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Sometimes a book really stumps me. This is one such book. It's difficult to discuss, difficult to decipher, just plain difficult.

 

What exactly is Nabakov trying to get at with this book? According to the man himself - nothing. He is not telling a moral story, he is not writing a book about ideas, he simply writes his books so that he can get rid of them out of his mind. His purpose seems to be just to portray a certain reality of life, no matter what the subject. But oh! What a subject! Pedophilia/obsessive love.

 

The main character is not a pleasant one. I did not like him - not once during the book. Is that a requirement in reading? No - but this is a very distasteful man to say the least. He is a man incapable of viewing anything outside the sphere of his desire for young girls and in particular Lolita. Self-absorbed, self-centered - these words do not even begin to describe this man. But while it is about one pedophile's love for his victim, this is not a pornographic novel. Nabakov, with his words, does manage to somehow render this man's life readable because he makes the man's mind readable.

 

But is this realstic? No. I don't think it is. I don't think there is a pedophile in the word that thinks as this man does so basically, I think Nabokov cheats. This man is not real. Just because the writing is superb and in many ways connects the reader to a broader picture of life's general futility and humor does not mean that he's done the job. Because while the writing is great - the specifics of story and plot are atrocious.

 

 

I could not have been more bored as he sets off on his trip with Lolita. And I get the sense that because Nabakov knows that he couldn't just keep the reader tied up in this across country spree, he then settles down for a little while, even though it makes no sense that Humbert would do so. But even that is short lived as Humbert and Lolita take off across the country again. At which point I felt the story became almost unreadable. Does anyone really understand what happens in this section, when Lolita finally gets away from him and during which Humbert thinks he is being followed? It made no sense to me at all. Nor really did the rest of the book. He's obsessed with Lolita still , even though she is gone and we are treated to some strange missing years in which he cavorts with a useless character named Rita. He seems more obsessed with killing the person that took Lolita away from him. I have no idea why - again, this is not a believable characterisation at all.

 

And there really is no ambiguity in my mind about the position of Lolita in this. Could she have been a sexual precocious 11 year old - not a virgin by any means and perhaps playing the seductress role at times? Sure. Why not? But where in the world is the ambiguity in what type of life he subjects her to? He plainly says that each night when Lolita thinks Humbert is finally asleep that she begins to sob in bed. Again - this is just part of the cheat of Humbert's characterisation. He verbally says that he knows what he is doing is wrong and that he knows he ruined Lolita's life, but he has no emotional connection what-so-ever to her pain. And that's not real, because if you don't have such a level of understanding, then I don't believe he'd have any means of really knowing that what he did was wrong.

 

 

I was very confused when I first read it but watching the later movie prompted me to re-read it and I thought it was brilliant. Why does it have to be realistic? We don't even know how much of it is a lie- he gleefully admits to lying to a mental clinic and writes in such a manipulative yet poetic way you wonder what the reality is like. The fact that it sounds so ludicrous and dare I say it in parts romantic is because we are dealing with a man who has probably got a split personality. Humbert is facing trial when he narrates this and he addresses the reader as 'the jury' quite a bit so he knows it's legally wrong but it's basically a fantasy. It is only at the end when

Lolita is pregnant and looks pretty run-down that he realises what he has done to her. he is maturer in the end bit- originally he wants her baby to be a girl so grossly he can do what he did to her with it (which may or may not be an inappropriate joke) then at the end he says he hopes it will be a boy, like a father would be likely to.

 

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  • 5 weeks later...

I loved this book and the original film.

That said, after reading all of the posts I think I may have had an advantage because I read the annotated version. Nabakov worked with the graduate studentn who wrote the annotations. The book was on a shelf I could reach and I sat down with it again. I never re-read books that was not my intention I wanted to see what was said in the 'explanations' found in the notes.

 

Now, probably 25yrs later I read my own notes along with the annotations and the whole book came back to me.

 

Today, at 65, with a granddaughter who just turned 9, I had to sit back and think about the child/girl/seductress Lolita first. She didn't know any better her mother was a vacuous woman interested only in finding a husband. The time was summer, Lolita was bored, she was leaving puberty behind and blossoming into a woman but she was confused about what kind of woman, about sex, she wanted it/she didn't. Then she's alone.

