Jason's Reviews > Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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Aug 16, 10

Read from August 04 to 10, 2010

Nymph. Nymphet. Nymphetiquette. Nymphology. Nymphism. I will never think of 12 year old girls the same way. There’s a stain on my brain. The power of this book is that it’s creepy and taboo, but the pedophilia and incest is so damn plausible. There’s a criminal, upsetting proclivity of the subject matter, but the whole thing is oiled with reason--SAY IT AINT SO. It’s deviant, queer, puerile, and yet ever so human, darkly human, perverted in the corner.

Lolita lingers in my mind, like an accidental glance at the mid-day sun. I believe this book will have a permanent effect on me. I’m thankful, but cautious. It’s a book that I experienced, not so much as read. There are 2 components to this book that radically affected me, the writing and the subject matter.

The Writing
I have never read another book written quite like Lolita. The writing has depth, layer upon layer, strata against strata, texture among texture. It’s a palimpsest of clues and anagrams and reference. The author has absolute command of the English and French and Latin language. And yet, among the $4 dollar words and bourgeoisie lit crit, Nabakov plays with the language. He invents words. He hyphenates them. He nymphorizes them. It’s a gamboling and frolicking story in the rarefied air of an unrestrained, unapologetic and unadulterated polyhistoric writer. It’s subtle and raw at the same time; it’s pure. Pure, like what happens in your neighborhood behind closed doors, just before an arrest. He incorporates a dry, brittle sense of humor--even a bit of sass. He taunts the reader to follow. He dares the reader to like and enjoy Humbert Humbert. He pokes you in the eye. He scandalizes you, but with a pen that is at once brutal and sensitive, but always careful. There are echoes of Joyce and Poe.

The story is a retrospective from...from...from where? What? Prison. Ostensibly. And yet, there hasn’t been a trial yet--no judgement. Nabakov tantalizes you, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” to pass judgement on Humbert Humbert yourself. Are you willing? Or will you just turn your head, wincing?

The writing is breathless, eloquent, exacting, alluring, inventive, sexy, pleading, conceited, lurid, savory, languid, and slyly self-deprecating. The author is flagrant, unapologetic, a dandy even. He whiffles the writing in so many little stylistic flourishes. He writes sentences and paragraphs in ways that I would never have guessed to try. It’s insanely periodic writing; I grab my head akimbo in pure awe of the sentences. I peeked at an annotated version for 20 pages at a local big-box book store. Wow, there’s so many levels to this writing, of so much I was ignorant. Did you know that under the shocking story of pedophilia, Nabakov is carrying on a paper chase with clues on almost every page? Yes, there’s a whole other plane of conversation hidden below the written words--grammatically, semantically, nymphatically. They’re buried in the french words, the double entendres, the onomatopoeia, the puns, the metonymy, the symbols, the rhyming, the nymphventions. Palimpsest “ladies and gentlemen.”

The Subject Matter
We all know Lolita is supposed to be shocking, revolting even, many people not able to finish it. Titillating, serious fiction about pedophilia is the clear edge of the literary envelope, something banned in many different communities, even today. At this particular time in our democracy, as one of the freest countries in the world, and the most progressive, we champion human rights and place a huge penalty on crimes against minors. In this spirit, we are supposed to decry and detest the subject matter in this book, and lambast the author. People are arrested and put on community rosters for crimes against minors. This 300+ page book chronicles a crime against a minor. Nabakov makes this an even more difficult sexual arrangement for his readers to contemplate, because the 12 year old is an eager, compliant and willing partner to the crime.

In Lolita the protagonist is a criminal and his actions unforgivable. BUT, if there was any method to his madness, it would have to be this:

Humans share a cephalization process in common with most vertebrates. We developed cerebral hemispheres several million years ago (progressing beyond our closest ancestors), and more recently than that, humans learned how to use the cerebral cortex to reason, judge, cognate, and intuit. But, hundreds of millions of years ago, way down the taxonomic branch, we shared with other vertebrates a common mesencephalon and rhombencephalon, the midbrain and hindbrain. Tucked up under our marvelous, modern cortex, the midbrain and hindbrain, called the brain stem, are comprised of the pons, cerebellum, and yes, the MEDULLA OBLONGATA! These are ancient, compact organs. They are the most ‘animal’ part of our brains. They are in control of the lower order mental functions, the basic mechanistic functions upon which everything else depends. You can lose part of your cortex and still function as a human. You cannot, however, lose any of your brain stem without losing basic animal function. The brain stem is innately integral to life.

