NABOKV-L post 0024742, Sun, 3 Nov 2013 18:43:53 -0500

Re: the Real Question regarding Humbert's Innocence
Dear Carolyn, Jansy and the List,

I am glad that Carolyn recognises the validity of my assertion that Judaism
does not have Original Sin, which is an invention of Paul and Augustine.

I have certainly raised the question of Humbert's unreliable narration, for
example with his miscalculation of 56 days when it should be 52 near the
end of the book, and with his placing of the sound of children's voices on
the hillside (no doubt a "true" episode in itself) as a ploy (as Brian Boyd
has also pointed out). But just as with, say, "Signs and Symbols" or
Despair or Pale Fire, so with Lolita the good re-reader is going to have to
reach some kind of working hypothesis as to which parts of the curate's egg of
the narration are more or less reliable and which are not. And there has to
be some kind of logic to this. Otherwise anything goes, and it all stops
being interesting, because it has lost the artistic and moral tension
between reliable and unreliable. Surely, the justification for imputing
unreliability is that the story becomes vague, shifting and contradictory -- exactly
the same logic as with a witness in court. One assumes the narrative is
reliable until proven otherwise. If one starts by assuming total
unreliability, then anything may mean anything, and one may attribute any meaning
whatever without any discipline for checking one's attribution.


Anthony Stadlen
2A Alexandra Avenue
GB - London N22 7XE
Tel.: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857
For Existential Psychotherapy and Inner Circle Seminars see:
_http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com_ (

In a message dated 03/11/2013 22:37:41 GMT Standard Time,
chaiselongue@ATT.NET writes:

Dear Jansy and the List,

The concept of original sin post-dates Judaism. We are currently reading
Genesis (another pair of murderous twins have just been born) and it seems
to me that disobedience only (i.e. not hubris) is closer to what Adam and
Eve did and for which they were punished with mortality.

In regards to Humbert's guilt or innocence, I personally lean toward
innocence partly because there has been no trial, and except in Wonderland, the
trial usually precedes the verdict. But what I think is the most important
question raised has so far not been addressed by the List, to wit, is
Humbert a reliable narrator, which those who condemn him must accept at least to
some degree, and if so, can someone please give me another example from
Nabokov's oeuvre?

That is the real question.


p.s. I am a very lackadaisical Nabokovian and have not read most of the
novels, so this is a serious, not a rhetorical, question.

From: Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>
Sent: Sunday, November 3, 2013 3:03 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] An Exchange on Humbert's Innocence

A. Stadlen's arguments about HH and Humpty Dumpty humoristically indicate
that "Humbert's fall, like Humpty's, like Finnegan's, is the Fall of
Mankind. But the Fall is a Christian notion. Judaism does not have Original Sin
[ ] "Lolita" may have no moral in tow, but this is because it itself is
the pilot not the piloted, being moral through and through, the
paradigmatic moral and negative-theological discourse of our age. Disprove that! It's
a possible hypothesis.." However, part of his assertions seem to mingle
informations derived from common-sense reality and established dogmas, with
those that are purely fictional (a very Nabokovian trait) - like the
philosophical implications related to "the Fall." (I always thought that biblical
Adam's and Eve's disobedience and hybris, later imaged in Lucifer's fall,
were related to the theory of the Original Sin and were still valid for
Christians and for Jews.)

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to bring up an instance from
"Pale Fire" (CK's note to line 549) in which we find Shade and Nabokov
discussing sin, in the context of "obsolete terminology."
shade: All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of
them, Pride, Lust and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.

kinbote: Is it fair to base objections upon obsolete terminology?
shade: All religions are based upon obsolete terminology.
kinbote: What we term Original Sin can never grow obsolete.
shade: I know nothing about that. In fact when I was small I thought it
meant Cain killing Abel. Personally, I am with the old snuff-takers: L’homme
est né bon.
kinbote: Yet disobeying the Divine Will is a fundamental definition of Sin.
shade: I cannot disobey something which I do not know and the reality of
which I have the right to deny.
kinbote: Tut-tut. Do you also deny that there are sins?
shade: I can name only two: murder, and the deliberate infliction of pain.

Nowadays words like "honor" and "dignity" like "sin" seem to be losing
their former impact. Would they be obsolete, too, in John Shade's eyes?
(V.Nabokov, elsewhere,* mentions "a norm," not sin or morality).

I agree with A.Stadlen's and J.Aisenberg's ideas, following J.A's quotes
from "Lolita,"about HH having made up the information concerning the
paternity of Lolita. (there are many other discrepancies in the plot related to

* For Nabokov “a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me
what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss” (Lolita, Afterword, page 314),
described as "a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states
of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness) is the norm

_Google Search the archive_
( _Contact the Editors_
(, _Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"_
( _Visit Zembla_
( _View Nabokv-L Policies_ (
_Manage subscription options_ ( _Visit AdaOnline_
( _View NSJ Ada Annotations_
( _Temporary L-Soft Search the archive_
All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

_Google Search the archive_
( _Contact the Editors_
(, _Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"_
( _Visit Zembla_
( _View Nabokv-L Policies_ (
_Manage subscription options_ ( _Visit AdaOnline_
( _View NSJ Ada Annotations_
( _Temporary L-Soft Search the archive_
All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: