Lolita

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Depiction Of Humbert Humbert in Lolita

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

To what extent does the unreliable narrative in Lolita continue to captivate?

Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ has been a figurehead for literary controversy ever since its publication in 1955, as Nabokov had constructed a narrative which repulsed and seduced readers and critics alike. Nabokov’s narrative has consistently been deemed unreliable, and was employed so convincingly that readers were even made to question Nabokov’s own character. This prompted him into writing an afterword discussing various misconceptions and disassociating himself from the nature of his narrator.

The true nature of Humbert Humbert is shrouded by Nabokov’s extraordinary linguistic skills, and his ability to almost succeed in portraying himself as a sympathetic paedophile. The ironic, self-mocking tone formulated by Nabokov, along with his complicated word games, manages to subsequently divert readers’ attention from the horrors he describes. His skill with language establishes him as a persuasive (albeit unreliable) narrator, often able to convince readers to see his perspective.

However, Nabokov produces an arguably untrustworthy narrative, Humbert’s myopic nature and strong need for sympathy forge a strong suspicion in many of his statements. For example, he claims Lolita was in control of the relationship, as seen in ‘I am going to tell you something very strange, it was she who seduced me’. However, it is clear to readers that as the adult, Humbert clearly dominates Lolita, and she cannot possibly dictate the relationship. However, there may also be cause to say that Humbert is aware of his actions, and that he has taken advantage of Lolita, being a twelve year old girl. Arguably this can be seen as when Humbert refers to his readers as the ‘jury’, to judge just how heinous he truly is, ‘ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at this tangle of thorns’. Within the novel, Nabokov has constructed the narrative voice as the most perplexing character to understand, therefore illuminating his unreliability further, as readers cannot always rely on Humbert’s account of events. Furthermore, readers often find themselves unable to comprehend Humbert, along with his actions. At certain points in the novel, the reader may find themselves disgusted by the character, and an example may be as when Humbert drugs Lolita and plans to rape her whilst at the hotel, ‘So this was le grand moment’. However, at other points, may find themselves compassionate. This can be displayed towards the end of the novel, when Humbert gives Lolita ‘four thousand bucks’. In this sense, the unreliable narrative manages to captivate, as at differing points within the novel, Nabokov’s narrator is able to, through use of language and imagery, draw out conflicting emotions from the reader, simultaneously captivating them with the novel.

An element of Nabokov’s unreliable narrative is that it includes multiple perspectives, whilst expressing Humbert’s own individual world. Therefore,there are seemingly two realities within the novel, that of the narrative and the other in how Humbert inadvertently enables the reader to be aware what the other characters think and how they perceive things. An example of this is that Humbert recognises that other characters perceive Lolita as an ordinary teenager, however he views her as a nymphet. In addition, some may think that Humbert often ‘toys’ with readers, giving them a persuasive reason for their compassion, whilst not recognising is reprehensible actions. This supports the critical reception from Andrew Moore, which stated that Nabokov created Humbert as a deceiver, and cited Humbert’s ‘trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on; never letting them see that you know all the tricks of the trade’, which indicates he is no novice concerning the art of deception. On the other hand, some see the narrator as unflinchingly honest, a character who never denies his deplorable crimes. It is fair to say that Humbert is a deeply disturbed character, who may be held accountable for crimes ranging from kidnapping to murder, as seen with the death of Quilty.

Humbert’s contradicting phrases on his ability to recall and explain memories illuminate his unreliability. Nabokov describes Humbert as ‘a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and unorthodox memory’, whilst he is trying to remember the first time he noticed they (Humbert and Lolita) were being followed on their second trip through America. Nabokov’s creation of Humbert’s lack of memory can further be seen in his recounting of events throughout the novel, such as when he mixes up two separate visits to Briceland with Rita. Moreover, in his final contemplation on his recount of events, he illuminates the ambiguous nature of his narrative with the claim that he feels his ‘slippery self-eluding him, gliding into deeper and darker waters’. Nabokov’s choice of Humbert’s proclaimed ‘slipperiness’ can be understood as a decision by the author to present the facts of the story while edging around the ‘truth’. Therefore, we as readers can never be certain of what in the novel is true and what is not. This inability to accurately recall events makes Humbert an interesting narrative, as previously mentioned, readers cannot wholeheartedly have certainty in anything the narrative states, or in which the way he retells events.

Yet standing in contrast to this, Humbert refers to himself as a ‘very conscientious recorder’ after informing Lolita over the telephone, about his plan to marry Charlotte. This is contradictory to other statements made throughout the novel, such as when he refers to his incomplete memory. Likewise, he is able to recall certain events with overwhelming clarity. Chapter eleven is built up of diary writing which he manages to record ‘courtesy of a photographic memory’. Similarly, he claims to remember the confessional letter Charlotte wrote to him, however presenting only half of it to readers. Consequently, Humbert might be deemed unreliable on the grounds that he considers himself to have a duty to retell events with accuracy at the same time as admitting to having ‘incomplete and unorthodox memory’. Despite being able to recall diary writings and letters, he mixes up other events. Whilst is it never admitted by Humbert within the novel that he exists as an unreliable narrator, it is never certain as to what extent the narrator’s version of events are reliable, it therefore makes the novel absorbing and captivating to readers.

Furthermore, Nabokov excelled at creating phenomenal detail to mask the unnerving truth, concerning Humbert’s pedophilia. He was able to deceive through his creative style, and Humbert may be unreliable since he was able to fool his audience by drawing attention to his lyrical prose. This can be seen at the very beginning of the novel, ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta’. Due to the infamous nature of the very first line, seeing as it has served as inspiration for several modern day artists, it would be appropriate to say those who have read the book were captivated by this poetic introduction. Nabokov’s indisputably intricate style of writing serves as a distraction from the grotesque reality he is ultimately writing about, and arguably masks the true horrors of the novel. Therefore, Nabokov’s extraordinary linguistic talent is what enthralled those who read Lolita, subsequently meaning Humbert’s unreliability captivated through its inability to put forward the truth through its ‘mask’. On the contrary, there may be cause to say that the truth is never covered throughout the book, and Nabokov consistently makes the reader very aware of Humbert’s doings and actions. For example, Humbert often refers to himself as a ‘murderer’ throughout the novel, and Elizabeth Janeway (1958) from the New York Times stated that he is ‘grotesque, horrible and unbearably funny, and he knows it’. This therefore lends itself to the prospect that Humbert does not try to distance himself from his monstrosities and is fully aware of what he is doing, meaning Nabokov had at no point attempted to cover up his wrongdoings. In essence, this is a truly captivating example of an unreliable narrative, considering we, as readers, are consistently fooled by the narrative in some aspects, yet seemingly informed during other points. What is the truth and what is reconstruction from our narrator in Nabokov’s novel?

Fundamentally, what captivated and has continued to captivate readers since its publication, is the unreliability of the narrator and his exquisite way of capturing our attention, be it his infamous opening line, or his description of the murder of Quilty, ‘he was trudging from room to room, bleeding majestically…..trying to talk me out of murder’. Nabokov’s work has been acclaimed by critics since 1955, and will continue to be renowned for its unreliable narrative which has enthralled readers for decades.

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203

Untrustworthy Narration Of Humbert in Lolita Novel

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The controversial novel Lolita written by Vladimir Nabokov has had its fair share of questionable approaches due to the irrational and unreliable nature of the novels narrator, Humbert Humbert. Many have speculated different reasoning for Humbert’s illogical narration, from mental health issues that stimulates his pedophilic nature or purely the fact he is in fact a narcissistic villain with socially unacceptable passions. Within this essay the arguments of Humbert’s untrustworthy narration will be discussed, with added discussion into Nabokov’s personal life and input into the character.

