Ian "Marvin" Graye's Reviews > The Annotated Lolita

The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviews, read-2011, reviews-5-stars, nabokov
Read 3 times. Last read June 28, 2011.

Between the Covers

After re-reading "Lolita", I asked my local bookseller if she'd ever read it.
She replied firmly, “No…and I’m not going to either. He’s a paedophile.”
A bit taken aback, I enquired further, “Who? The author or the character?”
Fortunately, she replied, “The character.”
For me, this exchange showed how much “Lolita” can still sharply divide opinion, even within lovers of fiction.
This wasn’t the conversation I had been hoping for.
I had read “Lolita” in a couple of days, less time than my work commitments normally allow me, but I found it incredibly easy to read.
Even though I was taking notes, even though I was conscious that Nabokov was playing games (even if I didn’t always know what game), even though there were unfamiliar words I should have looked up, I was constantly drawn towards the conclusion.
I wanted to talk to someone about my experience straight away.
My cheeks were still flushed, my nerve endings were still tingling, I had experienced the “spine thrill of delight”, I felt like I had just had sex with a book.
Now, not being a smoker, all I needed was some post-coital conversation.
And there was no one around to converse with.
And the book wasn’t giving away any more of its secrets than it already had.
Nor was it going to tell me I had been a Good Reader or that it had appreciated my attentiveness.
It was back between the covers, challenging me to start again.

Three Act Word Play

At a superficial level, “Lolita” is a relatively straight-forward novel.
Once you know that it concerns sexual relations between 37 year old Humbert Humbert and 12 year old Dolores “Lolita” Hayes, you just about know the plot.
There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
A grooming, a consummation, an aftermath.
Nabokov makes of his material a three act play.
And he does so playfully, seductively, lyrically, charmingly, amusingly, dangerously.
To this day, I cannot look at Humbert’s initials “H.H.” without pronouncing them in German, “Ha Ha”, and wondering whether the joke is on us.
Beneath the skin of the novel, there is much more.
There is a whole complex living organism.
You can lose yourself within its arms for days, weeks, months, a lifetime.
As long as your love of wordplay, your love of words and play, will permit you.
Again, at a superficial level, there is an almighty conflict between morality and aesthetics happening between the pages.
Whether or not Nabokov deliberately put the conflict there, he put the subject matter there.
We, the readers, can supply our own conflict in the way we read his novel.
Nabokov knew the subject matter would inflame us, if not our desires, then at least our morals, our sense of righteousness.
Morality and aesthetics are intertwined within the fabric of the novel.
They embrace each other in one long death roll, just like Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty.
We watch their interaction, open-mouthed, open-minded, but ultimately they have to be pulled apart or separated.
When they are together, they are one.
When they are apart, they are each other’s double.

The Morality of the Story

There is no doubt that sexual relations between an adult and a minor are not just immoral, but criminal as well.
That is an unquestionable fact.
From a legal point of view, the motive of the adult is irrelevant to the proof of the crime.
The consent of the minor is irrelevant to the proof of the crime.
If Humbert had been charged with an offence of sexual relations with a minor, he would have had no legal defence.
Any question as to whether Lolita really seduced Humbert would have been irrelevant.
In fact, the evidence might not even have been admissible, except potentially as part of the determination of the penalty.
In other words, even if it was relevant to penalty, it was not relevant to guilt.
Because morality is a social construct that depends on collective endorsement, he had no moral defence either.
The personal views of the individual are not really that relevant to society’s determination that an act is immoral.
The choice of the individual is to comply or offend.

Of Traps and Cages

Humbert offended not just once, but untold numerous times over two years.
He carefully planned his seduction, he set his trap, he caught his prey, even if someone might want to argue that this 12 year old seductress walked voluntarily into the trap.
Having freed Lolita from the trap, he imprisoned her in a cage, and repeated his crime.
Again, someone could argue that she had plenty of opportunities to flee the cage (which she eventually did).
But Humbert surrounded Lolita with an elaborate system of self-doubt that convinced her that she would become a ward of the state if they were found out.

The Legality of the Confession

“Lolita” is written from Humbert’s point of view.
It is not just a recollection in his mind, it is a formal, written document.
He sat down and wrote it in 56 days between his capture in 1952 (charged only with the crime of murdering Clare Quilty) and his death in prison before his trial could occur.
For me, the written document is a fascinating choice of literary device to tell the story.
The document becomes a book within a book.
While Nabokov obviously wrote it, all that he purports to do is sandwich it between a Foreword and a (much later) Afterword.
This device sets up an interesting relationship between Humbert and the reader.
For Humbert, it is akin to a confession or a witness statement.
To this extent, what he confesses to is clearly enough to convict him of the crime of murder.
However, in it, he also sets out details of crimes that, for whatever reason, he was never charged with.
If his lawyer had read the document while he was still alive, he would probably have excised all of the other confessions, because they would have prejudiced his client’s case (at least with respect to penalty).

