Some old college writing on Lolita

I found it! Some reflective writing on Lolita from a Literature class in the Spring of 2000. It's not a cool as I remembered it to be.

Nothing in the realm of fiction has broken my heart as Lolita did. I read it years ago, but felt less like Humbert Humbert then, and longed less for my innocent childhood days. At once, I mourned for Dolores’ lost innocence and despised the depraved monster that stole it. But I also found myself reading on with, I’m embarrassed to admit, a certain curiosity. Of course, my defense will be that I was being manipulated by one of the true masters of the English language, although Nabokov deems his English “second-rate.” What, I wonder, does that say about me, the trusting reader?

Lolita is also a wonderful travel novel, albeit one propelled by desperation. The descriptions of the roads, various motel rooms and inns, and the plethora of vivid characters along the way, in totality make for a brilliant illustration of early to mid-century America. Yet, with all the incredibly vivid scenery, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are witnessing the perspective of an established liar and scoundrel. I have come to realize that “modernist” writers, if that can mean anything useful, are merely attempting to offer another kind of realistic experience. After all, when in real life do we have the benefit of an omniscient narrator with no interest in the outcome of his/her story? Is it not more realistic to read the story of a man who at least reveals that he is employing all his verbal faculties in order to persuade us, the jury? Perhaps some of the literary conventions of modernism are simply a new realm of realism. Or, perhaps, after experiencing Lolita, it is necessary for both terms to be abandoned.

2. Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

“You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” (chap 1, para 3).

The synopsis on the back of my copy calls the novel, “Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humber’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze.” Isn’t that beautiful? Sounds like a quintessential Romance novel. It manages not to use the terms phedophilia, rape, abduction, and “creep in the park who is rubbing himself on your daughter”… and other contemporary terms we use when this type of “love affair” happens in reality.

Apparently, according to the back cover of the same book, a Time magazine reviewer called it, “Intensely lyrical and wildly funny.” I think I missed the wildly funny part. Where was that? Okay, I did chuckle at some of his prickly observations of American culture. But what else is funny about it?

But I love the book. I suppose I have to admit my grimacing interest in (concern for?) the despicable pursuit, and my outrage at the abuse. I certainly enjoyed the scraps of triumph as the growing, petulant Dolores drives the sleazebag to madness. How many times did I wish the bastard hit by a car, kicked in the groin, walked in on by a hotel employee. Alas, the pedophile has his way again and again, knowingly destroying that whom he professes to love.

I suppose I object to all the reviewers, academics and publishers of this novel who call it a love affair, or love of any type but the grossest kind of solipsistic self-love. And I think Nabokov would agree that too many readers have fallen for Humbert’s greasy charms. It should be no surprise, though, as we have all heard someone argue the “she seduced me!” defense (hopefully in reference to someone of a compatible age!). See, so many of us are already prone to accepting this rationalization from men. We are half way to believing Humbert before he speaks. Lionel Trilling says that we then, “find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents … we have been seduced into conniving the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting.” As readers, we are implicated in the crime.

But I love the book. I love it. As a reader I am captivated; as a writer I am humbled. It contains some of the richest, emphatic language I’ve read to date. Nabokov said it is, in part, about his “love affair with the English language” (Nabokov’s essay, “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” which is appended to my edition). I can’t say enough about his incredible lyrical style. It amazes me to think the Russian is his first language. English wasn’t even his second. There is a poetry to his writing that is moving, powerful. I will certainly read other Nabokov works in search of it. Partly with the hope that it doesn’t only reside in the voice of a pedophile!

Great book. I recommend it to anyone who 1) is old enough to understand that Dolores is not to blame for Humbert’s sickness (the narrator is quite slick with word play: puns, double entendre, and the outright lie) and 2) is not a victim of the Humberts of the world.

1. The Business of Fancydancing

by Sherman Alexie

This is a small book of his stories and poems. His poetry has a clarity and simplicity that makes me glad about poetry again each time I read it. I read a lot of poetry and much of it is uptight, insecure bullshit. I'm afraid that might include my own. So reading Alexie's I feel at once so obviously not an Indian and that words have power when they are strung together with love and care.

There's love and care for words themselves, the reader, and for the subjects he writes about.

Also, he was very funny on The Colbert Report in late November:


I ain't been read'n so much. It's in the past. In 2009 I'm going for 50 again. I love the goal.