To begin to understand Humbert Humbert we must first look at the author of the novel, Vladimir Nabokov. The vague nature of Humbert Humbert’s narration in Lolita has been debated to great extent by many critics ever since its controversial publication in 1955. The immanent profusion of extensive suggestive passages about the young girl provoked many to become curious about the inspiration of Humbert’s actions and whether Nabokov shared any of these tendencies. In order to counter such allegations Nabokov added an “Afterword” at the end of his novel, this was him attempting to clear up any confusion and misconceptions that the novel may have mislead the reader to believe. Nabokov states that he does not share the same morals with Humbert and rejects the lifestyle. However, not all critics take Nabokov’s words as a reliable source, Robert Davidson reacts: “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.” Davidson’s emphasis on “cunning” and “weak” add to connotations of Humbert’s persona. Humbert could be argued as “cunning” to manipulate this child, but “weak” to give into temptation, both resulting in immoral outcomes. While stating that the theme of pedophilia would be a familiar notion to people such as “magistrates and psychiatrists” furthering the notions of indecent connotations, while providing questionable surrounds due to the involvement of “psychiatrists” – a medical practitioner specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Hence one would believe that to have such an in depth affinity with the character Humbert Humbert, Nabokov would relate from personal experience. Thus from this background knowledge we begin to gain insight into Nabokov’s way of thinking and writing, providing further guidance into the character of Humbert Humbert and his narration.

Moving on to the character Humbert Humbert and focusing upon his narration as an actual character, we soon realise Humbert is a completely unreliable narrator. Humbert’s bigoted self-delusion and vast need for compassion make many of his statements extremely suspect, due to their outlandish overlays. He claims Lolita seduced him and that she was in complete control of their relationship. The very notion of this statement dumbfounds the reader as Humbert, being an adult man, clearly has the upper hand. He controls each aspect of their relationship from the money to Lolita’s freedom. Lolita’s self control is handed to Humbert and he often repeats that Lolita has nowhere to go if she does leave him. Her physicality and mental state are all controlled by Humbert, he socializes her norm. However, when Lolita does occasionally recoil from Humbert’s touch, he plays off her reluctance, rather than seeing it as a child feeling uncomfortable while being advanced in a sexual nature by an adult, hence providing extreme ignorance to the situation. Humbert justifies his feelings for Lolita as love, and claims lust isn’t subject within the case. Humbert’s self-delusion prevents his argument from being convincing. His frame of mind deteriorates and his self-delusion reaches great heights becoming mindless and overbearing, Humbert has little control over himself, his feelings and impulses become overly erratic. His consideration for the morality of his actions is abolished, and he refuses to entertain the thought Lolita may not share the same feelings. This leads the relationship between Humbert and Lolita to also deteriorate and while his controlling nature over her becomes more possessive, his actions concerning himself become almost nonexistent. With Humbert’s concentration devoted to Lolita how can anyone possibly trust the plot of the novel he tells? His devotion to Lolita becomes so intense that he begins to turn on everyone, he begins to second guess Clare Quilty’s intentions and considers Quilty’s love for Lolita deviant and corrupted and murders her. Humbert proclaims it’s to avenge Lolita’s lost innocence; again his statement reduces in reliability as his claims become more unbelievable. Blaming Quilty furthers Humbert’s delusion and shows clearly he is in denial of his own responsibility. Only towards the end of the novel, when Humbert finally admits that he stole Lolita’s childhood, does he permit the truth to break through his solipsism. Eisinger (2000) points out, that “when reading Lolita, we are only able to come closer to the real subject, transcending the superficial, erotic content, by perceiving that Humbert’s passion, a orbid one, or his “sickness,” is his prison and his pain, as well as his ecstasy”. Hence one could argue Humbert’s search for compassion is achieved in some cases. However, the very notion is soon second-guessed when the reality of his actions is put into perspective. Therefore, Humbert’s narration becomes more unreliable due to his delusion and lies.

Moreover, Humbert’s delusion about Lolita’s loss of innocence can be argued as the most shocking factor of the novel. The protagonist’s sickness would firstly be identified as pedophilia, which belongs to the category of psychiatry. “Unless it can be proven to me—to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that, in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, life is a joke) I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art.” Although, Humbert remarks upon the tragedy of Lolita’s destroyed childhood. We as the reader never will be able to fully engage with her thoughts and feelings, everything is from the eyes of Humbert and though he has provided the reader with clues to Lolita’s mysterious personality, he himself see’s her actions as only things so please him, when clearly that would not be the truth. We can see that initially, Humbert did have some reservations about Lolita’s purity. However, he overcomes these qualms, as he does in all instances where ethics quarrel with his desires. Nonetheless, Humbert does not specify if the “maniac” in the quote is himself, signifying that he may withhold some self-doubt. Nonetheless he does often allude to the fact that he was an insufficient father, which in itself raises the shock value of the novel– how could someone with a child possibly find a child sexually desirable. The very notion adds to the controversy and definitely adds to the diagnostic of his sick pedophilic nature. Humbert nevertheless points to Quilty as the real destroyer of Lolita’s innocence. He does not take full responsibility for his actions. Hence his bias account of the tale is completely unreliable from the offset, the shocking recollections to the past add fuel to the fire and gives the reader further evidence that Humbert is a mentally ill. Therefore, thoughts of reliability to the novel are struck off the table, with no facts concluding as dependable.

Although Nabokov does write this to prove that the notion of art can triumph over the shocking events of life, Humbert realises only art can ease his gloom by telling his side of the story. That way, Humbert believes he can defend himself as well as keep Lolita alive in his memory as he perceives the situation. He sees it as a form of art and it becomes almost healing for him, in a way that his trips to the sanitarium never managed to be. His narration acts as his therapy.

Throughout we have seen that Humbert Humbert’s unreliable narration is due to many factors, although a recurring theme leads back to his mental state each time. One cannot be sure if this is a factor is reflection upon the author Vladimir Nabokov himself. However as discussed Humbert’s sickness becomes the notion that drives the entire novel into the great piece of literature that it is. Nabokov appears to overlook the component of mental illness and simply writes the novel as he envisions: “Now, I happen to be the kind of author who in starting to work on a book has no other purpose than to get rid of that book.” (p. 311) “For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.” (pp. 314-315) For Nabokov, therefore, perhaps mental illness in Lolita is a device with which he creates a kind of dark and twisted art as he defines it. Hence inferring the unreliable narration is a skillfully used technique that gets the novel Lolita its edge.

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192

Vladimir Nabokov’s use of the Sins in the novel, Lolita and its effect.

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Abstract

The contentious novel, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov elicits a multitude of reactions and responses from everyone who endures it for its risque and boorish content. Some individuals bulk at the name itself for its meaning of child promiscuity not to mention the content and what all it comprises. Others marvel at the pure astuteness of Nabokov’s work and the underlying connotations, emblems and ambiguity. This dissertation will delve into a connotation that is more inconspicuous to the moderate reader. A closer look at the biblical sins and their involvement in “Lolita” will be done within this work. The rationale behind the analysis of sins in the novel is because of the lack of anything like it ever being done and the inquisitive and alluring notion that emanates from sins, seduction and manipulation, (all things the novel contains).

Introduction:

In the novel, “Lolita”, the apparent antagonist, Humbert Humbert was brought to life from the mind of the well extolled author, Vladimir Nabokov. The throng of this paper will primarily focus on the narrator, Humbert and his thoughts, emotions, actions and how Nabokov used these to enrich the novel both in aesthetics and actual meaning. This will be done by examining the text through the literary religious lens and more importantly, the sins and commandments that are described in the Bible.

It is known that Humbert is a promiscuous middle-aged man that only targets, devours and deflowers innocent nymphets habitually throughout the book but the author takes the pedophilia and disguises it with beautiful language and he also places specific elements in the novel to inform the reader of the horrendous and hanus act that is pedophilia. The ambiguity is mere poetry of itself. One of the elements that are used within the novel that is not well known is Nabokov’s use of the sins in the Bible. In the Bible, sins are described as an act of transgression against God and those who commit these deeds are unclean and will face damnation if forgiveness is not sought. The infamous biblical parable of Adam and Eve explains the destruction of sin the best. In the parable, Adam and Eve experience and fall victim to deceit, seduction and manipulation thus eradicating their as well as humanity’s chance at everlasting life. The archetypal element of sin dismantling immaculateness has since then been a crucial piece in global literature. It is used specifically with Humbert and the Nymphets, Lolita more importantly. Humbert pilfers every ounce of their youth and completely strips them of their innocence as children without a single piece of remorse. In literature, sins are used to symbolize filth and uncleanliness. Nabokov brilliantly uses the sins of the Bible to underline the defilement of Humbert’s actions and pedophilia without having to overtly say it.