The Role of the Jury

For the reader, the confession defines our relationship to the events that are described.
We are cast in the role of a member of the Jury.
This device allows heinous moral and criminal acts to be described and read and examined within a legal and therefore legitimate framework.
In a sense, the book becomes a report of sorts on legal proceedings.
We become legitimate observers and listeners to something that might otherwise have been prurient and offensive and illegal.
Yet, we have to do our duty and participate in the legal process, because it is an important part of the justice system.
Even though we have a legitimate interest in participating, I wonder whether we are still voyeuristic.
Nabokov has trapped us in a game that persuades us that it is serious, but ends up being just as playful and perverse as the subject matter of the crime.
In a way, Nabokov makes us complicit in a crime, if not Humbert’s crime, then perhaps our own thought crime.
It is also material that, by the time Humbert’s confession is read, both Humbert and Lolita have died of natural causes.
Humbert speaks from the other side of death.
Nobody is alive, nobody can be hurt any more than they already have.

The Confessions of an Unreliable Narrator (The Fox and the Peacock)

I explored these issues, because I wanted to understand Humbert’s motivation for his confession.
He is effectively pleading guilty.
I don’t see any prospect for an insanity defence, even though he seemed to have been in and out of sanatoria at times of crisis.
Equally, I don’t think that anything he reveals would reduce the penalty for the murder.
To do so, he only needed to focus on his concern that Quilty had wronged Lolita in some way even worse than his own actions.
But to confess all of these other crimes seems to be counter-productive.
Similarly, I don’t think he was lying about the detail, I think that he was telling the truth, and that he was telling the truth, so that he could be understood, no more, no less.
Humbert’s confession is not just the fiction of a dirty old man, it is not false or fabricated, it is not a mirage.
No matter how immoral, no matter how deluded, no matter how selfish and narcissistic, it is his fact, his reality, his truth, his burden, his shame.
His actions were the pursuit of a rational man, not an insane one.
He was film-star handsome, educated, intellectual, talented, witty, charming, calculating, calculated, dangerous.
There is no doubt that he was a talented performer, an exceptional player.
However, Humbert is not an actor wearing a mask, performing some other fictional character or version of himself.
I believe that we are seeing him for what he really is.
He is as cunning, tricky, sly as a fox and as refined, elaborate, attractive as a peacock.
His decoration, his ornamentation is part of him, his life, his loins, his sin, his soul.
In pursuit of Lolita, he was prepared to lie and deceive in order to achieve his goal.
I don’t believe that he was prepared to lie to us, if only because there was no point in lying.
When occasionally he questions the veracity of his own account, it is solely to question the accuracy of his memory.
However, he didn’t need to tell lies to achieve leniency, he didn’t need to tell the truth for some ulterior motive.
By confessing to anything, he would only be found guilty of crimes he hadn’t been charged with in addition to the charge of murder he had been accused of.
There was no point in confessing to anything extra, other than to tell the truth as he saw it.
It wasn’t going to get him any sympathy or reduce his penalty, if anything, his disclosures would aggravate his penalty.
To this extent, I don’t consider Humbert an “unreliable narrator”.
I realise that some might respond that paedophiles are habitual liars and can’t help themselves.
That might well be the case, but I think it is our horror at his crime, our moral judgment affecting our assessment of the whole of the person and shaping our (aesthetic) response to the book and the character.
Perhaps naively, I want to find some good in him.
Ultimately, whether or not Humbert’s love was morally wrong, I believe that he wanted us to understand his love and what he learned about his love by the end of his story.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Humbert’s Love

Technically, the sexual relations between Humbert and Lolita are not an example of “paedophilia” (which is a sexual preference for a pre-pubescent).
While nothing moral or legal turns on the distinction, the sexual relations constitute “hebephilia” (which is a sexual preference for a person in the early stage of puberty).
The name derives from “Hebe”, the Greek goddess of youth.
Her name means youth or prime of life, and she personified both youth and immortality.
She was the cup bearer who served nectar to the Olympian Gods to give them everlasting youth.

