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Archives > Lolita Discussion - Week 1: Part 1, Ch 1 - Ch 22

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message 1: by Jenni (new)

Jenni (legaleagle) | 19 comments Mod
Hello all:

A few questions and thoughts from me to get the discussion kick-started. Please also venture over to the "Writing Style" discussion Kayla started, but keep in mind not everyone has finished the book (although I know some of you have - quick work, team!). I'll be adding some of my thoughts there, too.

And so, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts. (DISCLAIMER: I do not profess to be an expert on Lolita, book club discussions, or pretty much anything else).

In what do the pseudonyms that Nabokov chooses for his characters play into and/or shape our impressions of them? For my part, I have a hard time taking someone named Humbert Humbert as seriously as I might a character with a less ridiculous name. Similarly, Lolita DOES seem to be appropriately nymphet, whereas Dolores seems...dull and ordinary.

Reflecting back on just this section of the reading, do you think that Humbert actually loves his Lolita, as he claims to? I'm interested to see how people's impressions and answers to this question develop over the course of the book.

Feel free to raise any other thoughts that you have RELATED TO CHAPTERS 1 THROUGH 22.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Jen


message 2: by JudgyK (new)

JudgyK I don't think he loves her. Love at first sight (in my opinion) cannot actually exist. He doesn't know her, he doesn't know her interests, or anything about her other than she's in the right age group and reminds him of another little girl he once might have loved. HH's pronouncements of love are so instantaneous and superficial that I cannot believe him.


message 3: by Becki (last edited Jan 09, 2011 05:22PM) (new)

Becki (beckalina) | 73 comments I think that the pseudonyms make a huge difference. The description of Lolita as a nymphet does color the way I view her. He points out that he does not "love" all young girls, only nymphets, and goes on to describe what a nymphet is exactly. And I think everyone has seen those young girls who seem acutely aware of their sexuality at a very young age. So I can imagine her being more self-aware than the average girl. And the name Lolita adds to the image of this young girl who is mature beyond her age. He does such a good job with the names influencing the way I see the characters that every once in a while I had to step back and remind myself that Lolita could not possibly be the way he describes her. All of the pseudonyms influence my impression of characters, but Lolita and the term nymphet were definitely the most influential.

The first time he said he loved Lolita, I didn’t believe it. I’ve never bought into the idea that pedophiles love children. Although I don’t think I ever had a definitive reason why I couldn’t believe them. Well other than it just doesn’t make sense to hurt them and say you love them. But when he started pointing out that there was an expiration on his love for Lolita, I realized it is the same for all pedophiles. You can not love someone but place an expiration date (or age) on that love. That is not what love is. Love is for life. You love someone no matter what. But when Charlotte talks about sending Lolita to camp he is devastated because he knows he only has a short time that Lolita will be a nymphet. And when she develops and is no longer a nymphet, he will no longer love her. That is not love. So they can say it is love as much as they want, but I won’t believe it.


message 4: by jenn (new)

jenn | 17 comments I'm finding it far easier to read about Lolita than to read Lolita. That said, I've been thinking specifically about the name "Lolita" and the connotations associated with that name. I'd suggest that "Lolita" today is used to signify a sexually precocious adolescent, typically stereotyped as predatory, because of this novel. But that's not the prepubescent Lo of the novel (or at least not as far as I've read). I wonder if part of our association with the name is because film adaptations aged Lolita beyond the very childlike descriptions proffered by HH.


message 5: by Mona (last edited Jan 09, 2011 06:41PM) (new)

Mona I also think that the pseudonyms play a big role in shaping the reader's perceptions. Because it's a first-person narrative, the only story we're really getting here is HH's point of view. To me, "Lolita" not only implies sexually mature, but it also sounds like the name of a mistress, maybe a bit foreign or exotic. The name suggests that not only does Lolita know exactly what he is doing and likes it (ewww) but also that he recognizes that she is off limits or morally out of his reach, but he wants her anyway.