The use of the transgressions improves the novel aesthetically because of the ambiguity. The atrocity in the novel is truly breathtaking because of how it effortlessly and nonchalantly just appears and is overlooked by both the reader and the other characters in the novel. To further the sublimity, Nabokov explains each act so vividly and so poetically that it forces everyone involved to ignore what is actually happening.

Each act of transgression has its own effect on Humbert and the reader alike. To Humbert, each sin gives him immense pleasure in disparate ways. He uses each sin to compensate for every part of humanity that he lacks. To the reader, as each sin appears, it reminds them of the abhorrent feats that is being performed and cloaked with pulchritudinous diction.

Humbert

The generations of sin and trauma in Humbert’s family destroyed his innocence as a child and any chance of him having humanity. Nabokov placed Humbert as the narrator of, “Lolita”. No secret at that but the answer as to why is more complicated. Nabokov wanted Humbert to tell his own story. He wanted Humbert to not only appeal to the audience with sensuality, making them sympathize with pedophilia and rape, but he wanted the reader to understand why he is the way he is and why it truly is important to hear it from his point of view rather than his victims because all of his victims, Dolores included, would have only told the negative parts concerning them and not the entire story and how it all began. His story truly began as a child. Humbert was raised in a middle-class, european household. According to the text, “I was born in 1910, in Paris. My father was a gentle, easy-going person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins […] He owned a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. His father and two granddaughters had sold wine, jewels and silk, respectively.”Lolita.

Lust

The sins and trauma that had been passed down from each generation had destroyed everyone’s innocence in the family line including Humbert. A sin that will appear a plethora of times in this dissertation is Lust. The transgression, Lust is described as an insatiable hunger to act upon an animalistic craving for sex and power. Lust is the very first sin Humbert experiences with his family and it is probably the most important sin of his family because everything that they are revolves around it. They all become slaves to their constant search for sex, wealth and power and it continues to trickle down. As a child, Humbert did not know any better. He did what he was taught and that reception destroyed his youth and his innocence. Humbert is a literary Byronic Hero. Byronic Heroes share the characteristics of a high level of intelligence, cunning, educated and sophisticated, mysterious and charismatic, they have a power of seduction and manipulation, they struggle with integrity and they provide a sexual dominance. (Just to name a few). A very important reason why they are the way they are is because they have a troubled past and it has affected them in the worst way possible. Humbert experience an immense amount of pain and suffering as a child. According to the text, “ My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic lightning) when I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of my memory, […]” Lolita. Experiencing a deep trauma as losing your mother at the age of three would destroy anyone. Humbert had to grieve as an infant and grow up without a mother. Most Byronic Heroes experience a death of a loved one, specifically mothers which is why they have this unexplainable sexual craving for women, (or in Humbert’s case, girls). It somehow fills a void that cannot be filled anyother way.

The trauma of his mother sparked the sin of lust but it was not until he grew up and witnessed his family act on their lustful desires that he puts a meaning to the word. The insatiable hunger for sex in Humbert’s family was crude and unjust but Nabokov placed that on purpose to show readers the horrid, vile and raw lifestyle from which he was raised and imposes on nymphets in the future. According to the text, “ My mother’s elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father’s had married and then neglected, served in my immediate family as a kind of unpaid governess and housekeeper. Somebody told me later that she had been in love with my father, and that he had lightheartedly taken advantage of it one rainy day and forgotten it by the time the weather cleared.” Lolita. The meaningless sexual liaisons that Humbert experienced first handedly corrupted him into that behavior, according to the text, “I was extremely fond of her[…] Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the fullness of time, a better widower than my father.” Lolita. Discussing his own aunt in that excerpt, this new found sexual hunger had began to destroy Humbert at the age of sixteen. He began having desires for her for he described her as, “ Pink-rimmed azure eyes and a waxen complexion.”Lolita.

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580

The Character’s Analysis: Humbert Humbert

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

The narrator and focal character of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, who has appointed upon himself the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, strikes the reader as one of the most despicable and unorthodox protagonists in classic literature. He embodies numerous flaws and traits that would be nearly intolerable within a human being, but which provide for a fascinating literary character. In Humbert’s narrative, his fundamental traits of self-delusion and inherent immorality are unavoidably exposed to the audience, his supposed jury, as they drive the story forward. However, in an attempt to salvage his reputation, Humbert subtly reveals another prominent trait of his: a general indecisiveness and tendency toward inaction. Nabokov establishes these chief characteristics through various literary tools, such as various forms of chance occurrence, the actions of other characters toward him, and, most importantly, Humbert’s own narrative and use of language.

The most defining characteristic of the novel’s protagonist is his delusional passion for Lolita and overall detachment from reality, as it is this trait that facilitates Humbert’s immoral actions and tragic ending. One of the chief aspects of Humbert’s delusional nature is his love for the idea of Lolita rather than the girl herself. Nabokov keenly exposes this truth through the skillful use of language in Humbert’s narrative. For instance, the foreword tells the reader that Humbert had altered all of the names in his story except Lolita’s, because “her first name is too closely interwound with the inmost fiber of the book to allow one to alter it” (3). Humbert also begins his narrative by describing the pronunciation of his love’s name as “the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth” (9). This heavy emphasis on Lolita’s name presents Humbert’s infatuation as a rather superficial one, which is presumably focused more on an arbitrary notion of the girl rather than the girl’s actual identity and behavior. Humbert’s delusional fascination with Lolita is shown later in the narrative when he describes his attempt to recreate one of his childhood sexual experiences with “Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta” (177). Once again, this playful use of names suggests that Humbert is not really concerned with Lolita as a person, but rather with his ideal conception of a “nymphet,” which both Annabel Lee and Dolores Haze seem to fit.

Another aspect of Humbert’s lust-induced delusion is his inability to accept Lolita’s relative disdain toward her lover and the inevitability of her maturation out of adolescence, as exhibited primarily by Humbert’s aggressive and oppressive actions with Lolita in his custody. In the beginning of his relationship with the child, Humbert acknowledges that Lolita cannot remain a nymphet forever, and certainly does not expect her to ever reciprocate his lust for her. Instead, he searches for more innocent and one-sided outlets of his desire, and accordingly expresses his satisfaction at having “stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor,” by relieving his physical urges against her body and against her knowledge (65). However, once Humbert sleeps with Lolita and breaks the physical barrier between himself and the nymphet, he simultaneously breaks the barrier between what is reasonable and what is unreasonable within his mind. It is at this point that he expects her to love him as much as he loves her and refuses to let her disregard his affections. He becomes paranoid and jealous, refusing to allow her to mingle with other males in their travels, and persuading her to show him affection and give him sexual favors in exchange for spending money, which draws a disturbing parallel to a traditional child’s monetary allowance. In a desperate attempt to preserve Lolita’s nymph-like qualities, Humbert threatens to take her away from the school and community that they had become a part of, refusing to believe that, in the course of two years, she could become comparable to “any vulgar untidy high-school girl who applies shared cosmetics” (216).

Although the audience immediately accuses Humbert Humbert of immorality with his confession of hebephilia, Nabokov frequently displays other, possibly darker, nuances of Humbert’s immorality that establish that his wickedness is of an innate nature rather than a result of circumstances, primarily through the use of death and Humbert’s own, creative self-directed insults. Lolita, in conformation to its overall tragic nature, is plagued with death, particularly pertaining to the women in Humbert’s life. He was raised motherless, his Annabel Lee was killed before he could consummate his love for her, both of his wives suffered untimely deaths, and his beloved Lolita died alongside her stillborn daughter.

However, consistent with the theme of Humbert’s lustful delusion, none of those deaths which do not directly interfere with his carnal desires prove to be of much moral consequence to him. On the contrary, Humbert refers to his first wife’s death in childbirth as “[his] little revenge,” (32), and values the death of Lolita’s mother as a highly fortunate guarantee of his complete possession of the child. Just as the taint of death permeates the narrative, so does Humbert’s apparent sense of self-loathing.

In comparison to Lolita’s fair and delicate features, for example, the narrator relates to himself as “lanky, big-boned, wooly-chested Humbert Humbert, with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, and a cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile,” indicating the immoral desires that hide behind his seductive demeanor (46). Even if these terms of self-denunciation are designed to illicit sympathy from “the jury,” they nevertheless indicate an underlying sense of malice in Humbert’s nature.

