Re: the Real Question regarding Humbert's Innocence
Carolyn Kunin [to A.Stadlen]: So it would seem that two important principles are at loggerheads here. One assumes the narrative is reliable until proven otherwise, as you so appropriately put it, and the accused is innocent until proven Quilty, shall we say? A rawther Nabokovian jest perhaps?
J. Aisenberg: I'm not exactly sure what Kunin's point is--I thought there actually HAD been a trial as regards Humbert's innocence, that is the entire novel, Lolita, in which Humbert makes his defense to us readers, whom he regularly refers to as his judge and jury; then at the end he finds himself guilty of rape (letting himself off on the murder charges).
Jansy Mello: J. Aisenberg reminds the readers that Humbert finds himself guilty of rape and lets himself off on the murder charges. It's interesting to contrast that ( from "Lolita") with what we get in "Pale Fire" ( In SO V.Nabokov once said that sometimes John Shade voices the author's points of view)
kinbote: Tut-tut. Do you also deny that there are sins?
shade: I can name only two: murder, and the deliberate infliction of pain.
J.Aisenberg: Boyd [ ] noted that in canceling the basic premise of the narrative--that Humbert had relations with Lolita and Killed Clare Quilty--it also canceled the canceling, making entirely arbitrary which elements in the confession the reader was meant to privilege as "true" and which ones as "false" or delusional since the entire thing originated from the "unreliable narrator".[ ] And yet--the fun of his books--is that even as they collapse, their dreamy worlds remain intact, Humbert's misdemeanors are bracing, repellent, compelling; Lolita is sharp, funny, courageous, and heartbreaking. Their stories never happened but we give them some kind of enduring reality in our heads, alongside the flow of the real events of our life, which is how morality works, through the creative imagining of others.
Jansy Mello: Well put! Just as promising as SES' words[ Re: Carolyn's Carrolllian analogy, in my essay, "Executing Sentences in Lolita and the Law," I also argue that the trial in Wonderland is the model for the ending of Lolita--an unresolved criminal investigation or legal trial that transgresses boundaries between narrative levels, leaving the reader as ultimate arbiter--as well as for the ending of other novels, such as Despair and Bend Sinister.] and P. Meyer's additional information about indeterminacy [ I agree with Beth's excellent analogy. On indeterminacy in LOLITA see also “Lolita and the Genre of the Literary Double: Does Quilty Exist?” Lolita, ed. Erik Martiny (Paris: Armand,Colin, 2009), 73-83.]
David Powelstock: But as you and others have suggested, Lolita makes available a plausible interpretation in which the fictional HH has made everything or almost everything up. In this case, as is fitting for a first-person narration, we are invited to consider the possibility that HH's subjective consciousness is the only reality.
Jansy Mello: David Powelstock put the finger on what, to my eyes, is the most important issue here: considering the possibility that HH's "subjective consciousness" is the only reality.
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