Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024769, Mon, 4 Nov 2013 20:47:41 -0800

Humbert's innocence in Lolita's eyes
Dear Madam Editor, or Susan if you prefer, 

I have begun reading your essay. How interesting - I did not recall the references to "nervous breakdowns, hallucinations, fugue states, and psychiatric treatment"  [or how they might]  affect readers' assessment of either his criminal liability or his narrative reliability? Indeed, there is little evidence of Humbert's guilt apart from his own confession--a situation that underscores the crucial difference between criminal thoughts and criminal acts. His narrative, in effect, is his most immediate crime in the novel"

Clearly I must re-read on. It did occur to me during this re-read of the initial chapters, that the sado-masochistic treatment of Valeria was most unlikely, and sometimes is so absurd as to become comical. 

The "winged gentlemen of the jury," presumably angels, would seem to suggest the possibility of a post mortem trial - in which case for which side would Lolita, so she too shall soon belong to the next world -  be witness? Taking the film as my guide (as I have stated I know it much better than the novel ) it would seem she would testify for the defense. Almost the first thing out of her mouth when Humbert finds her married and pregnant, is an apology for running off. Odd behavior from a victim I should think.

He presents a case riddled with instances of grandstanding, special pleading, and leading witnesses, but there is no one to object.

Aye, there's the rub, [there is no one to take the other side during the novel] [but] in that sleep of death what dreams may come? And all of this from only the first page of your essay. But life goes on. I will continue to read your essay and re-read Lolita with renewed interest.

with many thanks from

p.s. On page two you make Humbert responsible for making Quilty his double - is it possible that Humbert commits suicide? In other words has Humbert invented an alter ego, whom he accuses and executes? In his imagination that is. But this would only lead to further entanglements I fear.

From: "NABOKV-L, English" <nabokv-l@HOLYCROSS.EDU>
Sent: Monday, November 4, 2013 5:03 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Humbert's Innocence?

Dear List,
On the question of whether or not there is a trial in Lolita, and the notion of the whole novel as a trial staged by Humbert himself, please see my essay "Executing Sentences in Lolita and the Law," first published in a volume on Punishment, Politics, and Culture, and available on Zembla.

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L
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