Sweeney, Susan Elizabeth. Lolita, I Presume; On a Character Entitled "Lolita". 2010

Bibliographic title
Lolita, I Presume; On a Character Entitled "Lolita"
Periodical or collection
Periodical issue
no. 3
Publication year

This essay focuses on the problem of naming the heroine of Nabokov’s famous novel. From the very beginning, her name is both overdetermined and indeterminate. As the novel proceeds, she is designated by an increasing number of diminutives, aliases, and misnomers, even as her own perspective remains elusive. Humbert calls her by various names—for example, “Lo” at home, “Dolly” with her friends and teachers, and “Dolly Schiller” after her marriage—but reserves “Lolita” to signal her role in his fantasies and memories. As a result, “Lolita” comes to represent not the novel’s heroine, but rather her construction as a nymphet within Humbert’s imagination. How she would choose to name herself is unclear—she signs her letter to Humbert, for example, as “Dolly (Mrs. Richard F. Schiller)” (266)—but it would certainly not be as “Lolita”. And yet, until very recently, reviewers and critics always referred to her by Humbert’s pet name, as if there were no difference between the actual child and her role in his fantasies—or, indeed, her afterlife in his memoir. “Lolita” comes to represent not only Humbert’s imaginary construction of a nymphet but also his desperate attempts to make that construction permanent within his text. The fact that most readers still refer to the novel’s heroine as “Lolita” suggests that Humbert’s efforts have generally succeeded.