It’s from this midbrain we get reflex, instinct, coordinated movement, sex drive, fight-or-flight, and a whole range of metabolic regulation for all organs in the rest of the body. The impulses (the input, the direction, the priority) originating in these Mesozoic Era brain organs are powerful. The cerebral cortex would be remiss to block an impulse from this deep, ancient brain--even if it could stop the impulse in time. It’s difficult for our human cortex to constrain an electrical input from the animal brain stem. What comes from the stem is automatically life-sustaining, life-preserving, and high priority. The cortex usually plays catch-up to brain stem messaging.

But humans do it all the time. It’s called reason, judgement, cognition, and conscience. It’s called being civilized. It’s keeping in check our vertebrate impulses.

Enter Humbert Humbert. He suffers an atavistic urge to procreate with young nymphets. This is a social problem driven and turbocharged by the midbrain. He understands (his cortex understands) that the culture of the late 1940s and early 1950s find this taboo and perverse, definitely criminal. But our poor Humberto doesn’t care. He reasons with his midbrain, and pleads to us, "the jury." In the not too distant past within our own Western culture, and certainly in modern cultures of tribal peoples, 12 year old girls are ready to mate. Lolita has already menstruated and had sex with a boy her age. In many cultures of the world, Lolita would be given up as a wife in exchange for dowries of cattle, land, political favor. The whole story, then, brings this American taboo to a moral question. And its a question that you--modern citizen--find uncomfortable, like I do.

Even more disturbing, Nabakov makes Humby Humberty a caring, loving, protective paternal figure that wishes Lolita the best in life. There is no direct, lewd reference to the act of sex; nothing salacious; nothing pornographic. No, that would be too easy to damn Humbo to the devil. Instead, Nabakov explores the possibility that real love may exist betwain the tween.

I’m not too happy to report a phenomenon that happens to men of sexual capacity, always and forever. It’s an impulse from the midbrain, and it pushes through all that civilization-ing. It’s happened to all men (I know because it’s been a topic of conversation in many different social settings to which I was eye-witness). Take for example a young woman of 16 or 17 years. From afar I see a body in bikini, I see a tight, athletic form, I see a bronzed body wearing clothes much too revealing, and immediately the midbrain excites the male sex drive. Upon closer approach, I’m horrified to see that this nubile figure is much too young for me. Am I perverted? Criminal thoughts? I don’t think so. The midbrain wants to ensure successful mating, and for hundreds of millions of years, sexual mating, to be maximally effective, and to outlast environmental exigencies, was driven down to the earliest age that could conceive offspring. So that dastardly urge men experience around cheerleaders, or girls at the beach that look as healthy and trim as fresh gazelles--it’s not right dammit, and most of us keep it in check, but there it is and it’s nagging, and I wish it away. But no, I think it will remain and haunt me at times like it haunts all men--your men--your brothers and your fathers and your lovers. I look away in disgust of myself, call myself a ‘dirty old man,’ whatever it takes to recalibrate my thoughts. It happens occasionally--that oogling--but I keep it in check. But if you think society has civilized itself away from this midbrain urge, type into google the words: “list of sexual predators in my area.” You will see a Mesozoic characteristic come alive. {note to self, this paragraph may need to be reworded...a very good chance most people will misconstrue it...as if I was pardoning the midbrain urge...or worse, that I pardon Humbert Humbert...not the case at all}

So that’s why at the beginning I said this story was so damn plausible and upsetting and ‘oiled with reason,’ and darkly human. Pedophilia and incest has occurred, is occurring, and will always occur. That beast of a midbrain!

A very important read for 20th century literature.

New words: incondite, contretemps, swain, alembic, tombal, purblind, dulcet, treacle, edusively, viatic, selenian
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08/05/2010 page 101
32.0% "Breathless, rich."