As for "Humbert Humbert", I agree with you, Jen. I can't take that name very seriously, and I think using that pseudonym contributes to my overall feeling about the book thus far. I'm internally conflicted every time I pick up this book or think about it - on the one hand, I'm very morally opposed to what he's doing and everything he says, but the writing is fantastic and witty. But he knows exactly what he's doing - he's a sociopath and knows how to "play" people. (This book reminds me a lot of the movie Primal Fear, incidentally.)


message 6: by JudgyK (new)

JudgyK I wonder how much of viewing the name "Lolita" as somewhat sexual or more mature is colored by the media grasping on certain parts of the book and then deciding to nickname young girls who are sexually aggressive as a "Lolita" a la Amy Fisher, verses the actual name sounding sexual or mature. -Ita is often added to mean "little" - Lolita is just Little Lola. It strikes me that when HH is calling her Lolita, he is reminding himself, via the nickname he chose to give her, that she is a child. Which is what he likes about her.

The "nymphet" thing also bothers me. It just (again) strikes me as HH justifying himself. A way of saying "I'm not the pervert, I'm not a pedophile, it's these specific creatures who aren't children at all but are rather evil sex demons who live to taunt me" by naming them "nymphet". But again, beyond just the demon creature aspect HH ascribes to it, Nabokov (and HH like him) knows that nymphs are typically young women (WOMEN, not girls), but that -et, much like -ita, means small. So it's small nymph, again pointing out that she's a child.


message 7: by Jenni (new)

Jenni (legaleagle) | 19 comments Mod
jenn wrote: "I'd suggest that "Lolita" today is used to signify a sexually precocious adolescent, typically stereotyped as predatory, because of this novel."

I agree with you, but I think even leaving that specific connotation of Lolita aside, Lolita is a much more mature, lovely, sexually charged name than Delores is, which is why Humbert refers to her as Lolita instead of her given pseudonym. I agree with Mona, too, that the name is a bit exotic/foreign - which is perhaps another way that Humbert makes her his, by tying her name to his European/foreign identity?

As for whether Humbert loves Lolita or not, in this first section of the book, I find it to be mere infatuation. I don't know that I would go as far as calling it lust. Maybe. Although I want to judge him, be disgusted by him, and say it is merely misguided lust, it seems softer than that. Of course, this is because the story is told from his point of view.


message 8: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) I'd suggest that "Lolita" today is used to signify a sexually precocious adolescent, typically stereotyped as predatory, because of this novel. But that's not the prepubescent Lo of the novel (or at least not as far as I've read). I wonder if part of our association with the name is because film adaptations aged Lolita beyond the very childlike descriptions proffered by HH.

I agree, I think the name Lolita is seen as sexy and provocative because of this book. I was not aware that Lo or Lolita were nicknames for Dolores and was shocked to discover that this was her real name.


message 9: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) As for the love issue I agree with the masses. HH is infatuated with Lolita, not in love. He may be in love with the idea of being infatuated by nymphets but his feelings toward Lolita are not what I would describe as love.


message 10: by Jacklyn (new)

Jacklyn | 14 comments No, HH, in my opinion, is not in love with Lolita. He sees her as his first love, Annabel, and as someone mentioned, he'll be over her as soon as she grows up because it's the child he loves. Gross. HH and the HH's we see in the news etc, I don't see that as in love with the girl/child. It's an unhealthy, obsession and fantasy. Once Lolita is older, I would assume that HH would be on to the next one.

What do you guys think about when HH mentions kind of how Lolita, eggs him on isn't the correct term but he'll write about times she'll tease him etc. Please understand, I'm not saying that it's ok, either way. Not at all, just wondering what you all think. We're only hearing from HH, so do you think that he's imagining that a bit? Do you think he's telling us she's doing that stuff or exaggerating a bit because that's how he sees it?


message 11: by Jenni (new)

Jenni (legaleagle) | 19 comments Mod
I have been questioning the same thing, Jacklyn, whether Lo really is teasing him. And I can tell you that when I was Lo's age, some of my friends were having sex (not me - ew!) and all of us were boy crazy and I can absolutely believe that she might have had a crush on and attempted to flirt with HH.