Whatever crimes Humbert has committed, and the immoralities that he possesses, it is suggested that he is not entirely to blame for his actions. This is because he possesses the quality of inaction and indecisiveness; he hardly plans out his actions with full conviction, but must be nudged toward many courses of deed. Nabokov highlights this trait with frequent references to Humbert’s evil contemplations and subsequent refusals to carry these ideas out, and the recurring role of fate throughout the narrative. Many times throughout the narrative (barring the end, of course), Humbert contemplates murder so as to meet his desires or compulsions, but decides not to so. As it is difficult for the reader to readily conclude that this is a result of moral restrictions, this is evidence that Humbert has difficulty carrying out decisive actions, and prefers to back out of them, such as when, contemplating murdering Lolita’s mother in the lake so as to ensure his possession of the girl, he addresses the reader by concluding, “simple, was it not? But what d’ye know, folks – I just could not make myself do it,” indicating that it was not any practical matter but an inherent reluctance to take such a strong action that prevented him from doing so (92). Where Humbert’s own initiative fails, then, “McFate,” as labeled by the narrator, takes command. It is here, therefore that the blame of Humbert’s actions partially fall. Many of the story’s critical occurrences happen by chance, including the death of Lolita’s mother, the vacancy at the Haze’s residence which facilitated Humbert and Lolita’s meeting, and Lolita’s meeting with Quilty, who steals the child from Humbert. Therefore, Humbert is a largely inactive character and does not fully participate even in the most integral of the narrative’s actions.

Humbert Humbert of Vladmir’s Lolita is a despicable, yet altogether intriguing character of classic literature. The taboo of hebephilia is portrayed artistically in this character through the peculiar and well-developed traits of inherent morality, lust-inspired self-delusion, and a tendency toward inaction and indecisiveness.

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135

The Similarities Between Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita And John’s Ford Tis Pity She’s A Whore

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Both Ford and Nabokov’s main interests were in abnormal psychology and this is evident in their major themes of forbidden love through incest and paedophilia. However, both deal with these themes in a disturbing manner as Ford does not come out against incest but instead seems to present it as an unstoppable force of nature when in reality it is something that goes completely against human nature. The way in which incest is portrayed in the play is controversial because it is in some ways seen as something less than horrific, because when Giovanni confesses his feelings to Annabella she is not repelled at all but quickly admits that she feels the same way. This would have come has a shock for the Caroline audience as, incestuous relationships were forbidden by the religious hierarchy. Likewise, Nabokov makes Humbert describe his idea of love to entice to the romantic interests of his reader, thinking that it will make his deeds seem less revolting. He manipulates his language in such a way that it confuses the reader’s feelings. Humbert’s changing voice is used to highlight his appreciation for young “nymphets” rather than expose him for a corrupted paedophile, implying that even the most distressing things can be temporarily be concealed by the beauty of art. This came as a disturbing surprise to the audience (forgot the era). However, it was labelled revolutionary for its time.

The first and most obvious reason for Giovanni’s pursuit was due to his temptation for Annabella a he describes her lips by saying, “such lips would tempt a saint” this is a metaphor showing how Giovanni is inflamed with desire and will do anything to try to woo Annabella. This relationship is already a source of distress for the 17th-century audience but his way of describing his insatiable desire makes it even more revolting for the audience to witness. Likewise, Humbert describes his lust towards Lolita as all-consuming, “I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation” through his flashbacks of Anabel as he references Poe’s poem several times throughout the novel. Poe’s succession from “impulse” to “indulgence” outlines Humbert’s involvement with Lolita; it starts off as a harmless crush and slowly grows into a very unsettling liaison, resulting in a revoltingly complicated set of affairs that cause Humbert “deep regret and mortification”. Many would argue that the relationships in both texts will lead to disastrous consequences due to them being unacceptable within the society and the characters lack of conformity to the rules. Since forbidden love is a sin it makes it even more appealing to be pursued. Annabella’s tutor does not criticise her for loving Giovanni, as she depicts the war destructive influence of the church versus education. When Putana mentions “If a young wench feels the fit upon her, let her take anybody, father or brother, all is one”, although some might think that she was being satirical towards Annabella since she is unable to tell the difference between her kinship and romance. Yet, this is not the case as Putana is portrayed as vulgar and morally dubious tutoress. She believes in the philosophy of heart-wanting and following natures lead rather than the path of religious control of sin. Annabella’s selfless fidelity to love may come across as heroic to the spectator; nonetheless, it is neutralised by the fact that hers is a forbidden love, corrupted by incest and exasperated by adultery, the result of which not only affects the sinners, but also the tradition and values of a patriarchal family. Similarly, Humbert’s modifying voice is supposed to highlight the artistic nature of his admiration for “young nymphets” instead of exposing him for an immoral paedophile, conveying that even the most disgusting things can be temporarily concealed by the beauty of art. Condensing Lolita’s name to a set of rhythmic of syllables; and referring to her as “the light of my life” a metaphor that makes the reader feel this intense passion that Humbert has for Lolita. This artistic introduction shows the reader how intensely captivated he is by her beauty, regardless of the age difference. He also calls her “my sin” conveying to us that he is well aware of his action on a social as well as religious level and is not worried about the consequences due to his ability to manipulate and brainwash others.

Another similarity arises in the two texts when comparisons between Humbert and Giovanni are made and their ways of rationalising their actions by victimising themselves. Humbert spends majority of the novel disregarding his accountability for the relationship between him and his stepdaughter. Ekberg recounts Humbert as caught up in an “obsession” that he is unable to forget. This pushes Humbert to come to terms with his culpability and resorts to psychological games with himself to relieve some of that guilt. He functions in a similar way to Giovanni’s character, but Giovanni seems to accept his grotesque relationship; to make matters worse he never indicates any sense of ownership for his sins. During the play, there were many points when Giovanni tries to escape elude the moral responsibility for his disgraceful deeds by representing himself as an “Emotional pioneer”. He tells Annabella, “Tis my destiny that you must either love or I must die”, just like Humbert, Giovanni switches the blame for his incestuous love that he has for Annabella to the fates or to unstoppable craving so that he could be presented as a victim within this situation. The readers from either era (Jacobean era and Georgian era) would be disgusted by the lack of ownership these characters have taken for their impermissible deeds and are still able to find ways to justify them. Their mentality to rationalise their wrongdoings and blaming it on others will result in tragic consequences.

Furthermore, jealousy has also intensified their desire for forbidden love regardless of the outcome. As Humbert’s jealousy has paranoid him to the point where when he sees a man glancing at Lolita, he appears as lustful “satyr” to him. These fictional beings from mythology are known for their prodigious sexual desire and are mostly coupled with nymphs. Yet again Humbert is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Absurdly, the man he sees is most likely an actual nemesis, Clare Quilty. This is One of the main “jokes, ” of the novel that Humbert’s psychotic, nonsensical suspicions happens to be true. The reader is to think that Lolita and Clare might be poisoning him, another ironic twist of the situation in Part One, where Humbert tried to sedate Lolita and Charlotte. This has resulted in Lolita’s lost innocence as she has become a schemer and poisoner, just like Humbert himself; and she will be the cause of his downfall. Comparably, Giovanni peaked jealousy has angered him as he mentions “O torture. . . to see my love clipped by another. ” the abstract noun “torture” represents his mental instability when he sees Annabella with someone else. Some feminists might argue that this is not only jealousy but possessiveness of both the characters as they believe that these women are their properties. The mental build-up of both characters (Humbert and Giovanni) will result in physical trauma that the other characters, as well as themselves, will suffer from at the end.

At the end, most central characters were unable to keep their façade. Humbert is not able to keep up with his fake persona as an educated and mannerly stepfather. Ekberg finally exposes him to be a sly paedophile and later a monstrous alcoholic “bristly chin, my bum’s blood-shot eyes”. Lolita’s character resembles is Russian doll; when opened there’s many more different ones inside; all continuingly decreasing in size until you are only left with an empty wooden chamber. At the start she appears to be innocent and preadolescent but after her mother her mother’s death, Humbert later learned that this was one of many of her only intimate relationships, and was excited when she encourages his advances.

