Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta:the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap,at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
These very first lines would make it clear to you that Lolita is not for the pusillanimous or someone retreating to his snug confines anytime he reads something out of his comfort-zone.
It’s a bold, controversial story of a 37 year old paedophile Humber obsessed with a 12 year old ‘nymphet’ Dolores “Lolita” Haze.
The very topic is obscene, repulsive and salacious to any sensible mind.
So why would you read it? Why is it still a masterpiece?
Because, even the risqué nature of the plot wouldn’t hide the art of words that makes it a compulsive read.
Through his word-play Nabokov manages to convert from what is clearly an obsessive, vulgar piece of a solipsistic confession to a tragic, emotional love story.
Humbert is possessed by Lolita, so much so that he fails to see the injustice and cruelty of his actions.
He is a child-monster, an adulterer, a self-proclaimed trickster who relieves himself of his guilt time and time again by acknowledging himself as loved by all, sophisticated European in America who was too handsome for his own good.For him everything else is ridiculous. The American culture, its live-in-the-moment nature and pre-occupation on youth is to be ridiculed and taunted.
From the aproned pot-scrubber to the flannelled potentate, everybody liked me,everybody petted me.
“I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male… I could attain any adult female I chose”
Incidentally, because of the adolescent, unconsummated memories of his desire that was forcibly crushed at the age of 14, he is disturbingly haunted by the ghost of Annabel Leigh, with whom he had a short-term, ungratifying love affair.
He is deeply fixated on his yearnings from that time and is controlled at some level with his frustrations at the remnants of his longings.
I leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and keep
asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote summer, that the rift in my life began; or was my excessive desire for that child only the first evidence of an inherent singularity?
Humbert’s readers are his judge but he fails to completely vindicate himself. His solipsism and one-sided story makes him a psychologically disturbed fornicator.
Humbert is a psychopath who wants to own Lolita.
His obsession finally turns to love when he loses her but he is crushed when Lolita prefers Cue, who incidentally his mirror image over him.
“No,” she said, “it is quite out of the question. I would sooner go
back to Cue. I mean–“
She groped for words. I supplied them mentally (“He broke my
heart. You merely broke my life”).
The tragedy lies in the fact that even with his self-praise what really stands out is his failure as a father, a lover and even as a captor.
The tide turns even when Humbert is transformed from a seducer to a victim of his own monomania.
You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear the court,
but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poor truth. I
insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale
and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still
sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine!
The language of “Lolita” is an art.
The beauty of words dims the vulgarity and singular harshness of his paedophilia and incestuous thinking. The veil of words is beautifully lyrical. What really brings comfort is to know that no amount of trickery or self-adulation can change the truth that one always knows.
The web of lies is only for the outsiders. Inside our souls each one of us knows and laments our sins and follies and no amount of word-play can change that or rid us of our guilt.