either situation.
The book is written in inevitability. It was inevitable for Humbert to find a little girl and succumb to his urges, just as it was inevitable for Lo to run away from him later on in the story. Both characters felt as though they had no choice, they were both trapped in the situation by their own stuff, and the plot played out like it was inevitably going to.
But guys, we’re not characters with a predestined design. We write our own stories. We’re never trapped in anything but the cages we put ourselves in, and if either Humbert or Lo knew that, maybe the book would have turned out differently. Maybe they would have been able to take their lives in their own hands, instead of rolling with a played out future.
So really think about it – I know I am – where are you in all this? A Humbert? A Lo? Someone finding themselves somewhere in the middle of everything, trapped in a relationship (or anything else for that matter), without truly understanding that you are the author of your life, and nothing else can control it but you?
Anyways, it was an absolutely incredible book and read, and it’s quite easy to see why it’s regarded so widely as a classic.