Overall, she was denied a normal upbringing and has to cling to life by has to survive by undertaking different roles; her failure to sustain the only role of happy-go-lucky young girl has led to her defeat. Giovanni is portrayed as a very well educated and a polite character; although the audience are aware of his incestuous lust but towards the end his real personality comes to light which reveals that he is a heartless murderer, as he kills his sister and “love”, due to his inability to marry her. This did not only shock the modern day but the Jacobean viewers as well. Ultimately, forbidden pleasures are not the best since they lead to several immoral deeds and disastrous consequences. As most of these characters were either poisoned, were murdered by the other “lover” or have committed suicide.

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Glass, Mirror and Reflection in Lolita

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

In his mind’s eye, Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita lives in a world of eternal nymphets and time unchanging, of frozen crystals and glass. But reality is mobile and unfrozen, and try as he may to reject it H.H. is forced to recognize the impermanence of the external world through its mirror projection into his mind. Thus, H.H. struggles to freeze time behind glass surfaces only to be foiled by the harsh mirror reflection of transient reality.

Humbert Humbert’s misunderstanding of “Our Glass Lake,” truly “Hourglass Lake,” reveals his desire to cease the flow of time and the obstruction of this dream by the stark reminder of reality reflected in mirrored surfaces. H.H. dreams of an “enchanted island” of “entranced time” in which all nymphets reside, eternally unaffected by age (Nabokov 16-17). This longing to freeze time is emphasized by H.H’s visions of frozen water. If surging, rushing water suggests the relentless motion of time, then ice and crystallization evokes its cessation. Indeed, before visiting the Lake, H.H. imagines it as “glazed over with a sheet of emerald ice” (54). By this glacial lake, H.H. dreamt of having a “quiet little orgy” with Lolita after feigning the loss of his “wrist watch” to escape from Charlotte (54). The loss of his timepiece further emphasizes H.H’s wish for the disappearance of time. Later when he takes glasses for whiskey and soda, he thinks of the ice cubes as “little pillow-shaped blocks… pillows for polar teddy bear, Lo” (97); he wants a frozen Lo, an everlasting nymphet Lo untouched by temporality, “emprisoned in… crystal sleep” (123). The addition of liquid into the glass produced “rasping, tortured sounds as the warm water loosened [the ice cubes] in their cells” (97). Thus, H.H.’s predilection for crystallized, glassy surfaces and his aversion to flowing water depict his desire to halt the surge of time.

However, his fantasies of time immobilized are shattered by mirrors, which constantly remind him of reality’s temporality. Hourglass Lake is a “curious Mirage” (56). A mirage itself is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea… that may have the appearance of… a mirror in which distant objects are seen inverted.”[1] Thus Hourglass Lake emerges as a mirror and, far from being frozen, resides in reality in “great heat” (81). The liquidity, heat, and inverted mirror quality of Hourglass Lake reveals it to be the polar opposite of the crystallized Our Glass Lake H.H. envisioned in his mind. Its true evocative name further accentuates the temporality of reality that opposes H.H.’s internal frozen glass fantasies. Furthermore, while in his dreams he loses his wrist watch in order to tryst with Lolita, in reality his wrist watch remains on and perfectly intact, undamaged by the moving waters because it is “waterproof;” within the mirror lake, H.H. cannot physically destroy or escape time (89). Thus mirrors in reality diametrically oppose H.H.’s internal fantasies and reveal to him the impossibility of his dreams of frozen time.

H.H.’s memories of Lolita in cinematographic terms reveal further his longing to halt time. Motion pictures are formed from the projection of light through a glass lens onto a reel of film onto a screen. The replaying of film suggests a breach in time, a reliving of past images that intrude into the present. Glass imagery thus recurs in the lens and shows again H.H.’s struggle to preserve still moments behind glass surfaces. In the despair of remembering the beauty of Lolita’s tennis stroke, he laments, “I could have filmed her!… I could have had all her strokes, all her enchantments, immortalized in segments of celluloid;” she would be timeless behind the glass lens of the film projector (232). When he closes his eyes he sees an “immobilized fraction of her, a cinematographic still” (44) as if she is a “photographic image rippling upon a screen” (62); film creates the illusion of movement by the rapid succession of frames, but like his aversion to moving water, H.H. here wants “segments,” “still[s],” a “photographic image,” the individual, unmoving fragments that freeze her; he doesn’t want the reminder of time.

But once again, mirrors negate his dreams and force him to confront reality. He admits his struggle to freeze time by replacing time with space: “I substitute time terms for spatial ones” just as he substitutes cinematographic time with stills (16). But even so, control of time eludes him; mirror reflections, even if they are photographic stills, inevitably reveal age. H.H. writes, “I would have the reader see ‘nine’ and ‘fourteen’ as the boundaries – the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks – of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine” (16). Mirrors form the boundaries of H.H.’s fantasies. Most noticeably, one would have no realization of self-aging or the physical, external change of self without a mirror reflection. External reality of the self exists separate from internal perception until a mirror projects what is outside into the mind. Hence, mirrors force H.H. to see not only the ephemerality of nymphets but also his own mortality. As he passes a “dead” town without Lolita, he sees a “display of artificial diamonds reflected in a red mirror” and a “lighted green clock” to remind him of ever fleeting time and another crystal of phony permanence (282). In the end, the “crystal” of his wrist watch “was gone but it ticked” (304). His symbol of time halted, the crystal, disappears and time surges on.

Ultimately, H.H.’s internal world of everlasting nymphets and immortality stands at stark odds with the external reality of impermanence that mirrors project into his consciousness and force him to see. However, in writing Lolita, he vies for dominance against this external transience. He projects his internal reality out into external space and fights to materialize the everlastingness that is his entire mental world.

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Headmistress Pratt: Guide to the Separate Worlds in Lolita