Comments (showing 51-88 of 88) (88 new)

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message 51: by Paul (last edited Sep 02, 2010 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant I don't wish to belabour the point but we're talking about the 50s here when society wasn't as conscious of child abuse as it is now, and we're talking about a grown man kidnapping a 12 year old girl and driving all over America. If Lolita tells anyone "he's kidnapping me - help!" then old Humbert just winks at the policeman/motel manager and says "kids these days, they say all kinds of stuff they hear at the movies, don't they". Lolita was stuck like a fly in amber.

Also, like Miriam says, her mother was dead, she had no home to go to.


message 52: by Miriam (new)

Miriam society wasn't as conscious of child abuse as it is now

I recently read a mystery from the 80s that dealt with abuse and was surprised at how no one leapt to suspect that the way they would more recently.


message 53: by j (new) - rated it 5 stars

j To me, knowing more about what Dolly thinks of her situation would change the book entirely, because the entire thing is an examination of an unreliable narrator. We don't know how much of his story is true, how much is deliberate fabrication, how much is him lying to himself - it forces you to see him as a real person and not just a pedophile; to see how someone can live with and come to justify living with and indulging in such a terrible secret. As HH as narrator gets more and more disturbed, his recollection and retelling of events becomes more and more disturbed as well, and he becomes more and more paranoid and bent on revenge, resulting in his rather sad confrontation with Quilty.

Lolita with a well-rounded Dolly would be a Lolita not in the first person, and that wouldn't be this book at all.


message 54: by j (last edited Sep 02, 2010 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

j "How is that any different than Notes from Underground where you cannot rely on the narrator? But I didn't get that feeling that I was being taken in by the author."

I'm not sure how this compares to Notes from the Underground since I haven't read it, but I don't see why that would matter anyway. Lots of books have unreliable narrators, and in this case, we're being asked to sympathize with a really not nice one.

But not feeling "taken in"? Maybe HH was a little too convincing for you then. Becuase when I read it, I took everything he said with a large grain of salt. Like, for instance, the scene in which Dolly is listening to the music while her legs are stretched across his lap, and he basically rubs himself against her to orgasm, and is delighted that innocent Lolita was unaware of his pleasure. But of course, that's his mind at work, and to him she's a blithe nymphet and he has pulled a fast one on her. But that's hard to believe; certainly Lolita had some knowledge of what was going on. So that scene is interesting because we have no idea of what Lolita is thinking or why she is letting herself be used like that, but in the meantime, we have a peek into the world of utter delusion and denial that HH has constructed in order to rationalize his desires. Basically HH is always doing Lolita's thinking for us, but that's not showing us how her mind works, but how his works. The statement in your review that HH is not well-developed is striking to me since every word in the book develops his character - how he chooses to say things, what he chooses not to say.


message 55: by j (new) - rated it 5 stars

j If you want Lolita's side, try this book: Lo's Diary

It sounds pretty terrible to me, but it seems to give you want you want: insights into Lo, who this author has basically decided is a manipulative, sadistic slut.


message 56: by Miriam (new)

Miriam manipulative, sadistic slut.

Sounds like a normal teen to me.


Carlie I have to take issue with your excusal of men being attracted to young girls. I perfectly agree that a man looking upon a nice taut young body with attractive breasts and such is perfectly normal, even if illegal. But I disagree that this is what's going on here. Am I wrong or didn't he actually feel attracted to her as a prepubescent little girl? I seem to recall a scene where she is playing in sprinklers and she couldn't be more than 8 at the time. If you don't think it is perfectly acceptable to be revolted by a man's recollections of how badly he wants to rape a 6,7,8 yr old, then we're definitely on different pages.
I really don't think you need to feel bad for being aroused by a 16 yr old as you claim to. But as the mother of an 8 yr old, nay as a human being, I can say you should feel bad for being aroused by any girl without even a hint of breastbuds.
I'm sorry but I'm not impressed that he waits until she's older to rape her if he wishes to rape her and arranges it by marrying the mother when she is younger.
And for those who claim that anyone who hates the book is only feigning disgust because they want to rape little girls too is a really really sick individual. I was horrified by this book, not because I am a prude, but because I know what being molested does to a person.


