NABOKV-L post 0019756, Sun, 4 Apr 2010 23:51:39 +0200

Article: Hafid Bouazza on LOLITA in Hollands Diep
Dear List,

In March Hafid Bouazza published an article devoted to Lolita in the Dutch
magazine Hollands Diep (
Attached you will find scans of the piece as it was laid out in the
magazine. Below is my translation of the article in question (perhaps
interesting to note that the article contains Bouazza's own spirited Dutch
translation of the citations from the novel -something lost in translation?)


by Hafid Bouazza

In popular speech the eponym Lolita is more often than not used for any
pubescently budding and sexually attractive girl. However, avid readers of
the book know that despite Humbert Humbert’s magic and by dint of Vladimir
Nabokov’s art, his creator, matters are more complicated than that.

When Humbert sees Lolita for the first time, half-naked on “a mat in a pool
of sun,” he thinks (“and then, without the least warning, a blue sea-wave
swelled under my heart”) he has found an incarnation of his young Riviera
love. That young love that died young was called Annabel Leigh, and both
were thirteen summers at the time. Her name alludes to E.A. Poe’s “Annabel
Lee”: “She was a child and I was a child.”

This rediscovery and recognition of a lost girl has all the trappings of a

“And, as if I were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess (lost,
kidnapped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at
the king and his hounds), I recognized the tiny dark-brown mole on her

Humbert tries to make us believe that his obsession with twelve-year-old
Lolita is a Freudian relonging for the young Annabel, that it was she who
fed him the venom of nympholepsy or pederosis, a word coined by Nabokov
himself that literally means “pathological love for girls” (erosis, love as
an illness, eros as an affliction), but readers familiar with Nabokov’s
dislike of “the Viennese quack” will immediately perceive that they are
being hoodwinked. Psychiatrists and therapists are mocked; as he says, only
a nice spacing distinguishes therapist from the rapist. What is more, when
Humbert and Lolita visit a beach, a sentimental journey to the past, he does
not feel for the first and only time any desire for her: she arouses him as
much as a manatee, as he expresses it rather crudely.

At the same time Humbert contradicts himself. When introducing the word
nymphet, he writes as follows: “Between the age limits of nine and fourteen
there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times
older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic
(that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as
"nymphets." […] In fact, I would have the reader see "nine" and "fourteen"
as the boundaries--the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks--of an enchanted

haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty sea.” An
island, because unspied by social norms.

In order to recognize these special creatures the traveler has to possess a
special gift: “You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite
melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous
flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine in order to discern at once, by
ineffable signs […] the little deadly demon among the wholesome children”

Gone is Annabel’s incarnation in Lolita. What we have here is a pedophile
speaking, expounding to us how to discern nymphets on the basis of certain
details, not how he finds again and again his Riviera love in those girls.
The obsessive attention with which Humbert describes every inch of Lolita’s
skin, her every movement, smell, and stippled armpits may convince the
reader that she is indeed a demonic girl hailing from an enchanted world.
Witness the famous davenport scene in which Lolita resting her legs athwart
Humbert’s lap induces the longest orgasm “man or monster had ever known.”

He says, “Lolita was safely solipsized.” This neologism implies that outside
of Humbert’s will Lolita has no consciousness of her own.

Humbert himself explains it to us: “What I had madly possessed was not she,
but my own creation, another , fanciful Lolita – perhaps more real than
Lolita…having no will, no consciousness- indeed, no life of her own.” “The
child knew nothing. I had done nothing to her. And nothing prevented me from
repeating a performance that had affected her as little as if she were a
photographic image rippling upon a screen and I a humble hunchback abusing
myself in the dark.” (The hunchback is an allusion to the bell-ringer in
Notre-Dame de Paris and indirectly to Lo as Esmeralda, a gypsy just like

Philosophically speaking, this is the exact opposite of solipsism!

After this, Humbert proceeds with what I cannot but define as his humorous
and moving cynicism: “…I intended, with the most fervent force and
foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old child.’ (There is
an ithyphallic thrust in the string of alliterations: ‘fanciful, fervent,
force, foresight.’)

But the attentive reader will see what a tour de force Nabokov pulls. In
spite of all the heartbeat-stopping lyricism and magically evocative imagery
there is no doubt that we are dealing with a child, a normal twelve-year-old
girl, with “pale-gray vacant eyes, five asymmetrical freckles on her bobbed
nose,” “auburn-brown hair, lips as red as licked red candy, the lower one
prettily plump;” a girl “of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie
vulgarity.” A teenager with her whims and fancies and fondness for teen

One moving instance occurs in the hotel when, having given her a sleeping
pill, he tries to possess her. Matters take a different course, though, and
when she wakes up and asks him for a drink she “with an infantile gesture
that carried more charm than any carnal caress,” wipes her lips against his
shoulder and falls back asleep “with the neutral plaintive murmur of a child
demanding its natural rest.”

But the pièce de résistance is the moment when she and Humbert quarrel:
“From that moment, I stopped restraining my voice, and we continued yelling
at each other, and she said unprintable things. She said she loathed me. She
made monstrous faces at me, inflating her cheeks and producing a diabolical
plopping sound […] and all the while she stared at me with those
unforgettable eyes where cold anger and hot tears struggled.”

Witness the powerlessness of a waif, who cries herself every night into
sleep, and makes faces to express her anger.

Lolita dies in childbed at the age of seventeen, immortally sung like woman
has never been sung, let alone a girl. For she was a child, and ironically,
thanks to Humber’s monstrous delusions she will remain for us the child that
he did not want to, and could

not, see in her.

I disregard the “epiphany” above the small mining town, because Brian Boyd
has already shown how deceptive it is.

The question that preoccupied Nabokov remains: crime and art. Humbert is a
pedophile and a murderer, but is he also an artist? We encounter the same
theme in Despair and Laughter in the Dark. Is mastery of the word also the
word’s mercy? This is an ethical, not to say a religious, issue. And yet:
whether or not Humbert has our sympathy has nothing to do with his verbal
gift (not to mention his dark and wistful humor), that depends on us. In the
final analysis, it is the writer Vladimir Nabokov who gives us genius and a
moral dilemma –besides a masterpiece.

Translated by A. Bouazza.

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