Of course, this is where it becomes the adult's responsibility not to engage...


message 12: by JudgyK (new)

JudgyK I have the feeling that she is NOT trying to egg him on or encourage him. Lo certainly might be a bit of a flirt, and probably figured out that men respond well to a tilt of the head, a flutter of eyelashes, a coy peek. She also seems a bit starved for attention (her mom ignores her for the most part, or is yelling at her) and seems to even like a bit of physical affection - but I don't think she's trying for anything more than that. There's no way she can know the effect she has on HH, or what he's thinking. She's in WAY over her head but she doesn't know it. If she knew, I think she'd drastically change her behavior towards HH.


message 13: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) Something else I found interesting: When HH describes nymphets he makes a point to say that they aren't the prettiest girls of their age, that being a nymphet involves some internal beauty he is attracted to. But he continues to point out all these men (of varying ages, including those of Lo's age) who ogle over her. I wonder if: a) she is really beautiful b) he is paranoid and imagining it c) he is trying to justify the lure of a nymphet on the average male.

Also, I think HH is the new term for a pedophile. Chester was getting old and losing its appeal. Just sayin.


message 14: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) Oh, and as to the discussion of whether she eggs him on I'm gonna say I believe it. When I was her age I had plenty of friends who were having sex and doing some crazy things just because they knew they would get attention for it. I honestly learned more about sex in middle school then I ever did when I became sexually active (many years later).

As delusional as we may find HH, I think there is a slight truth behind the idea of a nymphet. There are teenage girls that prove to be more sexually deviant than others. MTVs 16 & Pregnant wouldn't be so popular otherwise ;) I've always been intrigued by this concept and wondered how the nature vs. nurture argument applies to such young women. I think some girls mature a lot faster than others. I also think hormone levels factor in to how a young girl presents herself sexually (or not sexually). I think this is where I'm semi convinced that HH is on to something with this whole nymphet thing. I can definitely remember several girls in my middle school who would fall into the nymphet category.


message 15: by JudgyK (new)

JudgyK Jamie wrote: "But he continues to point out all these men (of varying ages, including those of Lo's age) who ogle over her."

Good point. BUT - he's the very definition of an unreliable narrator. Are all these males REALLY ogling Lo? Or is HH just possessive and controlling and likes the idea of other people wanting what is his?


message 16: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) Amie wrote: "Jamie wrote: "But he continues to point out all these men (of varying ages, including those of Lo's age) who ogle over her."

Good point. BUT - he's the very definition of an unreliable narrator. A..."


Yeah that's what intrigues me. It makes him look either paranoid (they aren't really ogling her) or an unreliable narrator (nymphets are the strikingly pretty girls he encourages us they aren't). I think its a flaw Nabokov intended on placing in the novel to further flaw HH's character (narration). It definitely caught my attention


message 17: by Becki (new)

Becki (beckalina) | 73 comments Jamie wrote: "Something else I found interesting: When HH describes nymphets he makes a point to say that they aren't the prettiest girls of their age, that being a nymphet involves some internal beauty he is at..."

I get the feeling that Lolita is not that pretty. But if she is aware of her sexuality and is learning to manipulate men with her sexuality, she could still be turning heads. There are girls (and women) that have a way of carrying themselves a certain way that makes men swoon, even if they aren't the prettiest girl in the room.


message 18: by Mona (new)

Mona Amie wrote: "I have the feeling that she is NOT trying to egg him on or encourage him."

I agree with this. It seems like HH is trying to portray her as knowing that she is a temptation because he wants an excuse or justification to make what he is doing okay. (But it's not, it's not!)


message 19: by Jamie (new)

Jamie (ahealthyjd) Becki wrote: "Jamie wrote: "Something else I found interesting: When HH describes nymphets he makes a point to say that they aren't the prettiest girls of their age, that being a nymphet involves some internal b..."