First Part (Obsessive Love)

For me, during the first part of the book, Humbert’s love was forbidden, but genuine.
It was a transgressive love, in that it was a love of the particular aesthetic form that youth takes between the ages of ten and fifteen.
The body is at its most perfect, it has not started to age, to wrinkle, to fill out, to droop, to deteriorate.
After that age, the body starts to age, and he finds that physically unattractive (as in the case of his first wife and Lolita's mother).
OK, we all make choices about our love objects.
How can we account for our choices?
There’s no accounting for love.
Still, at the heart of this aesthetic approach to love is a fear or disgust at aging and mortality.
There is an unreality, a lack of understanding and acceptance of the cycle of life and death, a Peter Pan desire to stay forever young, forever immortal.
I also think there is a self-love or narcissism inherent in this aesthetic view.
I love the young, because I love the perfect form of my own youth.
Since my youth, I have fallen, morally and physically.
I therefore have to preserve the visage of my own youth.
I wonder whether it is only possible to have this view if you have never had your own biological child.
Parenthood is an education in the reality of aging.
It is an illusion to believe that you can live and defeat it.
But tell that to the cosmetics industry.
So far I have talked of love in the abstract.
In the first part of the book, I struggled to understand Humbert’s love and the above is what I came up with.
I won’t say I had a sympathy for him, but I think I understood him and his love.
I even understood his obsessiveness.
How many of us, during the first throes of love, trap and oppress our love object, so much so that we are not able to see how oppressive we were, until after the relationship has been consummated, or morphed into something more mature or ended?
However, things started to change at the end of the first part (the consummation) and into the second part (the imprisonment).
Of course the love had to be consummated, but as unexceptional as the description of the event was, it highlighted the reality that the first part was a trap for Lolita to walk into.
As playful and lyrical as the language might have been, it was sinister in intent.

Second Part (Captivating Love)

During the second part, having captured Lo, Humbert makes it clear that his love will last no more than three years, to be precise, 1 January, 1947 to 1 January, 1950, which are effectively her 12th to 15th birthdays.
After this, statistically at least, Lo will morph out of her nymphet form.
So Humbert's love is solely for a definitive phase of her entire life, after which he expects and intends to abandon her.
During this phase, Humbert’s goal is to maintain Lolita in captivity, to ensure her availability for him alone.
There is no fairy tale promise of “happily ever after” or “’til death do us part” in this love action.
There is no love or concern for the other, only selfishness and narcissism.
I have tried to view the definition of beauty that appeals to Humbert as an aesthetic issue.
I have tried to divorce it from morality, so I can understand it better.
However, whether I think of it in terms of aesthetics or morality, obsession or love, the fact that it could be switched on and off at such identifiable times turned me against Humbert.
He is in control of this feeling called love, at least, he knows with clinical precision when he will return to “normality” or a state of not loving.
His love was a drug that he took too knowingly, he knew precisely when the feeling of the drug would wear off.
So, I started to believe that there was no loss of self in his love.
Instead, it was a heightened or gross act of narcissism.
By extension, there was no sense in which he tried to "satisfy" Lo personally or sexually.
There was no sense of a mutually satisfying relationship or intercourse (although to be fair, he doesn't go into the sexual detail, except in terms of physical exertion).
However, I got the sense that, when it came to consummating his love, it was just about sticking his dick into his love object.
OK, lots of sexual relationships can be reduced to this fundamental penetrative act.
Some men see femaleness as no more than a receptacle for maleness and its fluid manifestation, the cup into which they spill their seed.
However, I started to feel in the second part that Humbert's aim was to defile or despoil the beauty that had appealed to him in the first part (even if it was transgressive).
And the three year zone of enchantment highlighted to me that Humbert would just go in search of the next beautiful nymphet to stick his dick into.
So it became increasingly apparent to me that he was a serial despoiler of beauty, not a genuine lover or admirer of beauty.
There is a hatred or disgust hotwired into this love.
You don't normally hate the flowers in your vase when it comes time to remove them and throw them in the dustbin.
But you get the sense that Humbert would have been disgusted by his former love objects, his objet d'obsession, the moment that calendar clicked over.
Obviously, this same disgust or loss of interest appears in more traditional relationships.
It could lie behind the mid-life crisis when the guy runs away with the younger woman.
It could explain the inability to accept the inevitability of aging, at least in our partner.
It could explain we males who still picture ourselves as the immutable 20 year old who deserves a young and nubile partner (no matter how soft or old or fat or ugly we have become).
So Humbert’s love can teach the rest of us something about our own love.

Last Part (Adult Love Denied)

I wrote most of my comments about the second part before I had finished reading the last part of the novel.
I have to emphasise that most of what turned me against Humbert came from my reaction to his own words.
Neither he nor Nabokov held back the material that would make me hate him.
Still, I read on, firmly in their constrictive embrace, until chapter 29, when Humbert and the seventeen year old, married and pregnant Dolores meet again.
What you think of Humbert and his love, whether or not you think he is lying, depends on your interpretation of the confessions in this chapter:

“…there she was with her ruined looks and her adult, rope-veined narrow hands and her gooseflesh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her unkempt armpits, there she was (my Lolita!), hopelessly worn at seventeen, with that baby… and I looked and I looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else…
“What I used to pamper among the tangled vines of my heart…had dwindled to its essence: sterile and selfish vice, all that I cancelled and cursed…
“You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear the court, but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poor truth.
“I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine.”

