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Vladimir Nabokov - Lolita

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It's been a few years since I've read Lolita, but for me this book is a very clear example of the unreliable narrator technique. Humbert portrays Lolita as a seductress in his own mind, while for the most part she's oblivious to this, her 'seductive' behaviour largely filtered through and inventive by Humbert's paedophile mind. It's a more extreme version of how men often perceive flirtatious or sexualised behaviour in women who themselves only intend to be friendly or social, and a great exploration of the psychology of self-justifying criminal behaviour. 

 

That said, does anyone else see similarities between this book's treatment of Lolita and the treatment of Alice in Patrick Marber's play (and later film) Closer? Both are seen through the exploitative lens of male admiration, and both suffer for it. I would not be surprised if Marber took some direct inspiration from Nabokov's opus.  

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Try reading this directly after Kierkegaards' "Seducers Diary"... its an interesting group of comparisons.

A lot of modern examples of hyper intensified sexualisation and misogyny seem to have been borne out of this Humbertian example.

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Try reading this directly after Kierkegaards' "Seducers Diary"... its an interesting group of comparisons.

A lot of modern examples of hyper intensified sexualisation and misogyny seem to have been borne out of this Humbertian example.

 

I'm not familiar with the Seducer's Diary but I would definitely agree with your second statement. But the worst part isn't necessarily that the book inspired such offspring, but that the modern examples seem largely ignorant to the irony of Nabokov. Reminds me very much of the famous ending to the film The Graduate,  in which a bride leaves her intended at the altar to run off with the main character. A lot of movies after have partially copied this, but seem to completely forget the deep ambiguity that followed that scene. After jubilantly jumping on a bus together, the two characters sit in awkward silence, the sudden awareness of the profound social transgression they committed seeming to dawn on them along with a complete inability to determine what happens now, what happens next.

 

Like the movies that copies this scene in a far less ironic and self-aware fashion, the successors to Lolita seem to largely take the story at face value. In fact, I would posit that the entire 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' genre (you're probably familiar with the term, but if not it refers to that quirky, flighty, sort of larger than life girl character who comes along in so many films to 'save' the male main from his own ennui) is predicated on a completely unironic view of the Nabokovian girl seductress (though usually lacking the overt manipulative element that Humbert imagines). 

 

The play/movie I mentioned before, Closer, breaks with this trend in the character of Alice, because while she seems to fit the mould, we can actually see how completely she's taken advantage of by her partner, who uses her as inspiration and saviour until someone more "serious" comes along, only to return to her again and repeat the initial behaviours. Additionally, despite the abusive sexuality most of the characters display in this story, Alice, though interpreted by the men around her as a flighty ingenue, is the only character in an immoral universe to practice sexual honesty. 

Edited by Kolinahr

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What other novels by Nabokov would you all recommend? I admit I gave up on Lolita. I found it very mannered and had little sympathy with the characters. Always a big turn off for me.

Have you tried reading his short story, Symbols and Signs?

 

It's available online here:

 

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/05/15/symbols-and-signs

 

Also, I didn't want to create a new thread but was wondering whether anyone had read Pale Fire or Ada or Ardor?

 

I am thinking of reading Ada as I bought a copy ages ago and love Nabokov's writing style. Pale Fire has also been on my TBR list for a while, but I've always been put off as I assumed it would go over my head.

 

Would love to hear peoples thoughts on his other works.

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Have you tried reading his short story, Symbols and Signs?

 

It's available online here:

 

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/05/15/symbols-and-signs

 

Also, I didn't want to create a new thread but was wondering whether anyone had read Pale Fire or Ada or Ardor?

 

I am thinking of reading Ada as I bought a copy ages ago and love Nabokov's writing style. Pale Fire has also been on my TBR list for a while, but I've always been put off as I assumed it would go over my head.

 

Would love to hear peoples thoughts on his other works.

 

 

No, neither as of yet.  Even though I have them on the shelf.  My husband has read Pale Fire and enjoyed it, I can't remember if he's read Ada or Ardor yet though. 

 

I've only read 12 or 13 of Nabokov's books, I'd decided to begin at the beginning and read through in order after I'd read Lolita.  It's interesting to do it in that manner, it shows the progression of his art beautifully.  I can also recommend Brian Boyd's books on Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years.  Absolutely fascinating, covers all of VN's books, and his life.  Boyd is probably THE expert on Nabokov.  Well worth the reading.

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I read Lolita a few years ago. Humbert Humbert was a bad man, and why did his parents call him Humbert? It is not an easy read. The sentences were convoluted: all those bracketing commas and subordinate clauses! I enjoyed the first and second parts, but l lost the thread in the third part. I think this was the least good part of the book anyway and a bit implausible.

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On 4/12/2017 at 0:03 AM, KEV67 said:

Humbert Humbert was a bad man, 

 

What do you mean by being 'bad'? I am curious as I often hear people use the word 'evil' in relation to this character and I am never sure what they mean, because in my mind there is no such thing as someone being 'good' or 'bad'.

 

On 4/12/2017 at 0:03 AM, KEV67 said:

 I think this was the least good part of the book anyway and a bit implausible.

 

Again, not sure what you mean by implausible - there are certainly people like Humbert out there.

 

 

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It has been a while since I read it, and I was a bit confused by the final third, but didn't Humbert Humbert eventually track down the fellow paedophile who took Lolita away from him, after months of searching, and shoot him dead? I thought that was rather unlikely. It was very much not in his self interest. Humbert Humbert was very cynical. Although it was no doubt very annoying to him to have had Lolita lured away from him, she maybe only had one good year left. I would have thought he would start looking for another twelve-year-old.

 

I thought Humbert Humbert was bad because he appeared to have no conscience. He never struggles with his conscience although he sometimes justifies himself. I seem to remember near the beginning of the book that Humbert Humbert was married. He beat his wife if that was the easiest way to control her. He is prepared to use violence if that is the easiest way to get what he wants, but if not, he uses other methods. He is in control of himself. There was an entertaining passage where he says neither shy boys nor self-sufficient rapists with hotrods held any interest for Lolita because she was so sexually experienced already. Timid boys and self-sufficient rapists are morally equivalent to him. It does not bother him that Lolita felt like she did.

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