July 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert narrates the story of his love affair with a twelve-year old ‘nymphet,’ of whom he takes charge, as both lover and quasi-father figure, after her mother’s death. Humbert’s conversation with Headmistress Pratt of Beardsley School, where he plans to send Lolita, defines the distance between his and Lolita’s views of the world. Humbert is an introvert who lives among words and abstract thought, while Lolita longs for a typical American adolescent’s social life and depends on the sensory world; these differences, as established in the course of the meeting with Pratt, reverberate throughout the novel.Of the ‘four D’s’ that Pratt says Beardsley emphasizes, ‘Dramatics, Dance, Debating and Dating,’ the most significant for Lolita is Dramatics, because it allows her to create a role for herself in a different, happier reality. Humbert grudgingly permits Lolita to participate in the school theater program, seeing it as trivial but harmless; in retrospect, however, he comes to believe that by doing so he has ‘suffered her to cultivate deceit’ which eventually facilitates her escape from him (209). Humbert is missing the broader point, however: the theatre has given Lolita freedom from the role he has cast her in. In taking on a theatrical role, Lolita is able not only to imagine but also to viscerally experience an alternative life. Lolita needs this didactic experience, for she is grounded in the real, sensory world, and she cannot or will not learn to make her escape through books. Furthermore, the theatrical experience is highly social, permitting Lolita the rare interpersonal contact she craves.Unlike Lolita, Humbert loathes ‘the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking: a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense’; Humbert, a ‘closeted reader’ of plays claims to extract their ‘individual injections of genius’ not by seeing them performed but by reading them silently on his own (182-3). This view reduces the separate art of the theater to a bastardized, inferior form of literature and reflects Humbert’s poor opinion of all things social. Plays are not written to be read to oneself, but to be performed in three dimensions, shared with an audience. What draws Lolita to the theatre is exactly what repels Humbert from it: the community effort inherent in the production of a play and the concrete, here-and-now realism of acted, rather than imagined, story.Pratt’s claim that Beardsley is ‘more interested in communication than in composition’ also reveals the polarization of Lolita (communication) and Humbert (composition) (162). Beardsley teaches its students ‘to communicate freely with the live world around them rather than plunge into musty old books’ (162). Communicating ‘freely’ suggests a lack of serious attention to content, but content at Beardsley is less important than the act of communication itself. This is the side of Pratt’s dichotomy to which Lolita aligns. Though she is not terribly successful at communication, it is the ideal to which she aspires. During her and Humbert’s first road trip, she grows so desperate for real human communion that she promises she will ‘do anything’ if only Humbert will allow her to speak to her friends the McCrystals, whom she has spied at a distance (144).The ‘musty old books’ that Pratt derides are Humbert’s means of communicating, not with the live world around him, but with the world of the abstract. While for Lolita, content is the means, the excuse, for the act of communication, for Humbert, communication is simply an unavoidable side effect of composition. The written page communicates to any literate person, but Humbert writes primarily for the love of words and the act of composition. This solitary, interior endeavor of the mind suits introverted Humbert, while Lolita seeks admittance to the realm of communication, which is by definition social. Humbert lacks social inclinations and abilities to the point that he reads a teen advice column in the newspaper ‘to find out how to behave’ as a father figure (169). His lack of social interest parallels Lolita’s lack of literary interest; her teachers not that she ‘handles books gracefully’ (emphasis added); they also note that she ‘cannot verbalize her emotions’ (178). She does, however, show her feelings in her actions, a nonverbal form of communication, while Humbert composes his feelings in unspoken words, on paper. Neither Humbert nor Lolita verbalizes emotion aurally, but the different ways in which they cope with unspoken emotion reveal their respective alliances with composition and communication in Pratt’s dichotomy.Pratt goes on to expound a philosophy of education that not only contrasts with but condemns Humbert’s own academic background. Beardsley School, like Lolita, is concerned with the practical world, the world of facts and daily necessities and physical realities. Pratt’s suggestion that ‘the position of a star is important, but the most practical spot for an icebox in the kitchen may be even more important to the budding housewife’ illustrates a philosophy of education foreign to Humbert, one concerned more with practical household realities than with the larger cosmic picture (162). Beardsley will teach Lolita the skills that adults ‘need in managing their lives’: skills that Humbert, well-schooled in the ‘mass of irrelevant topics’ with which Beardsley has ‘done away,’ has never learned (162). His increasing inability to manage his own life manifests in his obsession with chance, coincidence, and Mc Fate, as his life gets more and more out of control. Humbert is a product of the ‘old days’ that Pratt mocks, when ‘education was in the main a verbal phenomenon’ (162). His verbal education bears strongly on much of his life and personality; he is an academic who reveals his fascination with words in his verbally clever narrative style and his strong preference for books over people. Pratt, by dismissing this as out-dated and incomplete, obliquely challenges not only the sufficiency of Humbert’s education but the values of his daily life, wherein words give meaning and solace.Lolita’s introduction to adolescent social life would have occurred at any school, but Beardsley goes out of its way to socialize its students, a task that Humbert undermines with all his might by forbidding dates of any sort and following Lolita anywhere there might be boys. The process of socialization, explicitly part of the Beardsley curriculum, will play a role in taking Lolita away from Humbert as she matures and becomes more independent.While Beardsley is ‘concerned with . . . the adjustment of the child to group life,’ Humbert has no interest in community or in Beardsley’s four D’s; his are the four L’s: Letters, Loneliness, Love, and Lolita (161). For Humbert, the educated European scholar, education has always been verbal, abstract, and solitary, while for Lolita at Beardsley, it consists primarily of social and practical, real-world elements.Finally, Pratt reminds Humbert that they ‘live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless’ (162). Humbert creates a solipsistic world around himself to which he molds external events by giving them verbal disguises; he sees the external world in terms of prefabricated templates lifted from literature. In his obsession with Poe, for example, he recreates his ideal love in the image of Annabel Lee, to whom Lolita in actual fact corresponds in no other way than chronological age.Humbert’s personal universe dates from his childhood. He grew up in the Hotel Miranda, ‘a kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the blue greater one’ where his father read him Cervantes and Hugo (12-13). This ‘private universe’ has significance less as a physical place than as a state of mind that Humbert carries with him thereafter. For Lolita, however, it is the ‘outside world that [is] real’ (259). She dreams of the world of ‘hot-dog stands, corner drugstores, malts and cokes, movies, square-dancing, blanket parties on beaches, and even hair-fixing parties’; although Humbert successfully bars her from much of it, it still constitutes the ideal reality for her (162). Humbert lives a very solitary, introverted life overrun by words and dominated by the abstract, while Lolita is ruled by immediate, often visual, impressions of the sensory world.Lolita and Humbert inhabit different realities. Headmistress Pratt, by contrasting old and new educational values, unwittingly highlights the fundamental differences between Humbert’s and Lolita’s world views: differences so profound that, combined with the unusual circumstances of Humbert and Lolita’s relationship, they make any real communication between the two impossible.Humbert’s acceptance of Beardsley for Lolita, a school that espouses values antithetical to his, shows that the nature of his affection for her has nothing to do with any desire for an intellectual soul mate; in truth he finds her rejection of his beloved authors for her dreadful movies, pop magazines, and comic books, very appealing. If she were interested in ‘high’ culture, it would diminish the childlike qualities that draw Humbert to his nymphets. And it is important to Humbert, whether he quite recognizes it or not, that his Lolita be a child not only in body but in mind. He loves the otherness of Lolita: young, pop-cultured, social, carefree, drawn to images (movies, celebrity photos, the aura of certain motels). He is revolted, in contrast, by ‘the heavy, low-slung pelvis, thick calves, and deplorable complexion’ of the ‘typical’ female college student, in whose ‘coffin of coarse female flesh’ possible former ‘nymphets are buried alive’: a state (regardless of all his claims to good looks) that is not so far from his own; for Humbert, as for the college students, physical, outward reality has been subordinated to the inner life of words and the abstract (159).The gap between Lolita’s physical world and Humbert’s literary world fosters a mutual lack of honesty that far predates Lolita’s involvement in theatre. Only after he has lost her does it occur to Humbert that he knows nothing about Lolita’s mind, since ‘we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss . . . anything of a genuine kind’ (259). Despite Humbert’s love of words, his and Lolita’s mutually exclusive monistic views of the world occlude the possibility of meaningful communication.

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Crime and Pun: Moral Evasion in Lolita

June 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. So says Humbert Humbert at the start of Lolita in his account to the “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury” (9). He refers to himself as a murderer (he is, after all, “guilty of killing Quilty”), not as a rapist, the far more serious offense Lolita levels at him. That I, and everyone else who reads the book, call Dolores Haze by the name “Lolita” demonstrates the efficacy of Humbert’s fancy prose style – under the spell of his aesthetic mastery, we, the jury, must bend to his subjective vision through memory, and thus we see the twelve-year-old nymphet as Lolita, as she is in Humbert’s arms. It is difficult to castigate Humbert when we see the world through his European eyes.Humbert’s main strength is his sense of humor. Nabokov is sure to throw Humbert’s way all the American kitsch he can handle – mostly in the form of Charlotte Haze. His sly insults sail over her head, but Humbert wins our approval by making sure we understand them. Similarly, we admire him because we must recognize that he is above us, too – untangling “Vladimir Nabokov” from “Vivian Darkbloom” may seem easy once it has been pointed out, but there are scores more that are worth the reader’s time (or not, as the case may be). His graceful facility with other languages mocks our desire to have his control over English, not even his native tongue (or Nabokov’s). His humor constantly deflects attention from the seriousness of his crime. When Humbert calls himself a “pentapod,” the image of him as a sexual predator is offset by the work we must do to appreciate the inventive coinage of the word. His poetry obscures his perversity; he is not the rapist – Freud is the(rapist). Humbert is always moving us sideways with his playful and conscious malapropian language, “watering” his car by his “west-door” neighbors. Humanity is defined by its capacity to play, the demonstration of an individual freedom which has no value for anyone else. But Humbert’s play has value for us, since we are enchanted as youthful readers (Nabokov believes that all stories should be fairy tales of some sort), just as Humbert’s play attempts to keep Lolita forever young. Humbert’s poetry even lets down his guard at times, drawing us further to his side: “And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears” (280).Humbert’s control over language also extends to his control over the novel and, one might argue, over the actual events. At an inconsequential moment, Humbert writes “‘Doublecrosser,’ [Lolita] said as I crawled downstairs rubbing my arm with a great show of rue” (65). Charlotte is struck by a car crossing the street, and this event was foreshadowed by Humbert nearly hitting a dog when he first pulled up to the house – the double fatal crossing of the street (there is also a dominant motif of doubling throughout the novel, Nabokov’s parody of the European doppelganger tale, but for our purposes we will look only at its relationship to the street). This may seem a stretch, but “rue” is also French for “street.” This precision makes us wonder if Humbert is fabricating parts of his story. The number 342 recurs constantly, as house numbers, hotel room numbers, days on the road, and so on, and can be viewed as either a series of fatidic checkpoints through which Humbert must travel, or as his authorial revision of the events within his prison. In either case, the reader is the true prisoner, caught up in Humbert’s web and turning him from anti-hero to hero. We cannot judge him harshly; the true punishment he receives for his crime is not imprisonment but “coronary thrombosis” (3), or a broken heart. This, too, told to us in the foreword, only brings us closer to the silver-tongued rapist.