This is just one part of Humbert’s journey.
He realised that he still loved her outside the hebephile zone.
However, he still clung to “his” Lolita, the Lolita of his deluded version of love.
Obviously, Dolores is and never was “his” version of reality, she was her own person, and she declines his love a second time.
Only then does he recognise that he “did not know a thing about [his] darling’s mind” or that “a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac”.
Then he quotes “an old poet” (presumably Nabokov himself):

“The moral sense in mortals is the duty
“We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.”

In other words, you can’t just indulge an aesthetic sense of beauty at the expense of a real human being, it comes attached to and constrained by morality.
Morality, taboo and the law work together to protect innocence and beauty from those who would defile and despoil it.
He was not above the law, he was no Nietzschian Superman.
He was the fool in his own play.

The Tragedy

There are suggestions that Nabokov saw Humbert’s story as a tragedy, that Humbert only realised that he genuinely loved Dolores by conventional standards when it was too late.
That might be so, but Humbert only had himself to blame.
He was a victim of his own hand, and his tragedy was nothing compared with the one he made Dolores endure, so that he, too selfishly for love, could have his “Lolita”.
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Reading Progress

February 23, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
June 28, 2011 – Shelved as: reviews
June 28, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 16, 2011 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
August 12, 2011 – Shelved as: reviews (Other Paperback Edition)
September 29, 2011 – Shelved as: read-2011
February 15, 2012 – Shelved as: reviews-5-stars (Other Paperback Edition)
June 13, 2012 – Shelved as: reviews-5-stars
July 30, 2012 – Shelved as: read-2012 (Other Paperback Edition)
Started Reading (Other Paperback Edition)
July 31, 2012 – Finished Reading (Other Paperback Edition)
October 25, 2012 – Shelved as: nabokov
October 25, 2012 – Shelved as: nabokov (Other Paperback Edition)
June 14, 2013 – Shelved as: nabokov (Hardcover Edition)
June 14, 2013 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)
June 14, 2013 – Shelved as: reviews (Hardcover Edition)
June 14, 2013 – Shelved as: read-2013 (Hardcover Edition)
June 14, 2013 – Shelved as: reviews-5-stars (Hardcover Edition)
Started Reading (Hardcover Edition)
June 15, 2013 – Finished Reading (Hardcover Edition)
August 4, 2013 – Shelved as: re-read (Hardcover Edition)

Comments Showing 1-50 of 332 (332 new)

Velvetink I read it years and years ago too, in a huge anthology of his work, and I don't think I was ready for it. I have Pale Fire sitting here waiting for me, which I might bump up to top on my to read list.

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I also read Ada a few years ago, pre-GR, too slowly and without much ardour.

Velvetink It's funny books I read when younger have no appeal now, and ones I turned away from then really interest me...and I've read more Russian writers now...

message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I was much more tolerant of long books when I was young.
I am gearing up for a big Dostoyevsky re-read though.
There are also a number of books I want to re-read with GR eyes on.
I should do a list.
I am interested in your past aversions that now interest you.
I can't think of anything off the top of my head that I would put in that category.
Maybe I have been either lucky or generous in my assessments.

Velvetink umm will have to make a list of past aversions, hard to say off the top of my head,: I think I used to stick with the known writers I loved & art, then there was the purely horror/sci fi phase, and for a long time the fact of having to read WW1 poetry at school put me off anything old period, spent a lot of time with medical, veterinary and natural sciences then suddenly I wanted to read all the classics again, fill in the gaps I'd missed & venture further into Europe and beyond.

message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I was thinking of books that you had read but done a 180 on.

message 7: by Ian (last edited Jun 07, 2011 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I think I have seen the 1962 Kubrick film, but not the 1997 film.
I will re-read the book soon, because it deserves it and I want to explore some of the issues I have raised in posts on Ceridwen's eloquent review.
My review is a work-in-progress.
Basically, what I want to say is I felt sad for Humbert, despite the moral and legal grossness of what he did.
I believe that he was genuine in his love, even if we as outsiders think he was deluded.
His love was a fact, a reality in his life.
He is no cartoon figure, he is a genuine fully-fledged human character, albeit seriously flawed.
To not understand his flaws is to not understand our own potential for self-delusion or error.
While I believe that Humbert was genuine in his love, one problem is that he trapped Lolita within his own vision.
In a way, he loved her as a caterpillar, but was unable to accept the inevitability that she would grow (and want to grow) into a butterfly.
To continue his selfish love, he needed to preserve her as a caterpillar.
In the story, this just couldn't happen, nor can we expect it to happen in real life.
It would be interesting to see how people's views of the novel would have differed if they did grow into a mature adult love of each other, notwithstanding the immoral origin and foundation of the relationship.

message 8: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Brian, Paul and I might be working towards a group reading, would you and anybody else be interested?
It's interesting that you mention nostalgia.
The Lolita affair is actually Humbert's attempt to re-live an earlier, similar affair with Annabel Lee.

message 9: by Alex (last edited Jun 17, 2011 12:24PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex Ian wrote: "It would be interesting to see whether men read it through the eyes of a male and therefore through Humbert's eyes."