Jason Carlie,

I have a 7 yr old daughter. I'm highly sensitive to the perversion that exists out there among humans, the men (especially) acting upon it. I merely wanted to show that there is a continuum, from left to right, criminal to saint. I don't think we're "definitely on different pages."

Despite the subject--no matter how highly charged--I attempt to award books a rating based on how well an author convinced me of their capabilities as a writer, as a story-teller, as a thought-provoker. To that end, Lolita did not simply return to the shelf for me. It's a book I appreciated for making me think. If Nabokov didn't write this book, then some other book would have filled it's place, and I doubt that other book would have been as convincingly uncomfortable as Lolita

I follow this philosophy, too, when I read reviews of books I didn't like. If the reviewer makes cogent thoughts, relates the writing to a personal conviction and makes me think, then they get my vote.

Jason


message 59: by Bill (last edited Jan 03, 2011 02:07AM) (new) - added it

Bill What an interesting thread. I have not read Lolita; I came by this thread with the intention of marking it to read. After reading the comments, I've decided to put it off; for a while, at least.

Perhaps I should not comment since I haven't read the book, but as a man myself, I feel compelled to address some of the observations I've read, both in the review and in the comments.

My wife and I became lovers when she was 15; I was 18. We married a year and 1/2 later. We are still happily married after 25 years. We were both extremely immature and too young to get married when we did. Somehow we stuck out the resulting hard times while also having and raising children immediately, one of them a daughter. We have been 'empty nesters' for a few years now, and are enjoying the happiest years of our marriage, in our mid 40's.

Thats my context as a man who wants to comment on these issues thusly: An adult man is a stunted pervert, in my view, for lusting after 15 year old girls. This is not because 15 year old girls don't have delightful female bodies. They do. Neither is it because 15 year old girls are not incredibly sexual people. They are. They are awash in hormones.

But adult males, in our culture, are taught that women are persons too. They are not just T & A. If they were just T & A, then of COURSE we would desire the youngest, the freshest, and the most immediately sexual. But since we regard women as persons, then their personality becomes an essential part of their sexual attractiveness.
Even those who watch porn are projecting adult personalities, as much as possible, on the models. And if the models start dressing and talking like pubescent or adolescent girls, only the perverts remain titillated, everyone else is disgusted.

I know that adolescent girls can be attractive to adolescent boys. It happened to me. But it is inconceivable, to me, that an adolescent girl could ever be sexually attractive to a grown man unless that man had critical mental issues.

I have been around them quite a bit as a father to an adolescent girl with friends. As a grown man I've had a physically beautiful adolescent girl make pathetic attempts at seduction. Just like American Beauty; only I was much younger then Spacey, in my twenties. I was not in the slightest tempted; I felt genuinely sorry for her immediately. She was a youngster under influence of forces she couldn't control or understand; she was pathetic. Only a creep could have been enticed.

I think girls, and boys, do not lose their innocence the moment sexuality is present. I had crushes on grown women and fantasized about them naked when I was 6 years old, long before I knew what sex was. I was having erections with such vague imaginings not long after. I was still an innocent child. Some little girls and boys masturbate at very young ages. This is sexuality, but it doesn't make them sexually attractive.

I think that most men who are attracted to underdeveloped females, regardless of how well their bodies are developed, are attracted precisely because of the underdevelopment. It is the vulnerable curiosity of innocence that they lust after, not the sexuality. The lust for power, significance, and impact in the world, which most men have, is in this case directed toward the weakest; to those vulnerable to the most effective impact possible. This is not simply sexual perversion (some of which can be harmless), it is a type of cowardice which finds the easiest sexual conquest to be the most titillating.

I am not a psychologist nor do I have any experience studying or even thinking about this issue. My loathing for pedophiles has prevented it so far. I had intended to read this book because its so heavily touted as high literature. I'm not sure I can, no matter how creative the word usage is. I'm still open to the idea, if someone thinks I have something beside loathing to gain from it, and can explain how that is the case.


