Let’s Get Literal: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 28/100Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Year: 1955
Country: France

I am really conflicted about this novel. I have no doubt about the fact that I am really happy to be able to say that I have read Lolita. I am also glad that I did NOT read this when I was a teen, because I might have missed the point entirely.

Humbert Humbert (the narrator and central paedophile of the novel) is a sociopath and a monster. He is not necessarily a monster just because he wants to have sex with 12-14 year old girls. There are enough people out there who suffer from this predilection without acting on it. People who hate themselves and end up taking their own lives because they can never be rid of their urge.  Humbert, however, does act on it and he doesn’t care as long as he is able to get off. No doubt about it, he ruins the life of the titular Lolita (name: Dolores Haze) as he never really makes the connection that she is a person and not his dream made flesh.

AND YET

Humbert is charming. He is a smart man, who enjoys word play and is able to generate sympathy. At no point in this book did I forget that it was Humbert who was meant to be writing this book. He tries to generate pathos early on by explaining the reason he fancies young girls (due to a childhood girlfriend dying). Here’s the thing though, he’s probably lying.

In fact, there is very little in the book that could be considered 100% truthful apart from his feelings of infatuation with this young girl. It is clear that, in his own way, Humbert truly loved Dolores (I am reluctant to call her ‘Lolita’ since that is the name he uses). He is obsessively in love with her to the point that he murders one man and is culpable of manslaughter of someone else.

He shows little emotional awareness of others until towards the end of the book, where he talks about moments when he realizes that Dolores was scared or afraid. As she grows, he becomes aware more and more of how he has effected her. It’s more than a case of too little, too late. However, it goes a long way to explain why, as he sits in jail, he is admitting to these crimes.

To Humbert, maybe this confession is his attempt at atonement. Most likely, it’s an act of ego-stroking. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking book.

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