 

Then I turned to Humbert who we learn is a pedaphile or becoming one. He is immediately seduced by Lolita and begins to groom her for himself. He was single, alone and needed to be very careful around mom so as not to get caught in her web. Talk about a character whose presence persists even after she's dead. WOW!

 

Well those of you who read it know the story so I won't bore you ... but I highly recommend that if plan to read again or for the first time try to get the annotated edition. I am not sure if Norton has published Lolita but if they have that is another wonderful edition. At the back of all of their books they have scholarly papers from around the world that discuss elements of the book. (It's the professors getting published so they don't perish material)

 

ENJOY

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  • 2 months later...
  • 9 months later...

Lolita has to be one of my favourite novels. After reading the introductory chapter in a Literature lesson, I was left both intrigued but unsure - the content of the novel is obviously controversial but it is definitely worth a read. I felt the 1997 film definitely did the novel justice - I have never fallen in love with such a strange and questionable character - namely Humbert! I found the novel rather hard-going to read, and it did take me a few weeks but I was determined to finish it and it was certainly worth it. Anyone who is unsure of the book due to its subject matter should be reassured that although there is a graphic sexual scene, Humberts romantic imagery masks the rawness of the topic and you are guaranteed to fall in love with him instead!

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I absolutely loved this book although as Zara-X has said- I did find part hard going. I knew very little about the book when I went looking for it and was more interested in reading it being of its controversial reputation.

I was surprised at how Humbert's romanticism and idealism could almost persuade the reader that there was no controversy of his activities.

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  • 2 months later...

I probably would've avoided Lolita at all costs had it not been for my lovely sister's whole-hearted recommendation; thank you bella!

 

I enjoyed (yes, I think enjoyed is the right word!) it far more than I expected to, strange, funny and disturbing though it is.

Humbert Humbert is a fascinating and repulsive paradox of a character.

 

A brilliant book which I can't quite get out of my head. It will stay on the shelf to be revisited.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I read this book about a year ago, it made me uncomfortable too. I suppose it all depends on your own experiences and many peoples are far removed. The author is extremely brave writing about such a senstive topic and does so with skill enough to make it a compelling read, if not a pleasant one.

 

Lolita struck me as a very humoured little girl, growing up in a house with a single mother and too few rules. Daring to the point of stupidity, I think she wanted (as any teenage girl does), to experiment with her sexuality and learn how effective the experiment could be. Because she is what i would call a bit of a "brat", she bit off more than she could chew and realized her mistake when it was too late. It was impulsivness, curiosity and attention seeking that made her act the way she did.

 

Humbert I believe would not have initiated the affair. Deep down he knew what he was feeling was wrong and I don't think he would have taken it further. When Lolita made it easy for him, I think the temptation was too much to resist.

 

The book is extremely sad in some parts, heart wrenchingly truthful and shocking. I was in shock after I read it , I don't think I wanted to read another book for a couple of months afterwards!! It was still good though, an experience.

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Humbert I believe would not have initiated the affair. Deep down he knew what he was feeling was wrong and I don't think he would have taken it further. When Lolita made it easy for him, I think the temptation was too much to resist.

 

I disagree with you here. HH engineered the whole situation! Yes, he knew it was wrong, and it was opportunistic, but I think the term "grooming" sums it up.

 

The book is extremely sad in some parts, heart wrenchingly truthful and shocking. I was in shock after I read it , I don't think I wanted to read another book for a couple of months afterwards!! It was still good though, an experience.

 

Agreed :)

Definitely uncomfortable reading throughout, but beautiful writing, and the end resolved as well as it could, for me.

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Still awaiting your thoughts, Phoebus; I notice you're now reading something else. No pressure! :D

Hi Ottilie,

 

Well, the book is in two parts. I very much enjoyed the first part and was a little disappointed with the second.

 

I have always found the subject matter of the book disturbing, which put me off reading it until it was chosen as a local book club read that I sometimes attend.