message 60: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Attitudes are very interesting! Consider the case of Gigi, a novelette written by Colette in 1944 and filmed to ecstatic reviews in 1958, same year Lolita was first published in America to much scandal. In Gigi we have a young girl being taught from the earliest age to be a courtesan, i.e. an extremely expensive call girl. The mother and the aunt all teach her the ways of seducing rich guys and everything is presented in this saucy ooh la la French aren't-they-outrageous way. In the novelette and the movie Gigi is I think supposed to be 14 or 15 maybe. The movie was showered with Oscars. No one batted an eye. If you'd mentioned paedophilia you would have been accused of terrible bad taste, in spite of the loveable old roue Maurice Chevalier ogling girls in a park and singing "Thank 'Eaven for Leetle Girls".


message 61: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Paul wrote: "Attitudes are very interesting! Consider the case of Gigi, a novelette written by Colette in 1944 and filmed to ecstatic reviews in 1958, same year Lolita was first published in America to much sca..."

Hi Paul. I haven't seen GiGi. But I did look up the song you reference on youtube and found it here..

I found the song harmless and could relate to it myself. I've never felt any sexual attraction to little girls, as the song goes, of '5, or 6, or 7', and would probably want to kill myself if I ever did. I think most people who saw that song in the film would have been startled at the idea it had anything to do with little girls being sexually attractive.

Little girls are adorable. Often, their little eyes are 'so helpless and appealing'. They do "get bigger and grow up in the most delightful ways." One can even see a little girl and imagine what kind of woman she will be when she grows up. However, I simply can't relate to how this equates to sexual attraction in any man's mind.


message 62: by Paul (last edited Jan 03, 2011 03:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Well no, I'm not really saying that old Maurice is supposed to be a paedophile - he's contentedly contemplating the leedle girrls growing up to be say 17 or 18 or 19 then he might hire one of them for a year or two, install them in a flat near the Place de la Concorde and be very content until he gets bored and turfs them out for another 17 or 18 year old. That's what the film is apparently quite happy to endorse. Gigi is being trained to please some grisly rich old geezer, not a handsome young man. I think it's curious that the attitudes in Gigi are acceptable because they're Frenchified, romanticised and placed discreetly in the past, whereas Lolita is in contemporary America and therefore we are not allowed to overlook the vileness of what's going on. Consequently lolita was "controversial" and Gigi was the very definition of wholesome entertainment.


message 63: by Bill (last edited Jan 03, 2011 03:15PM) (new) - added it

Bill Paul wrote: "Well no, I'm not really saying that old Maurice is supposed to be a paedophile - he's contentedly contemplating the leedle girrls growing up to be say 17 or 18 or 19 then he might hire one of them ..."

Ok, having not seen GiGi, I can't argue with what you're saying. I can see where what 'ol Maurice' was getting at could be interpreted that way. Which is completely different then the way I interpreted it when I first viewed the clip.

I would also agree that if your interpretation is correct, this does not make 'old Maurice' a pedophile. Taking mistresses of 17, or 18, or 19 year old girls who have been trained and educated to be courtesans, as I presume was the case in France at one time, is not pedophilia.

But do you really think most Americans of that time understood 'old Maurice' the way you do rather then the way I did at first viewing? It would take a some convincing for me to believe that.


message 64: by Paul (last edited Jan 03, 2011 03:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant No. I think ole Maurice is a distraction & I'm sorry to have paraded his lasciviousness at all. Let us shoo Maurice away and not think of him any more. My intention was to place Gigi side by side with Lolita and say that a movie showing a young teenaged girl being trained by her mother & aunt to be a call girl was thought to be perfectly okay (" a delightful turn-of-the 20th century Cinderella story"), whereas Lolita was thought to be obscene. But both stories concern the vicious sexual exploitation of young girls.


message 65: by Bill (last edited Jan 03, 2011 04:03PM) (new) - added it

Bill Paul wrote: "No. I think ole Maurice is a distraction & I'm sorry to have paraded his lasciviousness at all. Let us shoo Maurice away and not think of him any more. My intention was to place Gigi side by side w..."

Interesting points. So here you have a child raised by courtesans who, when the time for her sexual maturity approaches, is trained on how to exploit and manipulate the weaknesses of rich men. I assume that a courtesan in France of that era could end an 'arrangement' at any time without loss of future prospects.

Isn't there a difference on the one hand, between a young woman who is taught by her loving family that sexual courtship is a business to be exploited to one's own benefit and, on the other hand, a naive young woman who has no context for understanding or choosing the meaning, purpose, or consequences of her own sexuality?