Not every man is a pervert and pedophile while Humbert definitely is !

What Humbert Humbert experiences can not be qualified by either be love or be lust - the correct word is CRIME!

Excusing Humbert Humbert is on the level of attempting to excuse Jeffrey Dahmer - so the word "excuse" does not apply here ...

message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye There is an interesting article about the maths problem Humbert poses with respect to their ages here:


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Original Review:
I originally rated this five stars based on memories of a book read over 30 years ago.
It's interesting for me to see such diverse opinions, including negative or sceptical ones.
I would probably be more questioning of it now.
I would read it with different eyes.
It would be interesting to see whether men read it through the eyes of a male and therefore through Humbert's eyes.
Do (some) women read it through Lolita's eyes or Humbert's eyes or do they read it away from any particular character (and possibly feel even more alienated from it)?

message 12: by Alex (last edited Jun 19, 2011 07:31PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex As I already pointed out my POV - the eyes of a regular normal male and the eyes of Humbert see things in a totally different way.

message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Alex.
Part of what I originally wanted to ask was: does a male "identify" with a male protagonist (no matter what criminal act they get up to, e.g., in a first person crime novel), whereas a woman would resist the temptation?
I didn't mean to suggest that the male reader had to agree with the character, just that temporarily they had to inhabit their skin.

message 14: by Alex (last edited Jun 23, 2011 09:00AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex It so unnatural it only causes disgust.

Nabokov tries to trivialize this crime by creating "sympathetic" character.
Another trick Nabokov is using to excuse Humbert and his likeness is by sneaking into the plot unbelievable ( in reality) "fact" that it is Lo who seduced Humbert and not vice verse. This is a very low trick with intent to manipulate the reader!

message 15: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Alex.
I don't think even Humbert tried to excuse his conduct by relying on Lolita's seduction of him.
He had already been grooming her for his trap for some time.
In the end, I don't think Nabokov or Humbert denied the horror of what Humbert had done.
Humbert had to travel into his own Heart of Darkness before he was astute enough to say, "The horror, the horror."
It's much easier to see the horror in someone else's conduct.

Capsguy Sorry to barge in here, but Alex, if you're into Russian literature, feel free to add me. Couldn't check since your profile is private.

message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Brian.
The bar will look a lot lower if you stand on my shoulders and jump.
I hope we can get some real diversity going.

Capsguy Just throwing this out there. Do you think authors who grew up under a language other than English may have different abilities/capacities than native English speakers?

Off the bat, these two come to my mind:
1. Nabokov
2. Conrad

Both famous for their prose, what is it that positions them different from the rest?

message 19: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye These are great questions, CG, ones that have fascinated me for a long time as well.
Particularly applied to the two authors you mention. (Hence, my reference to Heart of Darkness.)
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the ability to speak and write in a number of different languages would give you a comparative insight into how different people and languages approached different issues or problems.
It can give you a real insight into the logic of a language when you have something concrete to compare it with.
This is one of the reasons why, internally within the English language, I have always been fascinated by the structure of Roget's Thesaurus, which shows incredible insight into how the English language approaches things from an organisational point of view.
If you had this level of insight into a number of languages, I think you would have a fantastic advantage as a raconteur, entertainer, comic, speaker and writer.
Paradoxically, it might give you not just a commanding seriousness of purpose, but a playfulness.
This is what made Nabokov so special, the element of play, well, word play.
It doesn't necessarily mean that if you can speak two languages, you will automatically be a better writer, but if you are the sort of person who values these things, it might.
And perhaps the converse might be true as well: if you were a native English speaker, learning a second language might help you to climb up onto the table at which Nabokov and Conrad played their games.
What do you think?

Capsguy Well, I'm not sure about Polish, but Russian is filled with wordplay that simply cannot be effectively translated into English. So, a person who has fluency in both languages may be able to take a bit from both and add their own spin, where elements or inspirations from their native tongue's language can influence their wordplay in the other language they write in. Someone who only speaks one language would have a more narrow-minded approach to their writing, where they are restrained to the elements and rules of their one language, whereas someone with a background of two or more languages may have the experience and ability to look past such limitations and add their own unique blend to their work.

message 21: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Have you read early Nabokov in Russian?