 

Humbert Humbert is an intriguing character. I was impressed with Nabokov's insight into this subject, which I feel is even more impressive given that the book was was published in 1955, when the issues of paedophilia seems to have been far less well acknowledged.

 

As with (all?) paedophiles, they're liars and, to this extent, I never trusted the narrator from the beginning. I felt that he exaggerated his perspective. Paedophiles often claim (deceivingly to themselves) that the children who attract them are the instigators of the relationship, which was echoed in Humbert Humbert's account. The degree that Nabokov describes the mindset of a paedophile with what appears to be such accuracy I found worrying.

 

The book is intelligent and Nabokov treats his readers as intelligent, often giving 80% of the facts, allowing the reader to presuppose the important remainder. Reading his novels, seems to me, rather like completing a crossword puzzle. I felt that this technique, though, was better employed, in his novel The Defence, that I read just before.

 

I was a little disapointed with the second part of the novel. The voyage across the States failed to captivate me. I felt that he repeated too often the same techniques and the format of the book being diary enclosed the reader purely from Humbert's perspective (surely intentional). The downside of this, however, is that the story seemed too linear and it lost momentum for me, despite the twists towards the end of the book. I consider that the story could have been a more successful novella.

 

I think that the book falls within the genre of classics that for the most part need to be interpreted given the time that they were written, such as Catch 22.

 

A provoking and very disturbing read if not rewarding read, but in my opinion it is not Nabokov's best novel. Rather, I'd recommend The Defence.

 

 

Phoebus

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The degree that Nabokov describes the mindset of a paedofile with what appears to be such accuracy I found worrying.

 

Surely this is a quintessential quality of a good writer- to put themselves in the mind set of their characters?

Authors like Stephen King and Iain Banks often envisage hauntingly terrible acts and thoughts for their characters but I do not think that this should mean that we question their moral or mental state in any way.

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Hi Ottilie,

 

Well, the book is in two parts. I very much enjoyed the first part and was a little disappointed with the second.

 

I guessed by the lack of comment until now, that your feelings were equivocal!

 

I was a little disapointed with the second part of the novel. The voyage across the States failed to captivate me. I felt that he repeated too often the same techniques and the format of the book being diary enclosed the reader purely from Humbert's perspective (surely intentional). The downside of this, however, is that the story seemed too linear and it lost momentum for me, despite the twists towards the end of the book. I consider that the story could have been a more successful novella.

 

I agree, the book did seem to go off the rails a bit here. I like the novella idea!

 

A provoking and very disturbing read if not rewarding read, but in my opinion it is not Nabokov's best novel. Rather, I'd recommend The Defence.

Phoebus

 

Thanks for the recommendation, I've been planing to read more Nabokov since I finished Lolita. I'll add The Defence to my Christmas wishlist! :)

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As with (all?) paedophiles, they're liars and, to this extent, I never trusted the narrator from the beginning. I felt that he exaggerated his perspective. Paedophiles often claim (deceivingly to themselves) that the children who attract them are the instigators of the relationship, which was echoed in Humbert Humbert's account. The degree that Nabokov describes the mindset of a paedofile with what appears to be such accuracy I found worrying.

 

Hi Phoebus,

I'm only new here but I do have a question. Are you saying that the author himself is a paedophile or that he is putting himself so securely within the novel, as to take on that mindset? It just seems a complicated way of looking at things. I'm always of the view that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Over-analysis can lead to so many cross roads of analysis and re-analysis that it seems to lead to more questions, not less. Just seems like a lot of work! Maybe Lolita did instigate the relationship initially and the author was just conveying that fact.

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I disagree with you here. HH engineered the whole situation! Yes, he knew it was wrong, and it was opportunistic, but I think the term "grooming" sums it up.

 

Hi Ottilie,

Thanks for your reply :)

Just wondering how the whole situation was engineered? That prospect never crossed my mind. And also, how was Lolita groomed towards the outcome considering he had so little influence over her prior to her mothers death? It seems they spent very little time together before that alone.

