There’s really no getting around it, this book handles a subject that pushes a lot of peoples’ buttons: pedophalia. What amazes me, however, is the vast array of reactions towards the book. It’s not just “ew no” or “you just don’t understand it”. I’ve seen the relationship between Humbert Humbert, a thirty-five-year-old man and Dolores Haze, a twelve-year-old girl described as “hearbreakingly beautiful” or “true love gone wrong” or how it was about “the corruption of a weak man by a sick child”.
These descriptions made me hesitate reading this book, but I'm glad that I took the plunge. Nabokov’s beautiful writing swept me away, he made me think, he made me ask questions.
How old does a child have to be before they start exhibiting sexual urges?
Dolores Haze, all of twelve-years-old, had confessed to Humbert that she had had sex in summer camp with one of the boys there, and this confession was instrumental to Humbert's seduction (if you can call it that).
Was it really love that Humbert felt for Dolores Haze?
This was an important subject, as Humbert, keeps emphasizing that what he felt for Dolores Haze wasn't just lust, it was love.
However, he himself admits that he will stop loving Dolores once she stopped being a “nymphet”, as evidenced by the quote,
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”
Was that love, then?
Will we stop loving someone when they reach a certain age? When their skin starts to sag or when their wrinkles start to become noticeable, will we stop loving them? Will they be any different from the person they were back then? Did aging make them cruel? Stupid?
What Humbert felt for Dolores was lust, pure and simple. You don’t stop loving a person just because they aged, but Humbert admitted that he’ll stop loving Dolores when she stopped being a nymphet. That is, when she stopped being a girl and started growing into a teen.
Even his petname for her—Lolita—showed how much he loved the idea of her, the idea of a child to subject to his whims. It wasn't love, I doubt that Humbert even knew the real Dolores enough to love her. He lusted after Dolores, but what he loved was Lolita, an image of what he thought was the perfect partner: forever young, forever twelve-years-old, submissive to his desires...and a product of his own mind.
But the clincher for me, the Great Headache, was how Dolores seemed to respond to Humbert's advances. In fact, the original seduction was initiated by Dolores.
Was it right, then, when Humbert decided to act on his desires? To take to bed a twelve-year-old? Can it be considered rape when Dolores was so willing?
This was the point that I had to stop reading, for I was starting to feel slightly ill. Sex with a child? No. Simply NO.
I don't think that an adult, no matter how willing the child, should EVER initiate intercourse with a kid. Who's to say that they really know what it entails? Isn't it an adult's responsibility to protect and be responsible for a child (after all, Humbert was Dolores' guardian)?
How can Dolores herself know what she's talking about?
That's when I realized just how deeply Nabokov (and by extension, Humbert) has fooled me.
The whole story was narrated by Humbert and as my old professor told me, people will always portray themselves in the best light.
Suddenly the book made so much sense.
Everything from his unconsummated childhood love to Dolores' seemingly spoiled, bitchy attitude was written so that I, the reader, would symphatize with Humbert.
The book was filled with explanations, excuses and rationalizations of a very sick man, a sick man who wanted to explain away and be pitied for his actions. He wasn't corrupt--no, it was Dolores who corrupted him. Dolores was the one who seduced him, after all. He was just the poor man who was taken advantage of, always buying her gifts and bowing to her demands. But even that seemed to have ulterior motives to it—I got the feeling that Humbert was treating Dolores like a prostitute, giving her gifts in exchange for sexual favors, essentially paying her for intercourse. It was especially telling how he would usually give her the gifts after he raped her.
Even the way almost all the character were one-dimensional seemed to make sense. Everyone other than Humbert was one-dimensional: they were either stupid or spiteful or cruel or hopelessly spoiled (like Dolores). In fact, the only ones that showed any depths were Humbert himself (of course) and Dolores, near the end of the book, when Humbert finally saw her for what she was. She was damaged and broken, no longer Lolita, but he loved her and that made her seem whole to him.
It wasn't that everyone was one-dimensional or the world was against Humbert, it was that Humbert himself was such a hateful egomaniac that he considered a lot of people below him, not worth attention and unable to show any real substance.
Dolores herself also came into question: was she really the bratty child Humbert made her out to be?
Perhaps she was simply a victim of Humbert's writing. There were also several times that she tried to escape Humbert, but could not, because she knew as much as Humbert knew that she had nowhere to go. She wasn't this man's lover; she was his prisoner.
Lolita didn't read like a love story gone wrong, it read like the imprisonment and repeated rape of a child by someone who should have genital organs removed. But I was impressed how Nabokov made me think that it was the former for nearly half the entire book.
This was when I decided that I loved Lolita, and Nabokov for writing it.
This book, to me, read like it was more about words than anything. It showed how words can fool you as much as enchant you, at how they can hide stories as much as tell them. I loved how the book seemed to reference that at the end,
“I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigment, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita".
This book deserves four and a half happy pandas!