This Vanity Fair review of ‘Lolita’ is many a time misconstrued. While some think it condones pedophilia and is referring to this story as a romance, I believe it has a different meaning. It is simply stating that Nabakov intended to convince his readers that this was a love story against their own morality.
“The only convincing love story of our century.” —Vanity Fair
There can be many interpretations of the same novel, different ideas about what the author was trying to convey, insight into any allegories and debates over the best characters. This is what makes book discussions so enjoyable, however, there is one text where the interpretation has real world implications, that being the controversial ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabakov. Whilst many found the book disturbing, there are some (usually women), who appear to view it as a love story. They speak of nymphets as magic creatures rather than illusions to children, they state that Humbert Humbert is not a pedophile! Rather a pedophile desires children who have yet to hit puberty (although Humbert states he is attracted to 9-year-olds) and they gush about how well he treats her. It appears as though these readers skipped the part where Humbert reveals that she would cry every night or that he wished to impregnate her so he could have sex with their child. Not exactly romantic, although these hints to the real horror are purposefully subtle throughout.
These problems stem from the alluring idea of forbidden love. If you state that the two are misunderstood it can give way for horrific crimes to be committed under the guise of passion. Whenever Dolores gives Humbert a wink, suggestively eats or ‘seduces’ him this is said to be her showing consent. She loved him too. He would have been with her no matter her age, rather he was just searching for his first love reflected in her eyes. This is the fundamental flaw with this interpretation, we are being shown this child through the eyes of her rapist. He may be infatuated with her, but since when has obsession been romantic when it leads to kidnapping a child after her mother’s death? The French film ‘À la folie… pas du tout‘ is a great example of a film which shows how devastating this type of relationship can be, very completely picturesque and idea through the eyes of the predator. The truth is that ‘Lolita’ is supposed to be read as a pseudo-romance. The beautiful prose, the picturesque road-trip, and the alluring beautiful girl. This is intentional, it gives you a false sense of security that is supposed to cause you to sympathize with the villain. It takes something you fundamentally disagree with, child sex abuse, and turns it on its head. The reason I state this has an impact on society at large is that if you take away from this book that children can consent, this can desensitize you to rape. Many abusers are known to befriend their victims or even be close family members, they create a sense of trust and can even act kindly towards their prey.
“I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it…”
Dolores is abandoned with a man that she knows has interested in her, her mother has just died and now she is stranded with him. The only love manifesting from this grieving child left with a rapist is named Stockholm’s syndrome. She has no other choice but to survive. Even at the end of the novel she even appears to see herself as at fault, victim-blaming herself for rejecting Humbert. If she loved him so much why did she escape him? Why did she marry another man? He arrives at her doorstep and she turns him away, whilst stressing that he ruined her life. He even admits that he knew she never loved him and he was monstrous to her. This is a love-story completely void of consent, it is controlling, disgusting and harmful to a young child. Romanticising psychological and physical abuse under the guise of star-crossed lovers simply makes Dolores complicit to her own rape. So the next time you hear someone speak fondly of the misunderstood love story in ‘Lolita,’ be sure to point them in the right direction.
Let me know your opinions below!
Side photo credit: Flickr/ ‘Pink Rose, Queenstown, NZ’ by VJ Subramanian