“Light of his life, fire of his loins,
Keep me forever, tell me you own me.”
(Off to the Races, Lana Del Rey)
The story of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze requires little introduction. Few literary characters have generated as much polarisation and outrage as little Lola (privately nicknamed Lolita by Humbert) in slacks. Her name has taken on a life of its own within our public consciousness: Lolita, the seductive temptress. Lolita, the calculating vixen.
The Lolita in Nabokov’s novel is neither of these things. We have wildly misunderstood her and, in doing so, we have failed her.
We get to know Lolita through Humbert’s depraved lens of obsessive desire - a desire so strong that it eclipses any semblance of her identity, replacing it with an idealised image that forms the centre of his duplicitous narrative.
Nabokov constantly reminds us throughout the novel that Humbert’s chronicle is one of self-justification: why, then, do we unquestionably accept the way in which Lolita is presented within it? It is our duty to search for Lolita’s voice where Nabokov has cunningly concealed it - Lolita squirming, Lolita crying in the night. Lolita robbed of her childhood, dying while giving birth to a stillborn girl.
In buying into Humbert’s vision of Lolita, we have walked into one of the most elaborate, tightly-woven traps in all of literary history. We have become complicit in the corruption of Dolores Haze. And in that respect, we are just as guilty as Humbert.
[The fictional novel Lolita was written in English by Vladimir Nabokov and first published in Paris in 1955. It was published in London in 1959.]
Words: Catherine Karellis