Capsguy I wish I even spoke Russian, lol

message 23: by Alex (last edited Jun 20, 2011 05:34AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex I haven't read Nabokov in Russian either - till 1981 (when I left Russia) - I don't even think he was openly published in USSR.
But, yes, the expressive "functionality" of the two languages is very different. In that sense Russian is "closer" to Roman languages - by richness of the emotional color and expressiveness.
English is great on another hand by ability to say a lot in a very laconic way - with lots of understatements. The epitome of such style (for me)is E. Hemingway, who is my favorite *contemporary* English language writer.
Russian style of writing is accustomed to use very long statements with the main sentence continuing into the chain of several sub-servant sentences.
English style prefers short separated from each other sentences. Russian (due to more complex grammar word construction rules) has more options in rhymed poetry.

I think languages reflect differences in a National Character of that nation, which developed the language.

message 24: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye B, this has all turned to mush in my head. Which part are you referring to?

message 25: by Alex (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex >Ian Graye made a comment in the group
>Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov — What do we
>learn about the nature of "love"? topic
>"Brian/Paul, I agree that this ideal of
>the love object is broader than just
>Notice that hebephilia seems to want to
>preserve immortality for the youth.
>VN might be showing that only art can
>achieve immortality.

Mephistopheles: "All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green"
(Goethe, Faust)

message 26: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye All theory, dear friend, is gray, but all Graye, dear friend, is not necessarily just theory.

message 27: by Alex (last edited Jun 22, 2011 05:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex The point is that Nabokov beautifies and romanticizes pedophiles, thus sneaking in the idea of human normalcy in such actions and making pedophilia be more socially acceptable. Such Nabokov's intent is deeply immoral.
Typically, "novels about murderers and other criminals" don't have this aspect.
Even "murderers and other criminals" have the instinct that pedophilia is a monstrous activity - that is why they kill pedophiles in prisons.

message 28: by Alex (last edited Jun 23, 2011 09:38AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex That is the intuitive (and possibly subjective - but every reader is subjective anyway and that is the beauty of reading the literature) perception, which I got reading it.

There is the saying: "To understand means to forgive".
Nabokov wants the reader to understand motives and feelings of HH.

Literature mostly affects the reader emotionally and not through the logical analysis way of thinking. Literature in sublime ways creates the overall emotional impression of its content - pretty much the same way as painting does. That is what Nabokov understands and skilfully uses in order to manipulate the reaction of the reader. The literary skill is sometimes a dangerous weapon.

Ademption Alex wrote: "There is the saying: "To understand means to forgive".
Nabokov wants the reader to understand motives and feelings of HH..."

I agree that: "Nabokov wants the reader to understand motives and feelings of HH."

However, I'll suggest to you that the leap from understanding to forgiveness is purely your own reading.

unknown "The point is that Nabokov beautifies and romanticizes pedophiles, thus sneaking in the idea of human normalcy in such actions and making pedophilia be more socially acceptable. Such Nabokov's intent is deeply immoral."

no he doesn't! humbert is gross and, by the midway point of the book, clearly losing his marbles.

the genius of the book, and where i strongly disagree with ian, is that humbert is totally an unreliable narrator. his "eloquent" defense of his desires (which you are attributing very wrongly to nabokov) are all a mask. as his narrative grows increasingly fevered during the road trip section, it becomes clear that humbert isn't the cool and collected individual he wants us to think he is, and that some part of him knows what he has done to corrupt the girl. i might misremember, but i don't think he ever actually admits blame for that, and in fact draws a distinct line between himself and the other pedophiles in the book.

calling nabakov a secret pedophile is like calling thomas harris a secret serial killer.

message 31: by Alex (last edited Jun 23, 2011 09:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex >However, I'll suggest to you that the leap from
>understanding to forgiveness is purely your own

I trust sayings (and usually share the truth of those) - folk sayings are the treasure chest of the concentrated living experience and wisdom.

By the way - from where do you think Nabokov gained his own deep understanding of this type of pedophile
(the understanding, which Nabokov so eloquently passes on to his readers) - I don't believe he could derive it from bystander's observation position ?

>I am taking it more like Truman Capote's In Cold
>Blood, or Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment.

As I already said it in my review -
I firmly believe (using the same line of thought that the writer only writes about what is really dear to him) that Dostoevsky at some point of his life, when he was the member of the terrorist organization, was morally approving the idea of murdering a human being - as the method of executing justice and as a proof of concept that the "super-individual" (compare with Nietzsche), could do it when he feels that the victim deserved to be killed.
In fact, Dostoevsky, in his yearly life, belonged to the group of Russian terrorists, which were considering murdering individual as a legitimate way of political action.

unknown i think that reading seriously undervalues nabokov's skill as a writer. even if he had some fascination with young girls, the book he wrote is anything but a defense of pedophilia. to think otherwise is not a "difference of interpretation," it is a serious misreading of the text.

i don't like telling people that their opinion of a book is wrong, but there is no defense for the argument that lolita promotes pedophilia if you actually look at what was written.

message 33: by Alex (last edited Jun 23, 2011 08:50AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex >i don't like telling people that their opinion of a
>book is wrong, but there is no defense for the
>argument that lolita promotes pedophilia if you
>actually look at what was written.

