The novel “Lolita” is composed by the Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov published during the 1950s, first in Paris and later translated into Russian by Nabokov himself, which was published in New York in 1967. The novel escalated in gaining many critic’s attention widely due to the ‘bizarre’ issues that were reflected from it. Many relate the novel to be a replica of a real-life case that involved ‘Sally Horner’, a schoolgirl kidnapped from Camden during 1948 by an alleged serial child molester. The two wandered around the country just like in the novel for over two years guised as father and daughter even while indulging in a platonic relationship. The two incidents have a stark resemblance and Nabokov even makes a direct comment towards the Horner case in the novel. The novel for a long period of time has been gathering all kinds of readers, claiming that it is either a sensual and an erotic novel or a type of novel that instigates the feminist and the offensive nerve. Nabokov beautifully elaborates the first-person narrative in the novel that purports to be the manuscript of a man awaiting his trial for an alleged murder. He purposely chooses to crouch behind the pseudonym of ‘Humbert Humbert’ because apparently, he feels as though it “expresses the nastiness best”. Nabokov invariably uses naughty monosyllables throughout that makes the ordinary a “powerful” sexual novel.
Theme of Obscenity
The novel is a masterpiece in many ways and its reflection of obscenity as a whole is ironical due to the imperial fact that nowhere in the novel has the writer even discussed a word or insinuated a phrase that directly points towards a sexual act of any sorts. Yes, there are metaphors used and the use of naughty monosyllables: ‘lo-lee-tah’, ‘lo’; but the whole essence is independent to the thinking of the reader and their perception. Quite clever. The very starting of the novel states “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip… Lo-Lee-Ta”. These lines for sure gives the reader a glimpse of what the novel has in store and clarifies any doubts one may have over the content. The novel is a first-person narrative by Humbert Humbert (H.H) who in the very start of the second paragraph makes it clear that he’s a murderer and that he must be considered as an unreliable narrator considering his words that reek sarcasm: “you can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style”. This style of Nabokov holds a stark resemblance to Saadat Hassan Manto’s ‘Thanda ghosht’ and Ismat Chughtai’s ‘Lihaaf’. Both the stories were charged with lawsuits pertaining to alleged depiction of obscenity and vulgarity, however in their defences just like Nabokov, they claimed that nowhere had they used a suggestion or words that marked an action of obscenity or vulgarity. Nabokov has depicted in the novel a great deal of lust that a man carries towards young girls. Such a lust admittedly is monstrous, but quite exhilarating to the person themselves; however, the writer has made clear that such characters are only live in the world of mythology and poetry not in actuality.
Theme of Pedophilia
Quite a controversial issue that Nabokov has gathered the guts to discuss is the theme of pedophilia, also written as pedophilia. By the words of dictionary, it is a psychiatric disorder that a person faces. in this, a person who is quite older faces sexual attraction towards prepubescent children. Girls enter the age around 10 to 11 years and boys around 11 to 12. For the attraction to be classified as pedophilia, one must be at least 16 years old or minimum 5 years older than the pubescent child. Humbert Humbert in the novel has a completely different perspective to what a normal person would perceive pedophilia as: “soon I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve” and “I had so-called normal relationships with a number of terrestrial women having pumpkins or pears for breasts; inly, I was consumed by a hell furnace of localised lust for every passing nymphet whom as a law-abiding poltroon I never dared approach.” The word “nymphet” holds quite the importance throughout the novel. It hasn’t been a word in the dictionary per say before the publication of the novel but has been adapted shortly after its release. “Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travellers, 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 propose to designate as ‘nymphets’”.