This is very true, I'm now leaning towards this view :)


message 20: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 4 comments That Nabokov presents Humbert Humbert - not only his name, but his whole narrative, his being, as kind of a joke makes the prose so much more uncomfortable. Im reading about this pedophile, or wannabe pedophile... and laughing at the same time. (And I work in child welfare - this is not funny stuff!) Nabokov weaving hilarity into the serious territory - I haven't figured that out yet.

Im with Amie: the use of the word "nymphet" & the concept of the nymphet bothers me. Its such a standard pedophile delusion - this little girl is unique - already sexual - she wanted me/this/whatever happened. Its not that there aren't sexualized preteens, or that Lolita couldn't be one - but with HH being who he is, I cant rely on his characterization.

I do not think its love. Im going with obsession.


message 21: by Jenni (new)

Jenni (legaleagle) | 19 comments Mod
Throwing this into the mix on the discussion of the term "nymphet."

It has two possible origins - one, which I think we most commonly think of, is the mythological "spirits" of nature, typically beautiful women. The second, an insect undergoing incomplete metamorphosis. It's a middle stage between infancy and adulthood, as I understand it. One of Nabokov's hobbies was the collection and identification of butterflies (there's a section at the back of my copy of Lolita, written by Nabokov discussing how he came about writing this book, where Nabokov actually mentions this). Apparently he even named a species of butterfly.

Knowing that this was a hobby of his, I tend to think nymphet was chosen both for the concept of the beautiful, if unobtainable, woman, and the middle ground between childhood and adulthood. In fact, I think his very definition of nymphet is that it ISN'T the most beautiful or the most unobtainable who qualify as "nymphets". It's those who, for him, have an aura of sexuality - are perched somewhere between being just a child and being a woman. And when they are no longer in this in-between stage, they cease to be nymphets for him. Thinking back to my own childhood, I just refuse to think of Lolita as completely asexual. I'm not endorsing or condoning HH's view and reaction to her. But I think it's worth considering that Lo is at a stage in between being just a child and fully a woman.


message 22: by Kaitlin (new)

Kaitlin (krj86) I can't take Mr. Humbert Humbert seriously. In my head I think: Humbert = Bumbert = Bumble, like a bumbling idiot. The way he rambles about her, about everything, showcases him as the lunatic he is, in my opinion. I would say HH is infatuated with Lolita, not in love with her. I don't believe that pedophiles are in love with their targets, no matter how much HH believes that he does.

I agree that her name had to be Lolita, or another pseudonym with an equally sexual connotation. In calling her Lolita and claiming she was "teasing" him, HH is trying to convince the jury that she was a temptress. How could he resist?

Jen, I would have to agree about Lo not being completely asexual for the same reasons. I remember being quite the flirt at that age, but, as you said, I'm not condoning his view of her.


message 23: by Jacklyn (new)

Jacklyn | 14 comments Without saying too much until we discuss what we're reading this week, this obsession behavior and the question of if he really loves her really is seen in the reading for this week in an alarming way. You see what an obsession this is, from what he does, what he thinks, how he sees life and those around him, even where he moves.


message 24: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jennyt8675309) | 33 comments EH wrote: "Mona wrote: "Amie wrote: "I have the feeling that she is NOT trying to egg him on or encourage him."

I agree with this. It seems like HH is trying to portray her as knowing that she is a temptatio..."


I'm reading through all these posts and those are my thoughts as well.

It seems that HH is using the term love to justify that what he is doing is ok. I actually wonder if HH isn't already aware that he is not truly in love.

And for that matter, I am starting to feel that HH's account is somewhat of a "sham". I am only halfway through the book at this point, but one thing that is starting to gnaw at me is how HH keeps "shouting" out to his readers. I feel that his account is a performance, he uses terms like "nymphet" to distinguish young girls; the ones that are nymphets aren't actually girls but something different, where sex is almost acceptable. His descriptions of Lo's flirting and attempts at seduction, his descriptions of Lo's tantrums. Are they all to help his audience feel empathy to him?

I am wondering how this is all going to end.


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