BTW, I am not asking any one here to defend my opinion, neither I expect to be judged upon expressing it - it is a free forum.

So what the "some fascination with young girls" is - in your opinion ?

Every reading is subjective - both by me and yours.
So I agree to disagree with your opinion as you disagree with my impression of this piece.
In his interview Nabokov playfully (but with the devilish smile on his face) suggests that the proof that he is not what HH is - is that HH makes mistakes in classifying butterflies, which he, Nabokov, would never made.

unknown well, to be clear, i don't think nabokov has any prurient interest in children. my point was that it doesn't matter, because he is not his character. and also there is no evidence otherwise.

and no, i don't think all readings are subjective. i think you can be wrong about a book. i think missing that fact that humbert is clearly written as deranged, self-deluding and borderline insane, or not missing that but thinking that nabokov is somehow saying that his desires are ok anyway, is wrong. you can interpret all you want but you have to look at the words that are actually on the pages or your analysis is meaningless.


message 35: by Alex (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex Thank you for expressing your point of view.

message 36: by Ian (last edited Jun 22, 2011 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Joel, re your message 39, I can live with either or both of the unreliability views.
What made me opt for reliable was:
H wrote it all in 56 days two years after all of the Lolita action took place.
He was frank enough about the road trip captivity to turn me away from sympathy for the devil.
He did admit blame and shame for what he did, especially in a beautiful scene (I think in the last chapter), where he describes the sounds of a crowd of school children, and he realises not only did he steal L's childhood from her, but he also separated her from the sounds of the crowd, of humanity and decency and normality.
He made her come away (on the road trip) and both deprived her and depraved her.
At the time of writing, he knew how selfish he had been and probably still was.
It's worth re-reading the last two chapters, which are what I have called the third act.
But even if we disagree, I think it's good that the two interpretations are on the internet, I'm not trying to make it a matter of being right or wrong.

message 37: by Ademption (last edited Jun 22, 2011 02:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ademption My point was not about the accuracy of Nabokov's portrayal of pedophilia, which may be accurate or it might not. I have no expertise in this subject area. The point is, accurate or not, nothing suggest he wrote Lolita so that through empathy with Humbert Humbert, readers would then be forgiving of pedophiles.

Alex, you yourself may empathize, and find yourself in a forgiving mood. That is completely apart from Nabokov's intention. Don't conflate your feelings regarding a work with the author's intention.

"I don't believe he could derive it from bystander's observation position - it must be the "first hand" experience!"

And that begs the question, that if a writer can imagine a character and accurately depict a pedophile, and by your reasoning, he must therefore himself been something of a closet pedophile with first-hand experience (and not simply have an imagination and skill in depicting those imaginings in words)...

What does this mean about a person who can accurately ascertain whether a person is actually a pedophile solely from reading that writer's fiction? Why do you accurately know a writer is a pedophile based on his work? Why does HH resonate with you and therefore translate into the writer being a pedophile?

I think you are making unsupported leaps in logic based on your notions of how well you believe you know pedophiles.

Also, just because Dostoevski was an angry young man and attended meetings in which he heard and may have even agreed with extreme rhetoric advocating violence, and then later in life wrote a book exploring murder, in no way suggests Dostoevski murdered someone. Plenty of people have been angry young men or written out their imaginings and neither of these actions in themselves (or combined) is a crime.

message 38: by unknown (last edited Jun 22, 2011 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

unknown well, i might agree with you there -- it has been a few years since i read it, but it makes sense that by the end of the narrative, there are cracks in the facade. as i said, his story becomes progressively more unhinged as he tells it. by the end, maybe he eventually does admit to us what he has done. but i think that might also be the first time he as admitted it to himself, and is in strong contrast to the flowery way he talks about his high-minded love earlier on. so maybe he is an unreliable narrator that ends up telling the truth in the end.

message 39: by Ademption (last edited Jun 22, 2011 01:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ademption Otherwise prisons would be full of high school students convicted on the basis of their dream journals.

message 40: by Alex (last edited Jun 22, 2011 03:16PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex >Also, just because Dostoevski was an angry young
>man and attended meetings in which he heard and may
>have even agreed with extreme rhetoric advocating
First of all, Dear Evan, it looks to me that it is not known to you (may be I am wrong and you do know this) that at that time Dostoevsky was tried and convicted in court for terrorism. He was sentenced to death via hanging. He was pardoned at the last moment at the place of his execution.
So obviously the things were little bit more serious than you are portraying it.
Let us be exact and not twist my words - I did not say, BTW, that Dostoevsky really killed or participated in killing of anyone - but obviously his way of thinking then was "flirting" with such possibility.

