Vladimir Nabokov discusses “Lolita” part 1 of 2
I can never seem to cite Nabokov’s Lolita as one of my favorite books. I could say it is one of my favorite novels, as most would claim it to be theirs, but I’m not quite certain that’s the reaction you’re “supposed” to have. (I place the word, “supposed” in quotation marks, because I may be using the wrong word here.)
I have only read it once completely. I’ve made many attempts to re-read it again, and I never seem to see it through all the way to the end. I think this is because, once you get over the initial shock of reading Lolita for the first time with virgin eyes, how else then are you “supposed” to approach it for a second, third, fourth (and so on) time all the way to the end?
And so, out of curiosity, what reaction do you think one is “supposed” to have in re-reading Lolita? Thoughts, stumblers?
I was thinking just a while ago while making yet another attempt to re-read Lolita, that: if a “supposed to” exists, then I guess you’re “supposed to” read it critically. Not empathizing with Lolita or Humbert, but attempting to find the author (Nabokov himself) within the novel.
The entire novel is supposed to be something of a puzzle. It’s a game. And filmmaker Stanley Kubrick cleverly hints at it, being a game of chess by blatantly depicting it in this particular scene in the movie adaptation; not to mention, there’s a game of Ping-Pong too towards the end of the movie.
But back to the novel. Nabokov drops clues about his identity everywhere. These clues are difficult to uncover, because of course, I can’t help but make personal connections in my reading, as with all stories.
We’re supposed to see Humbert as extremely self-absorbed and rather callous. There are multiple clues that Nabokov drops, but most incriminatingly:
The fact that he can’t tell a butterfly from a moth.
(And I just adore the way Nabokov writes this one.)
There is a specific scene in the book — I think during their travels, although I may be wrong —
where they see a white butterfly, and Humbert remarks it was, “just some moth”, or something along those lines.
For Nabokov, that is the ultimate sin.
(I giggle about that sometimes.)
Anyway, I really like the poetry in Lolita. So I guess at this point, I can now say it’s one of my favorite books, mainly, because Nabokov commands the English language so very well.
I guess if anything is the “point” of the work, I feel it is this (and I quote now from Nabokov’s own afterword):
“There are gentle souls who would pronounce ‘Lolita’ meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s assertion, ‘Lolita’ has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”
If by reading Lolita, you find yourself moved to the brink of tears by Humbert’s confession, as I find I often do every time I read the book, then it just means that we are identifying with Nabokov’s description of a state of “aesthetic bliss”.
I certainly don’t think you’re “supposed to” empathize exclusively with Humbert, or Lolita, or any of the other characters, or assume that any of them are authorial spokesmen.
However, I feel that Nabokov was a big enough artist and human that he felt, and the reader is meant to feel, an immense, almost immeasurable sense of empathy and sympathy with pretty much every single one of his characters, even the most despicable, like Humbert.
I am digressing. And so here is why I find it difficult to cite Lolita as one of my favorite books, because I can’t ever make up my mind regarding any single aspect, regardless of Nabokov’s approval.
One must also be careful not to over-analyze Nabokov, which I also fall into the trap of doing sometimes, and which most critics do. Be careful, if you have copies of annotated versions of Lolita, wherein each and every allusion is discussed in detail.
Um. I guess I’m leaving this open and hanging now.
Sorry if this review is such a mess. I’m such a mess.