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Comparing Pnin, the Displaced Russian, to Humbert Humbert, the Generic European.  

June 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

Humbert Humbert (HH) and Timofey Pnin are complete opposites. HH is assertive and is ready to do everything to reach the goals he sets himself, may it be to master a foreign language or to use his abilities as a manipulator to trick the reader into relativizing his crimes. On the other hand, Timofey Pnin is impotent, and socially awkward, and is being manipulated by his ex-wife. Their only similarity lies in that they both are never idle. This essay will compare both HH and Pnin through their identities as immigrants, their use of foreign language, their manipulator-manipulated relationship, and their constant travels. Though these characters are markedly different, both of Nabokov’s creations help us understand how Nabokov himself grappled with the issues of emigration and displacement that were central to his own life.

Cultural “Other” and the use of foreign language

Timofey Pnin hails from a wealthy family, he is half-German and half-Russian (p.21-22), which emphasizes his identity as an eternal foreigner. Pnin, like Nabokov, first left Russia because of the Bolsheviks’ coup d’état, and then left Europe because of World War 2 (p.34). In the case of Timofey Pnin, the cultural otherness is a weakness manifested in his inability to ever feel at home. The narrator’s use of foreign language and his insistence on Pnin’s foreignness adds to the overwhelming feeling of alienation. The reader cannot forget for one moment that Pnin is not American. For instance, Pnin uses Russian in emotionally charged moments “Slava Bogu” p. 19 which is typical of people who speak in foreign languages. Foreign curse words, or words that simply express surprise or shock tend to have a stronger meaning in one’s native language (Toivo, 2017).The narrator also creates “Pninian” (p.15, p. 39, p.66), Pninzing (p.35), Pningrad (p.63), and indicates that Pnin makes up words “Englishing the Russian for receipt” (p.18). Also, the narrator provides the reader with verbatim quotes of Pnin’s very poor English “What to do” (P.17), “I search John” (p.59), “Cannot exist in such big sea” (p.60) to emphasize his otherness. Pnin crosses his legs “po amerikanski” (p.33), which here is likely written in Russian to remind the reader that Pnin is first and foremost a foreigner even if he crosses his legs as Americans typically do. The narrator does not spare Pnin, and mentions that “If his Russian was music, his English was murder” (p.66), later referring to Pnin’s inability to adapt to the Julian calendar when he mentions that Pnin simply stopped celebrating his birthday (p.67) when he moved to the West.

This incapability to assimilate also prohibits Pnin from making friends with American professors who imitate him behind his back (p. 37), are anti-Pninists (p.141), consider him a joke (p.140), or call him a freak (p.32). The awkwardness of his interactions with American professors are portrayed by his inability to understand jokes “I have reservations, first of all, logic –” (p.60) and seems to be showing off when he cuts his colleague in the middle of a story to tell him that “water in Turkish is ‘su’” (p.33). Moreover, even the electricity is described as foreign to Pnin: “amerikanski electricity” (p. 77). Likewise, the narrator uses Russian words or adds a Russian accent to American landmarks such as Reeverside (p.62), Tsentral park (p.62), and Soedinyoniie Shtatii (p.11), hence once again using language to widen the gap between Pnin and his surroundings.

However, the use of foreign language in Lolita does not accentuate Humbert Humbert’s (HH) “otherness”. HH, like Timofey Pnin, is of mixed descent (p.9), but his identity as a foreigner does not define him; he is defined by his complete lack of a moral compass. Nabokov could very well had created HH as an American character. HH’s English is not taxed by his insertion of French words “eh bien, pas du tout!” (p.105), “Enfin seuls” (p.119) “ Comme vous le savez trop bien, ma gentille” (p.149), “que dis-je” (p.168), etc. HH sounds more like the literary version of a bilingual Montrealer than an immigrant in a foreign country who is unsuccessfully attempting to assimilate, since his process of assimilation is now complete and HH now masters the English language “the reader will notice the pains I took to speak Lo’s tongue” (p.149). In short, while Pnin’s otherness makes him a social outcast, and his colleagues laugh at him when he announces that he will “soon be considered an American” (p.37), HH pretentiously uses French to stand out from the American masses, and is hence willingly alienating himself (although in a positive fashion).

Manipulator-Manipulated

HH is a manipulator while Pnin is victim of a manipulating ex-wife. Indeed, she seduces him “you Timofey are the water father” (p.55) even though she simply wants his money (p.57). Pnin is completely in love with Liza “I offer you everything that I have” (p.183) even though he knows she got pregnant from Eric in an extramarital affair. Pnin truly is a mere slave to his desires “to hold her to keep her […] with her cruelty, with her vulgarity” (p.57) whereas HH tries to convince the reader that he, like Pnin, is merely a victim of his strong feelings towards an underaged girl. Much like Liza Wind, HH attempts to manipulate the reader to using post-modern humor and word play (p.184). As I already mentioned[1], HH uses humorous descriptions to trick the reader into ignoring the gravity of his actions: he was committing statutory rape. Further, as a classmate correctly noted[2], HH murders Quilty and attempts to dehumanize his victim with his use of language. He uses black humor in replying to his victim saying that he’s “dying for a smoke” with “you’re dying anyway” (p.296). In short, Pnin is a poor victim of manipulation throughout the novel whereas HH is an expert manipulator.

Displaced Russian and Pervert European

Timofey Pnin’s identity as “the other” is not limited to his incapacity to speak English and to his social awkwardness. He always appears to be a misfit, wherever he finds himself. For instance, the novel begins with him being on the wrong train (p.8) right after the narrator informed us that Pnin has moved from Russia to Prague, from Prague to Paris, and from Paris to America (p.8). Pnin formulates his desire to be alone during his apartment-search: “privacy is absolutely necessary” (p.34) and complains that there are “too many people” (p.34) in rural America. Indeed, “nothing was quiet enough for Pnin” (p.63). He is a permanent exile and is always out of place (displaced Russian). He would also express his desire to feel at home in “pninzing”(p.35) or having pninized (p.69) his new home, but he would be forced to change lodging every semester (p.62). Pnin also spends a summer teaching in Washington (p.69).He only appears to find himself at home when he is surrounded by fellow Russians “only another Russian could understand” (p.71) and feels comfortable chatting with his friend Chateau “of pure Russian lineage” (p.125). The library is another of the very few places in which Pnin feels at home since it is “intimately and securely connected to Pnin’s heart” (p.72). Furthermore, Pnin teaches Russian literature in the German department with Dr. Hagen (p.139), and there is also indication that he is teaching Russian at the wrong university since there is only one student of Russian (p.9).

As previously stated, HH is, much like Pnin, of mixed descent. His generic European identity perhaps helps him be a better fit in the American society than Timofey Pnin, since HH has after all never left the West. HH attended an English day school in France and mentions frequent trips to Italy which he remembers fondly (p.11). HH’s travels do not seem forced like Pnin’s do, and the reader gets the impression that HH only seems out of place when he is “forced” to stay in the same place because of his feelings towards Lolita. Indeed, it is his pedophilia and perverse thoughts which make him seem out of place, not his identity as an immigrant. When HH recalls his childhood memories, he remembers that his father “taught him everything about sex” (p.11). This detail stands out of an otherwise typical description of someone’s youth. HH, like Pnin, is always moving, although in a much more casual fashion. For instance, he mentions that “we passed and we passed through the whole gamut of American roadside restaurants” (p.155). Here, the word choice indicates that his travels in America were positive.

Was Nabokov More Pninian or Humbertian?

