NABOKV-L post 0022484, Mon, 27 Feb 2012 02:53:43 +0000

Re: [Fwd: Re: post]
To add more from my work in support of Anthony's also extending what I've written: immediately after hearing the children's voices, Humbert commits himself to killing the man who took Lolita from him (and manipulated him in the process)-yet people see this as a moral apotheosis. When he visits Dolly at Coalmont, knowing she is pregnant, he is quite ready to kill her husband and leave her child without a father (and this in the chapter where he talks of his love for her in its most uplifting ways). That's how much he loves her. Yes, he chooses to let himself feel guilt when he hears those voices, but it has never impinged on his behaviour while Lolita was in his clutches. And as Anthony says he never feels the slightest guilt about killing the man who snatched his prize.

Brian Boyd

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Nabokv-L
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Re: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and Twelve-Year-Old Girls ...




Sat, 25 Feb 2012 14:13:13 -0500



The point is that, if Humbert were truly repentant, either after hearing the children's voices, or, later, after visiting Mrs Schiller, he would not immediately rush off to murder another pervert whom, by the narcissism of small differences, he judges to be infinitely more criminal than himself (Clare Quilty is the pseudonym he gives him, "clearly guilty"). In his splendid poem imitating Eliot's Ash Wednesday which Humbert hands to Quilty, he accuses Quilty of taking advantage of Humbert, who is, admittedly, a "sinner", but a "sinner" who is at a "disadvantage", namely, his "inner / essential innocence". Humbert does not even claim to be justly ridding the world of an evil man, but, rather, makes the point that Quilty has to die because he has "cheated" Humbert.

Nabokov thought Eliot a "fake". He could hardly make it more plain that he thinks Humbert's self-justification, his phoney repentance which justifies murder, is also fake. And not just fake, but far, far worse. Eliot was bad to his first wife, but he was not a child rapist or murderer.

Note that Humbert, in gaol, says that he would give himself a long sentence for his crime against Lolita, but would "dismiss the other charges". Does anyone suppose that Nabokov endorses this trivialising of murder, even the murder of a bad man like Quilty? Nabokov knew what murder was. I need not spell out why. I well remember one of the first English reviews of "Lolita", I think in the New Statesman, by the fine critic V. S. Pritchett, who wrote: "Mr Nabokov's murder is horrible. Murder is horrible." (I quote from memory, but this is almost exact, I think.) If Nabokov thought Raskolnikov was a "filthy murderer", then why would he not have thought the same of Humbert?

I agree with Jansy Mello that the passage she quotes is, together with the passage about the children's voices, the closest Humbert gets to the truth of what he has done to Lolita. But if we, as readers, end up accepting his rationalisation of his murder, then are we not just settling for a kind of frivolous pornography? Nabokov's "aesthetic bliss" is not amoral. Rather, his position seems akin to Wittgenstein's in the Tractatus, that "ethics and aesthetics are one". Not for nothing did Nabokov envisage the "reappraiser" who would see him as a "rigid moralist". We should not let his wonderful humour mislead us.

Anthony Stadlen

Anthony Stadlen
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GB - London N22 7XE
Tel.: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857
Founder (in 1996) and convenor of the Inner Circle Seminars: an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy
See "Existential Psychotherapy & Inner Circle Seminars" at for programme of future Inner Circle Seminars and complete archive of past seminars

Isn't Quilty guilty (sorry) of the same crimes as Humbert, or worse? Even Lo eventually finds C. Q. a little too creepy and abandons him. I don't know that I'd call the murder of Quilty "filthy" or even most foul and unnatural--as these things go. I'm not sure that I quite understand your initial question. Frankly, I'd find it easier to shoot Frank Langella than Peter Sellars, if a choice had to be made. I think a one-day parole is fair enough for H. H.


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