Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century. It is one of the classic books I challenged myself to read this year. I was reluctant to pick it, because of the story, but I was curious at the same time. It’s a book narrated by Humbert Humbert, a man in his late 30s. He talks about his obsession with young girls and about Lolita, Dolores Haze, a 12 year old girl that becomes his mistress. The book is not graphic. I’m going to share some things that, they will not spoil the book, but there are details that you might not like to read if you haven’t read Lolita and are planning to.
It was described as “troubling love story” and this made me wonder if people saying this read the same book that I did. This is not a love story at all. Humbert describes himself as a monster more than once. He gives Lolita money for sexual favours, doesn’t care how she feels when she is sick but he is focused only on his needs, scares her into submission by saying that she will go in the system if she tells anybody about him. Lolita, or Dolores Haze, is not even the only one he looks at, and she has any sort of meaning for him at 12, not older. Humbert says a few times that Lolita is ageing, as it turning 14. She said a few times she was raped by him. Even disregarding Lolita’s age I wouldn’t classify this as a love story. Also, some commented on the happy ending Lolita has, again I’m puzzled by this when reading the book. Nothing in her story seems particularly happy, considering the opportunities she might have had, given a normal life, free from abuse.
Humbert is a predator and takes advantage of a child, that doesn’t have the ability to spot what he is doing and the opportunity to confide in her mother. Her mother was a toxic parent and she wanted to get rid of her by sending her to camp and planning to send her to a boarding school. When Humbert takes Lolita from camp and brings her to a hotel for their first night together there is a scene that shows how much Lolita’s life is affected by her mother’s indifference. Lolita is drugged and asleep in the bedroom, while Humbert is downstairs in the hotel. There he looks at another “nymphet”, dressed in white and cute. She sees him watching her and tells her mother in stark contrast with what Lolita could feel safe to talk to her own mother. Lolita’s mother was more interested in Humbert’s religious beliefs than his suitability as a step-father.
Throughout the book, Humbert tries to justify his actions and emotions. He says that the Romans had intercourse with young girls. He mentions that this was accepted and sanctioned by the church only a few hundred years ago. Obviously, he is right. For example, I’m yet to see a historian declaring that Henry VIII’s grandfather was a paedophile, even if Edmund Tudor (26) married Margaret Beaufort, with the full support of the church, when she was around 12. That doesn’t justify anything. It’s still abuse of an innocent child and a horrible crime, even more, as in the 20th century we were aware of this.
Do paedophile think like this? After half a century we, as a collective, still don’t know, because this type of mental illness is not talked about. We don’t blame schizophrenics for their illness, we try to understand them and support them, but not paedophiles because their crimes are too hard for us to deal with; disregarding that this attitude only puts more children at risk.
I’ve enjoyed the book. It made me think. I wasn’t sure this book was for me before reading it, but, as I mentioned before, is not graphic and this is why I could enjoy it. The use of English is just great and the story is gripping. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. I recommend it.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Penguin Modern Classics
Year it was published: 2000 (1st edition was published in 1955)
About the author: Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899, the eldest son of a rich family. His family decided to emigrate to London after the Bolsheviks took power. Vladimir studied at Cambridge before moving to be with his family in Berlin. He published novels, short stories, plays, and poems in Russian from 1923 to 1940.
In 1940 he moved with his wife and son to US. He was a lecturer at Wellesley College before becoming Professor of Russian Literature at Cornell University, until he retired in 1959.
Nabokov’s first novel in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. The best known book by him is Lolita, controversial and a classic. It ranked 4th in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, while Pale Fire (1962) was ranked 53rd on the same list.
He was awarded the American National Medal for Literature in 1973. He died four years later in Montreux, Switzerland.
Some books by Nabokov: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Ada, Laughter in the Dark, Despair, Pain, Pale Fire, Lolita. He also published his memoir Speak, Memory in 1951.
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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Comments from the author in 1956
“Their [publishers] refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.”
Sadly his views are still accurate today, after 63 years, as the only change seems to be from “Negro” to “African-American”, but without a change in both policy and mentality. Surely, I might be wrong, so please recommend me some mixed race novels and one about a happy atheist and I would gladly read those as well.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – The Real Story?
Nabokov denied being inspired by the story of Sally Horner and he insisted that all was art. He has used the same idea, of a child molester and victim posing as father and daughter in one of his unpublished work called Volshebnik, in 1939. But, Nabokov published Lolila in 1955, he had a journal full of clippings about Sally’s case and he also mentions her in chapter 33, part II: “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”
Besides this, there are many similar aspects in the book: same year the stories happen, girls with single mothers and dead fathers, touring the US, telling people they were father and daughter, both men were married before. We can only speculate why he didn’t admit he was inspired, some would say he tried to “pilfer” (Sarah Weinman), others might say that he didn’t want to link a real person to this story, as he was aiming to write historical fiction, but a story that is, like all stories, inspired from reality. He was inspired and mentions in the book other things as well.
Anyway, I’m going to give a brief account of what happened to Florence Horner – Sally. Before reading Lolita I didn’t know about Sally and I think she should be mentioned. Her mother was working as a seamstress, her father committed suicide when she was six, and she also had an older married sister, pregnant at that time.
Aged 11, Sally tried to steal a 5-cent notebook on 13 June 1948, as an initiation into a girls’ club. A man, Frank LaSalle, saw her trying to steal it and told her he was an FBI agent. She returned home, but the following day she was accosted by LaSalle and told that she has to go with him to Atlantic City. If she refused, she would be sent to reform school. He told her to lie to her mother, that she was going on a trip with her classmate and her father.
LaSalle, a 50-year-old mechanic, was out of the prison for six months when he saw Sally, after completing a sentence for rape. He was convicted of rape, including against young girls.
Sally went with him and they spent six weeks in Atlantic City, before moving from one place to another. For a while they were accompanied by a woman in her 20s, presented as his secretary. Sally pretended to be his daughter and they even attended parochial schools in Baltimore and Dallas.
They lived in a trailer park when a neighbour, Ruth Janish, noticed that their story is a bit shady. So, when she and her husband moved to San Jose, she wrote a letter to LaSalle to tell him to relocate there as there were many jobs available. He agreed and they moved there. When he was out looking for work, Rush made Sally talk and gave her a phone to call her family. Susan’s husband called the FBI and she was rescued before LaSalle managed to get back from his job hunt. She was a captive for almost two years.
He was arrested. Newspapers at that time showed little sympathy for the 13-year-old girl, blaming her for shoplifting. How anybody can consider that stealing a 5-cent notebook justifies being raped for 2 years is beyond me. Her name was published and she was also called “chubby” or “plump”, as her body weight made any difference.
In 1952, two years after her rescue, Sally was killed in a car crash. LaSalle died in prison, in 1966, at the age of 70.