Life with Lolita by Nabokov: The Story of One Love
When you hear the word “Lolita,” what comes to mind? Is it the subculture? Maybe it’s images of young girls wearing gingham bathing suits and heart shaped glasses. It is rare for someone to think of the horrific acts described in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. Lolita is commonly described as a love story. Even the 1992 movie advertises it as a love story, which it is not. It is, in fact, a story of abuse which has been romanticised way too often. Though the movie does give “Lolita,”her real name being Dolores, a perspective, and it does occasionally show her hatred for her abuser, it was still heavily implied that it was a love story.
What most people seem to forget when reading the story, is that the narrator, Humbert Humbert, is unreliable. He manipulates the reader throughout the story, and rarely talks about the hatred Dolores has for him. I however, have compiled a short list of quotes from the book that prove it is not a love story: “How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it until she had done her morning duty”. And her sobs in the night every night, every night”. “Lo looked up with a semi-smile of surprise and without a word I delivered a tremendous backhand cut that caught her smack on her hot hard little cheekbone”. “And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it”. After reading only a few quotes that show how disturbing the content is, it’s hard to imagine people could possibly label it as a romantic novel. Not only is it clearly abusive based on these quotes, the actual subject matter is quite disturbing. Dolores is a 12 year old girl who is kidnapped by Humbert, her mother’s husband, after her mother dies while she is at camp.Though there are times when it may seem Dolores is “in love” with Humbert, such as when she kisses him, the reader must remember that she is impressionable and naive. Crushes on older people aren’t uncommon. The adult in that situation should know how wrong it is, and should ultimately be the one to stop the younger person’s advances.
Humbert is well aware of this, yet he continues to sexually, physically, and psychologically abuse Dolores while taking advantage of the fact that she has no way out. There is one point in the novel where she escapes him, only to be put in another bad position. At the end of the novel, she contacts him asking for money, which he gives. When visiting, she tells him that her other abuser, Quilty, broke her heart, while Humbert broke her life. As he drives back from murdering Quilty for taking her, he stops for a while and listens to the sound of children at play. He realizes then that he is not sad because she is absent from his side, but from the chorus of the children’s laughter. “Lolita” has become a big part of pop culture. Precocious young women are often called nymphets, a term used by Humbert to describe “attractive” and sexually mature, but still prepubescent, children between the tender ages of 9 and 14. In relationships with age gaps, Lolita is commonly associated with them. Many believe it is about a young seductress, or a consensual relationship between two people with a large age gap. The author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, wrote the book to show how art can often be misinterpreted, and how the reader should have been disgusted by the content, or themselves if they had, at any point in the novel, sympathized with Humbert.
The language and rhetoric he uses is corrupt and dishonest on purpose, and the romanticisation of his Lolita only proves him right. Not once do you get Dolores’s point of view. The whole time you see “Lolita” through Humbert’s eyes, in which she is nothing but an object. He hides her pain from the reader behind his fantasy and desire for her, giving the reader no choice but to see her that way also. Even the cover of the book is somewhat suggestive. This shows how much the purpose of the novel is misunderstood.Many of the covers have images of young girls or close ups on them, such as their lips or legs. However, Nabokov wanted nothing to do with girls on the cover. His vision for the cover included cloudy skies, pure colors, a highway. Love is always reciprocated, and this story is anything but. It is a one-sided narrative of obsession. It is filled with rape, murder, and pedophilia, disguised by the speaker, Humbert, as a twisted story of star-crossed lovers.
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