Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016365, Wed, 7 May 2008 12:18:04 EDT

Re: LOlithophanic note

In a message dated 07/05/2008 16:08:47 GMT Standard Time, jansy@AETERN.US

Humbert Humbert's contrition concerning the damage he inflicted on Lolita
seems to be sincere [unlike Austrian Josef Fritzl's boast in the media that,
since he might have killed abused daughter and grandchildren unbeknownst to
the police, but he didn't, this proves "he is no monster". In many countries
pedophiles are not severly punished: a few years in prison, at most].
HH's self-condemnation, though, is not totally unambiguous in his
lithophanic sentence.

This is an understatement. Isn't the whole point, the sine qua non, of
"Lolita" that the good reader should not -- will not -- be seduced by HH's fake
rhetoric? A sincerely repentant man would commit that foul murder, a charge
which he thinks the jury should dismiss? A sincerely repentant man would justify
that murder with that fatuous fake-Ash Wednesday poem? CQ has to die because
of HH's "inner essential innocence"? If that quasi-insight with the tinkling
sounds and children's voices had been more than fleeting, how could HH
continue to justify to the jury that he did his best to give Lolita a "good time"
while every sentence reveals, comically if it weren't so awful, how foully he
treated her? When VN rebukes his interviewer, saying HH is a vain and cruel
wretch who manages to appear touching, surely that is the moral of the novel:
that the reader is so easily taken in although the truth is staring him in
the face. And VN's judgement is nuanced. HH will be allowed one evening a year
on that green path, unlike Hermann (see Preface to "Despair"). This is not a
moral "in tow"; the book is its own moral.

Anthony Stadlen

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