NABOKV-L post 0017030, Mon, 8 Sep 2008 23:26:21 -0700

Re: [NABOKOV-L] Excerpts from "Lolita"

--- On Mon, 9/8/08, Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Subject: [NABOKV-L] [NABOKOV-L] Excerpts from "Lolita"
Date: Monday, September 8, 2008, 6:19 PM

S.Blackwell: [...] why HH wrote his confession...Some possibilities:
1. He feels remorse, and the "local palliative of articulate art" is his best and only (but completely inadequate) available penance (there is a fair amount of self-flagellation in the text, some of it concealed). He hopes that some small "good" can be salvaged from something horrible, even if it is no compensation.

J.A.: It strikes me, as I sort of said before, that the self-flagellation is sort of genuine but so hyperbolically expressed as to seem at times like campy self-dramatization; I think there is a very fine line in this writing which Humbert wavers around the fuzzy edge of almost for the entire length of the novel. I think it's because everything Humbert does or says is selfishly motivated. By 1. love for a girl who he knows, as his very confession expresses, can never have any real feeling for him. Only in his last scene with Dolores does Humbert do anything for her regardless of whether or not she performs for him, and even that's spoiled because it's meant to show him off in a sympathetic light just before he commits cold blooded murder. Nabokov said somewhere that he wanted the story to be about a man obsessed with a girl who only at the end learns to love her as a man should love a woman, but by that point it would be too late. Yet it doesn't
read that way. Probably it's because Humbert never realizes that what attracts him to Lolita is all the things he complains about, her comic books and movies, her slang and her early sexuality, her tomboyish toughness and her temper, all at odds with the Anabel Leigh mythos from which Lolita is supposed to have grown, whose image is motheaten and corny; Lolita, despite the tinsel of her childish enthusiasms is alive and refreshingly independent of Humbert's morbidity. And it's only Humbert's realization of Lolita's living value that nearly redeems him, but he never seems like he loves her, since he never knows her. 
6.. I have still other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain... my Lolita remarked: "You know, what's so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own"; and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing about my darling's mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichés, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate ... anything of genuine kind. .. She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached comments an artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on edge, provoked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness as made any further conversation impossible, oh my poor, bruised child.... there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller..

J.A.: I'm glad you picked out this quote. It's always bothered me. To me it demonstrates everything that's wrong with Humbert. That bit about there being behind her awful juvenile cliches "a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate". That image itself seems more cliche than anything Lolita says. Why not a cool basement in a cozy suburban home at noon on a slightly overcast day, and a neighborhood park, and a college clock tolling the hour in the distance? Doesn't the image, drenched in its absurd dusty European poetic lineage, completely wrong in application to Lolita, simply show us that he can't appreciate anything right before his movie handsome face?  And that "oh my poor, bruised child..." Like that fancy vacant palace he thinks Lolita might have in her soul, this woe is me stuff, with its silly classist tone, seems to parody sympathy so that he can call attention to his own ultimate inner sensitivity. It reminds me of the way Emma Bovary
smacks her child around, feels bad about it, and then manages to admire herself, thinking she must be a really good mother if abusing her daughter bothers her so much! Isn't that what's going on with Humbert?

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