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.