>Alex, you yourself may empathize, and find yourself
>in a forgiving mood.
No I did not arrive to forgiving mood in spite of Nabokov's efforts
>Why does HH resonate with you ...
Dear Evan - you are totally confused re my points ... or you are intentionally twisting my words ?
HH DOES NOT RESONATE WITH ME in the sense you have so suggested - it is another idea of yours, which I did not express.
On contrary, not only I DO NOT empathize with HH but irregardless of reading that book - I was and am disgusted with the overall notion of pedophilia. I am regretting that Nabokov is not showing the same level of disgust with pedophilia as any normal person like me (and I hope you) have - and that is my point.

In my opinion Nabokov was a realist - does anyone disagree with that ?
Realist's writings are based on real experiences - not on fantasies. I personally would not write about pedophile (neither would you, Dear Evan - I sincerely hope) - because I do not know about pedophiles.
But Nabokov did write about pedophiles ... and that DOES begs the question - why Nabokov did so, what was his motivation and how he relates to pedophiles ?
Are we in the clear now, Dear Evan ?

message 41: by Alex (last edited Jun 22, 2011 03:26PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex I am just replying in kind to related postings. I know full well what was the meaning of using "Dear" in my posting. I will not address your reference to my English as condescending, Dear Brian.

unknown I think his feelings on that score are pretty obvious, brian.

message 43: by Alex (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex I speak to people in the way they deserve.

message 44: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Joel wrote: "well, i might agree with you there -- it has been a few years since i read it, but it makes sense that by the end of the narrative, there are cracks in the facade. as i said, his story becomes prog..."

If it unhinges, i would argue that it rehinges by the end.
But he still says "my lolita", which suggests that he is still selfish and possessive, if only of his fantasy lolita as opposed to the real one who he depraved.

message 45: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Sorry I'm interstate dealing with ash cloud flight disruption as a passenger and might respond intermittently.

message 46: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Alex wrote: "I speak to people in the way they deserve."

In that case, I ask that you speak to us, them in the way you deserve.

You can make any substantive comment you want on this thread, but I don't want it to be a competition about who can shout their hatred of paedophilia the loudest.
I think we all hate it.

message 47: by Ademption (last edited Jun 23, 2011 08:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ademption @Alex,

You got awfully defensive rather quickly. Worrying about possible insinuations and inferences concerning pedophilia based on your writings no doubt caused you to react this way. Of course I wouldn't insinuate, nor go even further to accuse you of such crime based on your writings on this thread, doing that would be sensationalistic and simple-minded. No actual offense or stigma was intended.

Alex wrote: ">First of all, Dear Evan, it looks to me that it is not known to you (may be I am wrong and you do know this) that at that time Dostoevsky was tried and convicted in court for terrorism. He was sentenced to death via hanging. He was pardoned at the last moment at the place of his execution.
So obviously the things were little bit more serious than you are portraying it."

Oh, sweetie. Bless your heart!

Dostoevsky was actually put in front of a firing squad, told he was going to die, mock executed, and then exiled to Siberia.

His crime was for being a part of a liberal intellectual group. This could have been been trumped up or rightly considered terrorism. But, again neither of these charges is murder.

"showing the same level of disgust with pedophilia as any normal person like me (and I hope you) have - and that is my point."

Normal, bless you again, dear heart.

"Realist's writings are based on real experiences - not on fantasies."

Fiction is fiction. Logical inferences cannot be drawn based on your own feelings regarding the work as you read it. They need to be substantiated with diary entries, interviews, correspondence, recordings, etc. To quote from Radiohead "Just 'cause you feel it, doesn't mean it's there."

Your subjective truth based on a reading of Lolita, and your "normal" moral compass pointing to disgust does not translate into sound inferences about the state of a writer's private life. You are speculating without proof and as you can see, accusations towards people you do not know, without proof, based solely on a single instance of writing, and a less than positive feeling, is unfair and irresponsible.

Capsguy Sorry for irrelevance, but if you don't mind Ian, could you send me a friend request? You and I seem to have pretty similar reading interests. I can't send friend requests on Goodreads unless it's from the 'recommended friends' feature on the home-page. Might be not compatible with newest Firefox?

message 49: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Capsguy wrote: "Sorry for irrelevance, but if you don't mind Ian, could you send me a friend request? ."

We're already friends.

Capsguy Sorry, meant Evan.

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