Reading Lolita In My Living Room

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“For the record a ‘Lolita’ is not a young girl who wants to fuck older men. Lolita is a 12 y/o girl who is repeated raped by 36 y/o pedophile.”

This was my first tweet after finishing Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita. It was both a moment of realization & an attempt at clarification.

Like many of you, I had always assumed the term ‘lolita’ referred to a younger girl who seduces older men. Some of you may remember Amy Fisher. At 17, Fisher entered into a sexual relationship with a married auto body shop owner, Joey Buttafuoco (who seduced who is immaterial). Fisher shot Buttafuoco’s wife, Mary Jo, in the face. Mary Jo survived but Amy Fisher was dubbed “The Long-Island Lolita.” While Buttafuoco was 36, the same age as Humbert Humbert (Nabokov’s protagonist), Amy Fisher was 17 rather than the 12 of Dolores “Lolita” Haze. There is a world of difference there.

In the Urban Dictionary definition of ‘lolita’ it describes the book as “the tale of the love affair between middle-aged Humbert and his 12 year old stepdaughter Lolita.” The idea that what happens between Lolita & Humbert is a “love affair” is simply a perpetuated ignorance based off of a poor reading of the novel. I would assume that part of it comes from a particular line in chapter 29 where Humbert, our narrator, tell us about the first time he & Lolita had sex. “I am going to tell you something very strange; it was she who seduced me.”

Humbert Humbert is what we refer to as an unreliable narrator. He has been in and out of mental institutions & talks about little other than pre-pubescent girls, “nymphets” as he calls them. In other words, Humbert is a liar.

Throughout the novel he uses beautiful flowery language to cover up his crimes. Fooled by lines like, “Lolita, light of my life, fire in my loins”, the careless reader begins to believe that Humbert truly loves Lolita & begins to see this as a beautiful love story. It is not. It is the story of 36 year old pedophile, manipulating the tragedy of circumstance to kidnap a young girl & travel the country raping her in motels & travel lodges.

The genius of Nabokov is that while Humbert is hiding his crimes, Nabokov, himself, is revealing them. It’s easy to miss the meaning when a woman in the lodge asks Humbert “What cat has scratched poor you?” You almost think nothing of it, but when you stop you have to ask yourself ‘Why does he have scratches on his arm? Did I miss something?’. And you need only backtrack one sentence to find the ugly truth.

…thrusting my fatherly fingers deep into Lo’s hair from behind, and then gently but firmly clasping them around the nape of her neck, I would lead my reluctant pet to our small home for a quick connection before dinner.

“Thrusting” — “deep” — “from behind”. Nabokov did not choose these words haphazardly. He is telling us something which Humbert is not. Sodomy? Possibly, but even if it is vaginal, Humbert having scratches up & down his arms right afterwards is a big red rape flag. When you include the words “reluctant”, “pet” & “fatherly” the pictures becomes much clearer. Humbert is the one in control & Dolores is not even a human to him.

I simply did not know a thing about my darling’s mind…

How can we ignore all them times he tells Lolita that she cannot run away from him? How can we ignore him telling her that he is the only person she has & filling her with images of all the horrible things that will happen to her without him? Do people in “great love stories” emotionally blackmail one another? Do men who have been seduced pay their seducer for kinky sex? Do they then steal the money back from the girl’s room, afraid that she may buy a bus ticket to runaway? Do they prevent them from talking to boys & rent a house because, out the window with binoculars, they can watch them on the schoolyard?

Love story? No. This is rape story. The narrator (a rapist & murder) is a literary professor. He is very talented with words, but he is excusing his crimes. I could dig further into the book for more examples, but you should read the book yourself & stop using the word “lolita” wrong.

(Oh and other interesting facts: in American Beauty, Lester Burnham has a crush on teenage Angela Hayes. Angela Hayes — Delores “Lolita” Haze. Still not convinced? Rearrange the letters in Lester Burnham and you get — Humbert Learns.)

Chad Hall