Isn't there a big difference in terms of 'vicious exploitation' between a man who would engage in business with the former and the man who would exploit the latter?


message 66: by Paul (last edited Jan 03, 2011 04:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant So here you have a child raised by courtesans who, when the time for her sexual maturity approaches, is trained on how to exploit and manipulate the weaknesses of rich men

That's one way of putting it; another would be that here you have a child raised by courtesans who, when the time for her sexual maturity approaches, is trained how to gratify rich men sexually on the understanding that if she isn't as alluring as the rich men require her services will be dispensed with and she will, given her unfitness for any other walk of life, probably become a common prostitute.

I assume that a courtesan in France of that era could end an 'arrangement' at any time without loss of future prospects.

That's indeed an assumption - Wikipedia says :

There are many examples of courtesans who, by remaining discreet and respectful to their benefactors, were able to extend their careers into or past middle age and retire financially secure; Catherine Walters is a good example. By the late 19th century, and for a brief period in the early 20th century, courtesans had reached a level of social acceptance in many circles and settings, often even to the extent of becoming a friend and confidant to the wife of their benefactor.[5]

"More often than not, a woman serving as a courtesan would last in that field only as long as she could prove herself useful to her companion, or companions. This, of course, excludes those who served as courtesans but who were already married into high society. When referring to those who made their service as a courtesan as their main source of income, success was based solely on financial management and longevity. Many climbed through the ranks of royalty, serving as mistress to lesser nobles first, eventually reaching the role of mistress to a king or prince. Others were able to obtain such a high position early on, but few lasted long, and after serving a prince or king there was nowhere to go but down."

I agree that there appears to be a world of difference between Lolita and Gigi. But really, in Lolita's case the sexual slavery merely begins a year or two before Gigi's. And poor Lo has to put up with hamburgers & not the occasional lark's tongue in aspic followed by creme brulee. Otherwise, it's the difference between somebody being raped and being told it's consensual (Lolita) and somebody being turned into a hooker with a fancy name and being told (by your mother) that it's a great career path. Vicious sexual exploitation of young girls either way.


message 67: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Paul wrote: "So here you have a child raised by courtesans who, when the time for her sexual maturity approaches, is trained on how to exploit and manipulate the weaknesses of rich men

That's one way of putt..."


So you are saying the difference between a person professionally trained in, and who has chosen, a particular service business, and one who is duped and enslaved into performing the same service, is a difference in appearance only due to the fact that the long term prospects, of the former, in her chosen profession, has a low success rate?

And further, that the moral difference between a man who hires a a prostitute who has chosen and trained in her profession as a means of financial or societal advancement, and the man who makes a sex slave out of a random naive girl, is a difference in appearance only due to the fact that the prostitute may have to find another line of work when she gets older?


message 68: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant I do not accept the idea of choice here - you are saying, I think, that Gigi has chosen her profession - but she hasn't, she has been schooled in it, it has been presented to her as her only option. She has no choice. At some point she might reject the path laid down for her, but as you may concede, that's very hard to do for a young child. She thinks what her mother & aunt are doing to her is normal. Her mother explains that she is being given the skills to make a fine life for herself. Likewise, Humbert Humbert tries to portray his relationship with Lolita as one of love. So i do not think you can say either of these young girls has much choice in the matter. Do you think they do?


message 69: by Bill (last edited Jan 03, 2011 10:14PM) (new) - added it

Bill Paul wrote: "So i do not think you can say either of these young girls has much choice in the matter. Do you think they do?..."

This is a really big question which begs the next one: What does it mean to have a choice?

Please indulge a true story. During the dot com boom of the late 90's, I was an officer in a internet startup company and was close friends with my boss, the CEO. He was a very wealthy man in his 50's. He was a little pudgy, but not obese. He wasn't very good looking, but he was very fun to be around. He was a competent, busy man, but a very kind and lovable one. Everyone liked him. He was single. One day I accompanied him on an errand, and he asked if I minded if he stopped by his girlfriends house to get something he had forgotten. "No Problem" I say. He drives to the ritziest neighborhood in town, to a very nice home, with elaborate swimming pool, palm trees, etc. We get out and there is a beautiful woman in her mid to late 30's who he introduces as his GF. She invites us to have lunch. She is a very charming and obviously intelligent woman. When we leave, I ask what she does for a living, expecting her to be some high profile lawyer or something. He laughs and informs me that she lives off her 'boyfriends' who support her. She has 3 or 4 boyfriends, sometimes 5, at a time. They were all in long term relationships with her, as my boss had been for a number of years, and they were all wealthy.