The novel initially talks about how Humbert was sixteen when he met a girl his own age and felt infatuated towards ‘Annabel’. The two fell shamelessly, and clumsily in love with each other and had their inexperience and a constant surveillance of the parents not interfered, they surely would’ve consummated their relation. Even such impediments couldn’t keep them physically astray: “I was on my knees and on the point of possessing my darling, when two bearded bathers, the old man of the sea and his brother, came out of the sea, with exclamation of ribald encouragement and four months later she died of typhus, in Corfu”. Humbert describes and gives all the credit to Annabel because if it weren’t for her and her death, he wouldn’t have realised his passion towards ‘nymphets’ particularly, Lolita or Dolores Haze. “In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child.” the coinage of the name ‘Lolita’ refers to Humbert’s feelings towards Dolores. It is a name by which he prefers to call her that denotes his lust, his passion and his helpless love towards the pubescent child. “She was Dolly at school. Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always Lolita”
Critical Analysis of the novel
The surfacing of the platonic relationship between Humbert H. and Dolores Haze has been to a large extent disturbing and the reason to bring out the feeling of disgust and filth. Humbert H. was a married man during the first part of the novel, although not happily. He divorces his wife on the coming of Lolita. He exclaims that he couldn’t be ‘exhilarated’ enough. In order to posses Lolita, he marries Charlotte, Dolores’s mother. However, on finding out the truth about Humbert’s intentions via a sneak in his diary, she writes a letter to her friends to warn them about him. She plans to post the letters and take Dolores and run away. But as tragedy hits the plot of the novel, we find Charlotte tumbling down the road of death as a car hits her while she sets out to post the letter. It was then that the two, Humbert and Dolores set out on the journey of the country guising themselves as ‘Father and Daughter’.
Research in psychology claims that pedophilia is a prolonged version of Oedipus complex, which is a theory highly controverted, coined by Sigmund Freud (father of psychology). The case of Sally Horner, which matches a few incidents in the novel is truly horrifying; but what’s more horrifying is the mural Humbert H. dreams of painting on the walls of the dining room of a motel; which marked as the first place of his and Lolita’s sexual congress. “There would have been a fire opal dissolving within a ripple-ringed pool, a last throb, a last dab of colour, stinging red, smearing pink, a sigh, a wincing child.” The irony is that Humbert had been so eager to deflower our little Lolita but to his dismay, she reveals that she had already let a senior of hers penetrate her, leaving Humbert with the conclusion that she wasn’t a ‘virgin’ so to say. Humbert H. is seen in the novel ‘raping’ Dolores numerous times till she is abducted by her mother’s friends Clare Quilty, who happens to be a playwright. After two painful years, Humbert receives a letter from our dear old Lolita, claiming that she was pregnant and in desperate need of money. After tracking down the address, he learns that she was in love with a deaf mechanic. Like a true ‘father’ he helps Dolores by giving her the money, however, he goes over to Quilty to seek good old revenge. He shoots him several times in his house, from where he is arrested later. All stories of revenge have had decent motives. Humbert H. when learns that the reason why Dolores fled from Quilty’s custody was that he tried to cast her into one of his child pornographic film, to which she blatantly refused. Even till the end, we do not see any signs of regret or remorse that Humbert H. might’ve felt. Even while being arrested, instead of pleading guilty, he pleads that his memoir be withheld from public release till the very date of his death. This we were made very clear of from the starting, as Humbert H. blatantly called himself a murderer: “you can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style”. So, what happened to our dear old Lolita? Well, she dies during childbirth in 1952, on a Christmas eve.
The novel as stated earlier is an example of remarkable literature, which makes a person as uncomfortable as they can be yet wanting to read more of the book and dread reading the very last page. It is a novel with great ordeal of grace, and simplicity. In its innocence, lies its innuendo and in its simplicity, lies its duplexity. The character of Humbert H. is one which suffers from pedophilia, which happens to be a psychiatric disorder, mainly found in men; however, women too are susceptible to it. Humbert before assassinating Quilty reflects over reasons why he shouldn’t commit such a grave crime: “Unless it can be proven to me—to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art.” It seems as though Nabokov tried to write a truly romantic and passionate novel but thought that the only way that the reader will find it passionate and romantic is by adding the crazy element of psychopathology. Pardon the irony. If this is the case, then we are bound to think that Mr. Nabokov has indeed beautifully concealed his disappointment of making the heroine a girl child. As much as the novel may depict the theme of pedophilia, it doesn’t neglect the fact that after actually becoming the stepfather of Lolita, Humbert H. studied and researched through books of how to raise American children. There is even a conversation between a teacher and Humbert during the time, the both ‘father and daughter’ went around the country. The novel did not take much time after it became the eye piece for critics to reach to the level of being called as classic. Nabokov in the afterword assures the readers that “despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow.” Nabokov ends the novel stating that: “and this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.” To conclude I would like to quote a few words from the publisher taken from him after he read the manuscript: “He finds the book not only admirable from the literary point of view, but he thinks that it might lead to a change in social attitudes toward the kind of love described in Lolita, provided of course that it has this authenticity, this burning and irrepressible ardour.”