Humbert’s Justified Innocence

As part one of Lolita comes to a close, the story has been taking a very gradual turn downhill. Now suddenly Humbert reveals Lolita’s mother’s death. But, throughout it all Humbert maintains that he is innocent. 

One thing about Humbert’s claim to innocence that I’ve noticed is that he acknowledges that his passion is dark and unacceptable. Even in the act of taking advantage of Lolita while she is knocked out Humbert sees that his lust could make Lolita “explode in screams if I touched her with any part of my wretchedness.” Maybe this is why he finds it easier to pretend he is her daughter.

Humbert first admits to the reader that he is truly like any “sex [offender] that hanker[s] for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child,” in chapter 20. It seems that Humbert simply doesn’t care what people define him as because the “gentle and dreamy regions through which I crept were the patrimonies of poets — not crime’s prowling ground.” In fact, he claims Lolita seduced him. The fact that Humbert blatantly ignores his part in spoiling Lolita’s innocence suggests to me that he uses a constructed image of Lolita to build her character. It’s also kind of unsettling for me that Lolita is portrayed as being compliant with many of the things Humbert does.

J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace describes what seems to me to be a more realistic version of pedophilia. In his novel, the main character is a divorced English professor with a strong sexual appetite. After running out of other options he starts to prey on his students. In one section, the sexual relationship he develops with one of his favorite students degenerates quickly into rape, but, like Humbert, the character maintains that he is being a true romantic and that his actions are justified by some carnal law that he believes rules most humans. Although in Disgrace the girl subjected to rape is a college student, it seems like Lolita should be having some sort of more serious reaction to what has gone on so far despite being not-so-innocent as she seems.

Sexual Constructs and Lolita’s Vague Complicity

In Part 1 of Lolita, HH and Lolita blatantly consummate their budding relationship sexually. In a different context, perhaps, HH’s hotel rendezvous could be perceived as romantic, or the fulfillment of some anxious plot convention that readers are salivating over (sorry for the gross sexual implication there). In other words, as a reader, I felt as if I needed to pinch myself as a reminder that this wasn’t in fact love, but a manipulative perversion or warped physical lust that could hardly be described as consensual in progressive terms. This hazy courtship of sorts does raise interesting questions about the social constructs surrounding sex and love, however; the episode of Big Love and its culturally subversive depiction of a polygamist set-up as seemingly “normal” and not all that unbelievable in its sincerity is a worthy complement to Lolita as well. I think it would be too simple to link HH and Bill Hendrickson simply via their sexual desire — Bill’s belief in the necessity of having three wives seems more grounded in a religiously backed quest to bolster Mormon blood lines than menage a trois fantasies — but it’s clear that their respective arrangements of choice are not simply unconventional/frowned upon in general society but could be cast as potentially harmful for the subservient females, as well. HH’s libido-fueled fascination with nymphets seems rooted in his “victims'” innocence and youthful spirit as much as pure sexual satisfaction, an innocence that prevents Lolita/HH from behaving as equal lovers each acting out of free will. Lolita is easily malleable and possesses a crude sexual curiosity perhaps befitting a budding 12-year-old, and HH preys upon that. But, as HH himself says, history seems to throw doubt at the presupposed moral depravity present in this pedophiliac relationship. Should societal expectations for love and sexual desire change with the times/collective thought, or should one be able to inherently know that a 30-something having a sexual relationship with a prepubescent girl is wrong of itself even without societal validation? If nobody condemned such behavior, would all of us still find it repulsive and deeply problematic, or would we merely shrug and accept it as a particular manifestation of love? In other words, are we somehow socialized to know that a man loving a “girlchild” is wrong, or is that revulsion innately within us? The same applies for Bill. His arrangement makes practical sense based on his dogma of choice, and seems to fulfill a powerfully male desire for multiple women at once (thus, more sex). Awkward domestic dynamics and sexist utilitarian practice aside, Bill’s polygamist marriage seems relatively happy, functional, and fulfilling (at least to him). Is it acceptable to label such an arrangement as “wrong?” I think the real problematic thing here is the male-centric expressions of sexuality on display here. In Bill’s case, his wives are only as good as their use and ability to pop out children, while HH’s nymphets are unable to ascertain decisions for themselves because of their age. In each example, the sexual expectations and terms of the “love” are determined unequivocally by the male. Testosterone=agency, doing what one wants, holding the power, and that fact is more problematic than going outside acceptable social models of relationships, I think.

Finally, there is the question of HH’s unreliability as narrator and whether Lolita really seduced him in their first sexual experience as he claims. Based on her sobbing through the walls (which could obviously spring from her mother’s death or general sexual anxiety she described from camp, too) and vague half-joke that she would accuse HH of rape, it is a legitimate question whether or not Lolita was raped by HH. Of course, it could easily be argued that regardless of whether she expressed interest or willingness to sleep with HH, it was rape because she was in no position to consent and she was not in a position of agency. A man having sex with a child is always rape. But HH could have likely avoided guilt and shame at the overall discord of his actions by casting Lolita as the instigator when he instead exploited her sexual confusion/immaturity for the fulfillment of desire. What do you think? Was HH’s sexual experience with Lolita more rape than mutual desire fulfilled? Although Nabokov’s work is not some oddball descent into repulsive, shock-value sexual expression, it is worth asking if the reader is supposed to feel sympathy or care about the ultimate well-being of HH and Lolita (especially when HH’s well-being is directly tied to his having sex with young girls). Is Lolita a symbolic representation of a forbidden sexual wildness, or a stab at a prudish mainstream sexual culture, thus making HH a sort of liberating, “root-for-me” protagonist? And what/who is it that readers are supposed to root for, after all? Anybody?