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Hi Phoebus,

I'm only new here but I do have a question. Are you saying that the author himself is a paedophile or that he is putting himself so securely within the novel, as to take on that mindset? It just seems a complicated way of looking at things. I'm always of the view that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Over-analysis can lead to so many cross roads of analysis and re-analysis that it seems to lead to more questions, not less. Just seems like a lot of work! Maybe Lolita did instigate the relationship initially and the author was just conveying that fact.

I'm saying that he at least put himself within the mindset of a paedophile in order to have written it in such a way - as a method actor would have.

 

Even if the text implies that Lolita is the instigator, I'm saying that Humbert may well have willed this viewpoint in some way to justify his actions.

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Maybe Lolita did instigate the relationship initially and the author was just conveying that fact.

 

It's so long since I read Lolita that I can't comment in any detail, but I think the idea of a minor instigating a sexual relationship with an older man is dangerous. Children have a different idea of relationships to adults and they may go along with what an adult wants but it doesn't mean they're fully informed and 'equal' participants. Look at the Polanski case - Polanski played the part of a friendly, avuncular man who the victim's mother trusted, and then made his move. In his case, his victim struggled and said no, but I think even if a child *doesn't* struggle and say no, it still doesn't make her fair game. And I don't think I could ever say a child was the *instigator* of a sexual relationship, because even if the child makes the first move, it's the adult's responsibility to draw the boundary and not act.

Sorry if this sounds a bit severe - it's just my pov and others may well disagree. Welcome to bgo by the way, layla539.

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Children have a different idea of relationships to adults and they may go along with what an adult wants but it doesn't mean they're fully informed and 'equal' participants.

 

Yes, I agree with this. I mean I did say that if any advances were made on her part they were experimental/childlike and that she didn't mean it to go so far. He just took the opportunity then, to morph it into something more serious that she couldn't escape from. It's with him that the fault lay in my opinion, when he didn't half the whole situation in it's tracks. I would never insinuate that a child could meaningfully seduce a man like that with full intent and knowledge. Thanks for your welcome btw :)

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And I don't think I could ever say a child was the *instigator* of a sexual relationship, because even if the child makes the first move, it's the adult's responsibility to draw the boundary and not act.

I completely agree.

 

Just look at how the word "Lolita" has evolved in the English language. The dictionary definition of a Lolita is "A seductive adolescent girl" or a "Sexually precocious (unusually advanced or mature in development) young girl". To my mind, this is proof how the novel can be misinterpreted as being one where Lolita can in some way be held responsible by majoring on her apparently advanced years in sexual terms.

 

I cringe when a person says so-and-so is a Lolita.

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I think what's most unsettling about the book is that Nabokov is a fine enough writer that he can make something horrific and beautiful at the same time. I first read Lolita as a teenager myself and I have to say, I found it very disturbing. But disturbing in a thought-provoking way.

 

Also - conversation often centres around the Humbert/Lolita relationship. But it's Clare Quilty who I find a more intriguing character. To a certain extent he is Humbert's doppelganger as well as his enemy.

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I completely agree.

 

Just look at how the word "Lolita" has evolved in the English language. The dictionary definition of a Lolita is "A seductive adolescent girl" or a "Sexually precocious (unusually advanced or mature in development) young girl". To my mind, this is proof how the novel can be misinterpreted as being one where Lolita can in some way be held responsible by majoring on her apparently advanced years in sexual terms.

 

I cringe when a person says so-and-so is a Lolita.

 

I've never heard anyone say that... and I didn't even know it was in the dictionary. Was it in the dictionary before the author wrote the book, or did they put it in after? That's interesting. Maybe he got the word from the dictionary and that gave him the idea for the book??

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I think it's more a question of newspaper shorthand. There was that girl 10-20 years ago they called the "Long Island Lolita". I think she was 13, and maybe even that she killed someone? You can google it but I don't think it matters really.

 

The expression doesn't make me cringe. To call a teenage girl a Lolita does not imply support of the men who might take advantage of her. Quite the opposite, actually.

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Yeah I don't think anyone can really get inside the authors head and know what he was thinking or know exactly with what thoughts he wrote the book. Maybe Lolita was actually a fully grown woman and humbert was only seeing her as a child. But seen as the author was thinking as humbert, he wouldn't have known either, so It wouldn't have been made known in the book. Who knows?

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