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. 

Humbert’s place in society and his love for Lolita

The character of Humbert Humbert is very intriguing, and can be discussed in various ways, in relation to the topics in our class.

The first area I’d like to address is his societal role, or what we could relate to ‘belonging’. As a middle-aged educated European man, he is viewed as a charming and mysterious member of American society. He has a well paying job as a professor, and does not have a problem attracting women.

However, this could be taken as coincidental or ironic, considering when you peel back the layers of Humbert, he also fits the mold for some of the most disdained members of our society. He admits to being a murderer, and we later learn he is a pedophile. He watches young girls in the park, though has rarely made advances toward any of them. He is the kind of person most people would never want anything to do with. He also sees prostitutes, rather than maintaining normal relationships with adult women.
Essentially, if one heard a single description of Humbert, the “successful European writer”, or the “lecherous pervert”, they would have very contradicting perspectives and ideas about the same individual.

Perhaps the author was trying to show his audience that a person can not be judged based on a few observations or common facts. A person can have many sides to themself, even though most are very good at hiding the less desirable ones.

The second theme I would like to discuss is love. I would honestly say, that as unsettling as it may be to some, Humbert does love Lolita. He recounts her as this endearing and charismatic young girl. He finds almost every single thing she does absolutely riveting, comical, or charming. Though he comes off as quite obsessive, I do think it is his way of loving her. I also think he loved Annabel, though not to the extent of his feelings for Lo.
Our stereotypical idea of love is that of two people close in age, who share many similarities, interests and are at the same places in their lives.

Humbert and Lo are two very different individuals. The most obvious difference is the decades-long age gap. Another is their hobbies. Humbert enjoys literature, writing, the arts, and  cultural enrichment, in general. Lo, much like most teenage girls, enjoys more shallow and materialistic endeavors. She enjoys discussing celebrities, pop culture and pop music, and frivolous schoolyard gossip. From the outside looking in, they have nothing in common, other than their street address.

The love and adoration Humbert has for Lolita can be very difficult to understand. I try to think of it in the terms of, though she is young, he perceives her as much more mature for her age. Some of his attraction for her is also more than likely linked to his past experience with his childhood love, Annabel.

All of the aforementioned contribute to the fascinating character that Nabokov has created.

So, what do you guys think? Do you see Humbert as a misunderstood individual, or as a lude child molester, or something completely different?
Do you think he loves Lolita, or is just extremely fascinated and obsessed with her because of her age? Do you think Nabokov is trying to tell us something by painting a picture of this wildly contradictory character?

Lolita & Themes of Innocence (Or lack thereof)

As Chloe pointed out in her last blog post, I too had an immediate reaction to the title of Lolita in itself. When we were first discussing books we would be reading, I did a little research on it. I was curious why the boring, innocent name of Dolores would be ignored for the exotic, exciting name Lolita. Throughout the reading I have discovered a theme of not innocence, but really the lack of it. Right away, there is a 12 year old girl. Her youth should represent innocence. However, she is described by our narrator as not a virgin and seductive. It’s his claim that she came onto him. Although this is coming from an unreliable narrator, what does he want us to think of little Dolores? As I mentioned, youth naturally goes along with innocence. However, we are being shown a different picture of this 12 year old girl. Throughout the reading Humbert never claims that he is innocent, but he never takes the blame for things. He always has a reason for what happened, but it often is blamed on the other person involved.

I’ll leave you with a quote that stood out to me and a final question. This can be found in chapter 5 on pages 19-20.

Humbert tried hard to be good. Really and truly, he did. He had the utmost respect for ordinary children, with their purity and vulnerability, and under no circumstances would he have interfered with the innocence of a child, if there was the least risk of a row.

 

Humbert would under no circumstances interfere with the innocence of a child, if there was risk of getting caught. Do you think that Humbert has respect for others? When he sees innocence in someone, is there respect given or does he prey on it?

 

 

How Words Meet Justifications–Even If They May Not be Needed

My first reaction to Lolita is actually that name itself. Lolita. It is her name, but it is only her name in the arms of Humbert Humbert.  In fact, her name is really Dolores.  It seems that her real name and her pet name are total opposites.

Dolores. A name that connotes nothing sexual whatsoever.  The name is completely ordinary.  Dolores is the twelve-year-old child that throws tantrums with her mother in public places.

But Lolita. The name honestly sounds exotic. It sounds foreign.  Suddenly, it seems okay for Humbert Humbert to fantasize about her, because she becomes a different person.  But he makes her into that different person.  He seems so fixated on the girl from his past that he is grasping to have that back.  But he knows it’s wrong. He even tried resisting his infatuation for a while with prostitutes.  But then he would sit in the park. And then he’d find younger prostitutes.

It seems that this protagonist that we have been given contorts language to justify his needs.  These girls are not just pre-adolescents; these girls are nymphets. The label then makes it appear as though they are intentionally sexual to him–that they make him want them.  And the same seems to go for the name Lolita.  The new name displaces her from reality and into the world that Humbert Humbert dreams about.  Even the way the name fits in the mouth for each syllable–each “l” is a lick of the teeth, the “t” is also very forward, and the balance of vowels make the word very open.

It may seem odd to analyze something down to a name, but it is important.  If this book is intending for the audience to support Humbert Humbert, then there is a reason why.  The way that he justifies it is the way that we will justify it.

Which brings up the most logical of his arguments. There is a part in chapter five in which he mentions a multitude of celebrated men throughout history who married girls in the same age range that he is fond about.  And that is completely true.  For a long time, it was perfectly okay for a twenty or thirty something year old man to marry a thirteen-year-old girl without any issues of morality.

So it begs some questions.  Though we can agree that a pre-adolescent is not mentally equipped for romantic relationship, does that make Humbert Humbert’s attractions wrong?  If, historically speaking, it used to be considered normal and okay, and then does he really need to make excuses?  Maybe it really is just human nature and society condemns him for being merely human.