 

P.S. I accidentally posted this as “jordan fries” by itself instead of on our group blog. I posted it last night (and can verify that for you) yet just now realized it didn’t actually post on the class blog. My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Chance, Coincidence & McFate

While there have been several instances of “coincidence” in previous sections of the narrator’s story, it wasn’t until this section of the novel that I really started to question just how coincidental some of these events were.  For example, if Charlotte’s death was a coincidence (and accident), why did Humbert choose to lie to Lolita about it?  And if he lied in order to protect her feelings, why didn’t he keep the lie going rather than telling her so quickly after she asked to call her mother?  To me, it seemed like a pointless lie because he told Lolita the truth so quickly.  It’s like he realized the lie wasn’t worth keeping up.  He lies in minor ways to other characters on numerous occasions, and on a large-scale, he is ultimately living a lie–supressing his true nature and desires.

Next I started to wonder about other details of his story.  What was the true purpose of the sleeping pills?  Does Humbert really want to drug Lolita in order to protect her innocence, or would it prevent her from struggling, remembering and telling someone, or otherwise complicating the situation?  I also found it interesting that he decided to take Lolita on a road trip after revealing her mother’s death.  Was the intent to distract her from her mother’s death or move Lolita from place to place so nobody would have the chance to suspect their relationship?  Does he shower her with gifts out of affection or so she doesn’t make a scene and tell someone what’s going on?  Ultimately, I am not convinced that he is above lying to his jury, the audience, or that he always has the best intentions.  He seems to have justification or an excuse any time his actions are questionable (i.e. after he and Lolita have sex he justifies it by reminding readers that it is acceptable in some cultures.)

I’ve felt unsure about Humbert’s stability and trustworthiness since he told us about his time in psychotherapy, but do you think he is a trustworthy narrator?  Are his intentions as “innocent” as he describes them?

Lolita and Humbert’s Relationship

By the end of part one is is clear that Humbert and Lolita have a sexual relationship. Although they have sex and share “passionate kisses”, I fell like neither one of them desires the sexual relationship. Since Lolita is at that age she has a curiosity about sex, this is shown by her acts a summer camp with Charlie. After having sex with Humbert, Lolita uses this as a way to control Humbert by threatening to tell the cops he raped her. She seems to enjoy his affection, but also is bored with his constant infatuation. It seems like she is just using it to take control of Humbert.

Humbert appears to long a sexual relationship with Lolita, but as you read you find out he doesn’t want the physical act. The first clue is that when Humbert gives Lolita the sleeping pill, he merely fantasizes about her he never actually used this to take advantage of her. The second reason would be that he doesn’t describe having sex with Lolita. This may be Nabokov refusing to take this to an even more disgusting level, or making Humbert even more complex with his journal and they way he tells his story. I hope to believe it is because he didn’t want to take it further.

Even though it seems like this is what Humbert really wanted and Lolita asked if he had had sex when he is a child, doesn’t really show me this is what they both truly want. Sometimes thinking about something and the anticipation fulfills your self needs. For example anticipating Iowa’s football season all summer got me really exited. Then every Saturday was almost a let down because I built the perfect scenario in my dreams. This example proves why Humbert had the dream about a more romantic sexual experience with Lolita than actually happened.

The way Humbert journals about Lolita through the first part and how he desires her; not going into deal about having sex tells me he doesn’t want to physical sex. I believe the thought and the games he has to play in order to make it happen is what really attracts Humbert to nymphets. Some people just have weird fetishes and things that get them aroused, for Humbert its Nymphets. In Big Love Bill needed Margene, Humbert needs something far different. My conclusion about Humbert after part one is the chase is what really attracts him to nymphets, he isn’t 100% physically attracted.

Lolita: Development of Belonging

We are brought into the life of Humbert which is a life far from simple. In relation to belonging, he appears to be at this temporary battle with himself. He pushes away a person within himself that would be greatly frowned upon by society for some time. He acknowledges the behaviors he is doing as not accepted. He does however not completely avoid the feelings. I see a constant struggle to reach a decision in what emotions he wants to let through. 

This same struggle in feelings is greatly reflected in his behavior. He does not hold jobs for long periods of time nor does he stay in the same place for long. He had a perfume job until he got ill. The illness was followed by a trip to the arctic. He then went to an institution due to health issues again. He describes his habits referring to the perfume job in chapter 9 saying, “I welcomed its desultory character and pseudoliterary aspects, attending to it whenever I had nothing better to do.” Again he is showing this constant struggle to find belonging and reach a point of contentment. 

This temporary absence of belonging appears to end however when he comes across Lolita. When he sees her the previous war of feelings inside of him end and the love for young girls takes over. Lolita triggered something in Humbert that created an acceptance of his true wants. When this happens, he returns to the state of belonging we are shown when he is with Annabel. He always wanted the emotions he had had with Annabel and after she was gone, the complications with desire seemed to begin. Lolita fills the hole Annabel left thus ending the avoidance of his true self.