This is a woman with a choice. Her intelligence and beauty gave her many options in life. She chose a wealthy life of liesure, traveling the world on vacations with her 'boyfriends', and having the best material possessions in life. She had her choice among men, she chose several, and she chose based on their money. If they were all like my boss, I have no problem believing she loved them all. I have no problem believing she even honestly found them sexually attractive, as I have no problem with the idea that many women are sexually attracted to powerful men and the money which represents that power.

It seems to me this is the kind of women that GiGi's family were and what they were training her to become. Of course, she had a choice to say "No Ma'ma, I wish to choose among the options that other women in our society have--I want to be married off to a rich old man who will essentially own me, or perhaps become a maid, or a tutor, or a laundry woman. Perhaps I could work in a factory 7 days a week, 12 hours a day and meet some other young man who is working there and we can get a one room shack in the slums while he works 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, to support myself and our 8 children"

I think there were probably young women raised by courtesans who made other choices in those days, even some attractive ones probably preferred to be nannies or tutors. Why not?

When I came of age, my father was not wealthy, so he told me I had to either go to college or go get a job. Those were my options. I would have preferred to travel the world in a yacht discovering new beaches to surf, but my options were limited to going to college or applying down at the grocery store. I did have considerable choices, but not nearly as many as the rich man's son.

We are all limited in the choices we have in life. This doesn't mean we don't have choices. The difference between Lolita and GiGi is that Lolita is seduced. And I'd bet the only thing easier to seduce then a 14 year old girl is a 14 year old boy. Lolitas surging sexuality and innocence are used against her in the service of a man who values her precisely for those reasons and for no other. That is, precisely because she can be so easily submitted to his desires, because he can have so overwhelming an impact on her psyche, that he lusts for her.

Gigi is trained by professional women who use their sexuality as a means. They are the seducers, not the seduced. In a world where few women had choices among men, they had many choices among the most powerful men. Did they have choices that modern women have? Of course not..they were much more limited then modern women in their choices. But compared to other women of their time, they probably had a great deal more choice then most.


message 70: by [deleted user] (new)

I would suggest many women did not have much choice at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps we should compare Gigi's life with the women in the mines in the novel "Germinal" by Emile Zola. Practically all they had in life was work and sex. The women had to submit to the men and many were beaten by their husbands. It was a much tougher time than the time of Lolita.

Sexual morality in the upper classes in the 19th century is difficult to believe today. From Harriette Wilson's Memoirs " The Greatest Courtesan of her Age, by Lesley Blanch.

" A man expected his first born to be his own". "She has completed her life" was the fashinonable way of saying that a women had taken a lover. This phrase was applied to the married woman.
Courtesans had better standard of living than many other women. The high end courtseans were often better educated as well.

To discuss "Lolita" the girl is a waste of time because the author told us very little about her. We all agree HH is scum, but we are not told if Lolita is very innocent, confused, or just enjoying the seductive power over the man( or a combination of all three). If 12 year old boys are capable of murder, a 12 year old girl is surely capable of seduction. The fact she could likely get herself killed may not enter her head. The law is to protect her against pedophiles and in the odd case to protect her from herself. Many grandfathers I know will baby sit the grand kids but won't allow any other kid there particularly girls. They do not want to risk their reputation.

When I was a teenager I used to hitchike all over B.C. travelling 1000's of miles over the years. Because of this I will still pick up hitch hikers but only teenage boys. Girls are taking a much greater risk when they hitch hike. A boy may steal my car or wallet or may even kill me. But it is unlikely he can ruin my reputation and the trust of the people who love me.

I met a fellow recently that works in a security institution for the worst juvenile offenders. There are two sections, one for female, one for male. He said the largest group in the female population used their body as the weapon of choice.