Lolita (1955) and Pnin (1957) were almost published at the same time, and it appears that Pnin and HH both show a different side of Vladimir Nabokov’s identity as a foreigner. In interviews, Nabokov is at times very Pninian, whereas in other instances he sounds more like HH. When Nabokov speaks in French[3]or English[4] his slight charming accent does not make his audience uncomfortable. In his famous Playboy interview, Nabokov refers to himself as a “a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library” (Toffler, 2018). In this sense, Nabokov is more Humbertian than Pninian. In an interview conducted by one of his former Cornell students, Nabokov mentions that he remembers the “pang” of switching from being a Russian writer to an American writer (Appel Jr., 1967), which is similar to HH saying that he remembers how hard it was for him to learn Lolita’s language (p.149). He also mentions having traveled extensively much like HH and Pnin (Toffler, 2018).

Nonetheless, Nabokov also has a Pninian side. Nabokov says that he never permanently settled anywhere in America because “nothing short of a replica of my childhood surroundings would have satisfied me” (Toffler, 2018). He also mentions that he was an American writer while living in Switzerland, and wrote Russian language poems in Berlin and New York, all of which indicates that he always was “out of place” like Pnin. He had to invent America after having spent his entire life inventing Russia (Toffler, 2018). Nabokov also spoke of his aversion to groups (Appel Jr., 1967) hence hinting at the fact that he is a non-conformist like Pnin. Nabokov also fondly remembers his ability to access magnificent libraries (Appel Jr, 1967), one of the few places where Pnin felt at home, a positive memory of his time as a university professor. To conclude, both Pnin and HH show facets of Nabokov’s peculiar identity as a Russian émigré writing American novels. In interviews, he sometimes characterized himself as perfectly fitting the American mold despite his background (like HH) whereas at other times he speaks of his permanent otherness (like Pnin).

Works Cited

Appel Jr., Alfred. “An Interview with Vladimir Nabokov.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Spring 1967, 127-52. Accessed April 12, 2018. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1207097. Nabokov, Vladimir. Pnin. NY, NY: Vintage Books, 1989. Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. London: Penguin Books, 2015. Renaud, Maxime. Postmodern humor in Lolita, March 24th 2018 https://mycourses2.mcgill.ca/d2l/le/304926/discussions/topics/143485/View Last consulted on April 11th 2018 Roger, Anais. HH kills Quilty, March 25th 2018 https://mycourses2.mcgill.ca/d2l/le/304926/discussions/threads/551052/View Last consulted on April 11th 2018 Toivo, Wilhelmiina. “Bad Language: Why Being Bilingual Makes Swearing Easier.” The Guardian, March 27, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/mar/27/bad-language-why-being-bilingual-makes-swearing-easier. Toffler, Alvin. “Playboy Interview: Vladimir Nabokov.” Playboy, January 1964. Accessed April 12, 2018. https://atavist.com/. [1] Maxime Renaud, Postmodern humor in Lolita, March 24th 2018 https://mycourses2.mcgill.ca/d2l/le/304926/discussions/topics/143485/View Last consulted on April 11th 2018 [2] Anais Roger, HH kills Quilty, March 25th 2018 https://mycourses2.mcgill.ca/d2l/le/304926/discussions/threads/551052/View Last consulted on April 11th 2018 [3] Please see: [4] Please see:

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Glass in Lolita: A Struggle for Permanence

June 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

In his mind’s eye, Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita lives in a world of eternal nymphets and time unchanging, of frozen crystals and glass. But reality is mobile and unfrozen, and try as he may to reject it H.H. is forced to recognize the impermanence of the external world through its mirror projection into his mind. Thus, H.H. struggles to freeze time behind glass surfaces only to be foiled by the harsh mirror reflection of transient reality.

Humbert Humbert’s misunderstanding of “Our Glass Lake,” truly “Hourglass Lake,” reveals his desire to cease the flow of time and the obstruction of this dream by the stark reminder of reality reflected in mirrored surfaces. H.H. dreams of an “enchanted island” of “entranced time” in which all nymphets reside, eternally unaffected by age (Nabokov 16-17). This longing to freeze time is emphasized by H.H’s visions of frozen water. If surging, rushing water suggests the relentless motion of time, then ice and crystallization evokes its cessation. Indeed, before visiting the Lake, H.H. imagines it as “glazed over with a sheet of emerald ice” (54). By this glacial lake, H.H. dreamt of having a “quiet little orgy” with Lolita after feigning the loss of his “wrist watch” to escape from Charlotte (54). The loss of his timepiece further emphasizes H.H’s wish for the disappearance of time. Later when he takes glasses for whiskey and soda, he thinks of the ice cubes as “little pillow-shaped blocks… pillows for polar teddy bear, Lo” (97); he wants a frozen Lo, an everlasting nymphet Lo untouched by temporality, “emprisoned in… crystal sleep” (123). The addition of liquid into the glass produced “rasping, tortured sounds as the warm water loosened [the ice cubes] in their cells” (97). Thus, H.H.’s predilection for crystallized, glassy surfaces and his aversion to flowing water depict his desire to halt the surge of time.

However, his fantasies of time immobilized are shattered by mirrors, which constantly remind him of reality’s temporality. Hourglass Lake is a “curious Mirage” (56). A mirage itself is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea… that may have the appearance of… a mirror in which distant objects are seen inverted.”[1] Thus Hourglass Lake emerges as a mirror and, far from being frozen, resides in reality in “great heat” (81). The liquidity, heat, and inverted mirror quality of Hourglass Lake reveals it to be the polar opposite of the crystallized Our Glass Lake H.H. envisioned in his mind. Its true evocative name further accentuates the temporality of reality that opposes H.H.’s internal frozen glass fantasies. Furthermore, while in his dreams he loses his wrist watch in order to tryst with Lolita, in reality his wrist watch remains on and perfectly intact, undamaged by the moving waters because it is “waterproof;” within the mirror lake, H.H. cannot physically destroy or escape time (89). Thus mirrors in reality diametrically oppose H.H.’s internal fantasies and reveal to him the impossibility of his dreams of frozen time.

H.H.’s memories of Lolita in cinematographic terms reveal further his longing to halt time. Motion pictures are formed from the projection of light through a glass lens onto a reel of film onto a screen. The replaying of film suggests a breach in time, a reliving of past images that intrude into the present. Glass imagery thus recurs in the lens and shows again H.H.’s struggle to preserve still moments behind glass surfaces. In the despair of remembering the beauty of Lolita’s tennis stroke, he laments, “I could have filmed her!… I could have had all her strokes, all her enchantments, immortalized in segments of celluloid;” she would be timeless behind the glass lens of the film projector (232). When he closes his eyes he sees an “immobilized fraction of her, a cinematographic still” (44) as if she is a “photographic image rippling upon a screen” (62); film creates the illusion of movement by the rapid succession of frames, but like his aversion to moving water, H.H. here wants “segments,” “still[s],” a “photographic image,” the individual, unmoving fragments that freeze her; he doesn’t want the reminder of time.

But once again, mirrors negate his dreams and force him to confront reality. He admits his struggle to freeze time by replacing time with space: “I substitute time terms for spatial ones” just as he substitutes cinematographic time with stills (16). But even so, control of time eludes him; mirror reflections, even if they are photographic stills, inevitably reveal age. H.H. writes, “I would have the reader see ‘nine’ and ‘fourteen’ as the boundaries – the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks – of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine” (16). Mirrors form the boundaries of H.H.’s fantasies. Most noticeably, one would have no realization of self-aging or the physical, external change of self without a mirror reflection. External reality of the self exists separate from internal perception until a mirror projects what is outside into the mind. Hence, mirrors force H.H. to see not only the ephemerality of nymphets but also his own mortality. As he passes a “dead” town without Lolita, he sees a “display of artificial diamonds reflected in a red mirror” and a “lighted green clock” to remind him of ever fleeting time and another crystal of phony permanence (282). In the end, the “crystal” of his wrist watch “was gone but it ticked” (304). His symbol of time halted, the crystal, disappears and time surges on.

Ultimately, H.H.’s internal world of everlasting nymphets and immortality stands at stark odds with the external reality of impermanence that mirrors project into his consciousness and force him to see. However, in writing Lolita, he vies for dominance against this external transience. He projects his internal reality out into external space and fights to materialize the everlastingness that is his entire mental world.

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