As I said in an earlier comment, you have a very different perspective of what juveniles are capable of in the adult world.


message 71: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Glen wrote: "We all agree HH is scum, but we are not told if Lolita is very innocent, confused, or just enjoying the seductive power over the man( or a combination of all three). If 12 year old boys are capable of murder, a 12 year old girl is surely capable of seduction. .."

I disagree that a 12 year old girl is capable of seduction. A whacked out 12 year old could possibly try to seduce, but she just isn't going to be very seductive...she's only 12 years old for god's sake.


message 72: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill I would add that, possibly, one reason nothing more is told of Lolita is because, for her seducer, there is nothing more of value to know about her then what is presented. There's nothing else of interest because she's a child. Pedophiles aren't interested in the personalities of children. They're interested only in the innocence and nascent sexuality that has become their fetish.


message 73: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Re message 80 - yes, it's very true that if you broaden the focus, working class women - and men - had little choice 100 years ago except perhaps between differing ways of letting themselves be oppressed. In that sense, grooming a young girl for the sex trade may be thought of as horrible but maybe even slightly less horrible than the alternatives. I think they say similar things about the lives of the sex workers in Thailand and the Philippines and other Asian countries today. That sounds a little sarcastic but it may be sadly all too true. How did that song go... "sometimes it's hard to be a woman...". I'll say.


Alejandra "I will never think of 12 year old girls the same way." Same here, actually. :|


message 75: by Sam (new)

Sam Thank you! What an excellent defense of this book! The subject matter always unnerved me as I was 16 when I read it and 12-years-old didn't seem so long ago. The language and depth are amazing and rereading it has opened my eyes to everything you were explaining.


Bennet Ah, yes, I'd forgotten the good old days when 12-year-old girls were ready to mate, and those lucky enough to survive all the birthings could look forward to perennial pregnancies for the duration of their adult lives, as they'd likely be dead before menopause.

Seriously, this is a great review, and the neurophysiology is spot on concerning issues of male arousal, etc. (no pun intended). I can't help thinking how fortunate for women that human beings evolved despite those primal urges, it's quite something that we didn't get stuck in a rut (pun intended).

As for HH -- the "caring, loving, protective paternal figure that wishes Lolita the best in life" is also a diabolically manipulative bastard throughout, and only a master like Nabokov could render such a character so seamlessly, evoking in readers such a compelling mix of fascination, empathy and disdain.


message 77: by Ashley (new) - added it

Ashley this is a great review..nice to see somebody with the balls to get down to the " meat " of the issue


message 78: by Lena (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lena It always amazes me how many seemingly intelligent people can read this entire novel and misunderstand it entirely.

Lolita is never compliant, eager, or willing.

It could be that reading thoroughly took a backseat to trying to find a way to use brain chemistry as a means to rationalize a 40yr old man's rape and dare I say imprisonment of his 12 year old ward.

As thinking, moral adults were are supposed to see HH for what he is. In literary terms, an unreliable narrator. HH does not protect Lolita, he exploits her isolation, helplessness and dependence. Anyone who believes he loves her should maybe reread this book and look for the parts about her sobbing into the pillow every night, or maybe the part about how he wants to use her as a breeder so he can have sex with their nine and ten year old children. The power of this novel is that it almost forces you, certainly against your will, to ALMOST believe HH and sympathize with such a monster.

If you didn't understand that he was an unreliable narrator, I urge you to reread the book with that in mind. It is an entirely different novel if you understand it.


message 79: by Kristin (new) - added it

Kristin Your review is so fabulous, well-worded, and honest. I love it.


Birgit Alsinger You ar right, Lena, thank you for pointing that out. I think Jason review captured so many important themes of the book, I dont*t see how he can have overlooked this one.


Adwait Deshpande Its true, I agree with what you say. Very nicely put.


Anais you are disgusting.


Jason Anais wrote: "you are disgusting."

HAHAHA!


Kandace Dick And full of shit.


Astrid You worded my feelings about his writing brilliantly.


message 86: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Bour Wow! This review is more enlightening than the original work. Well done!


message 87: by Yaboimazz (new)

Yaboimazz perv


Lindsey Love the style of this review. You nailed so many aspects of the book.


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