InNoReMo 2008: Lolita, Pt. 2, Ch.s 27-36

The weird thing about this last bit is that Humbert, who has always stressed that he was not in love with Lolita as a person, but rather with the ideal nymphet he had created in his mind (see an earlier installment) now professes to really, really have loved her – even as he met the practically grown Lolita, glasses, big belly and all. One could come up with a number of theories explaining that oddity, here comes my favourite.

First of all let’s keep in mind that the memoir is written after Humbert has killed Quilty because the latter tried to seduce Lolita, if that’s what you want to call it. Humbert’s jealousy need not be based on love; rather, jealousy has a lot to do with wanting to possess; in this case it’s about having exclusive access to Lolita’s sexuality.

After Humbert has killed Quilty, his mind has to come up with an explanation for his deeds and falls for the popular stereotype that jealousy means love – and extreme jealousy, as indicated by murder, means a love supreme.

(Social Science Aside: This is a nice parallel to a problem you can run into when you try to relate attitudes and behaviour using subjects’ self-reports. If the respondent reports a certain attitude towards an attitude object and behaviour in line with that attitude, the standard interpretation is that the attitude guided the behaviour – but an alternative possiblility is that the respondend inferred the attitude from past behaviour. ((This problem isn’t wholly circumvented by studying behaviour which occurs after attitudes have been measured because past behaviour is usually the best predictor of future behaviour.)))

An obvious alternative theory is that Humbert doesn’t fool himself, but is trying to fool judge and jury. That theory’s too boring for my liking.

Favourite passage
I have left out the main characteristic of the famous Lolita smile, namely: while the tender, nectared, dimpled brightness played, it was never directed at the stranger in the room but hung in its own remote softness over chance objects – and this is what was happening now: while fat Avis sidled up to her papa, Lolita gently beamed at a fruit knife that she fingered on the edge of the table, whereon she leanded, many miles away from me. Suddenly, as Avis clung to her father’s neck and ear while, with a casual arm, the man enveloped his lumpy and large offspring, I saw Lolita’s smile lose all its light and becoe a frozen little shadow of itself, and the fruit knife slĂ­pped off the table and struck her with its silver hadle a freak blow on the ankle which made her gasp, and crouch head forward – and then, jumping on one leg, her face awful with the preparatory grimace which children hold till the tears gush, she was gone – to be follwoed at once and consoled in the kitchen by Avis, who had such a wonderful fat pink dad, and a small chubby brother, and a brand-new baby sister, and a home, and two grinning dogs, and Lolita had nothing.
And that’s it, folks...

Probably one of the coolest things that can happen to an author is that his novel’s name becomes inextricably linked with the phenomenon treated in that novel, and Lolita is the only example I can think of. A google search yields 31.000.000 hits for Lolita, 1.470.000 for Lolita porn, 149.000 for Lolita nabokov and 147.000 for Lolita nabokov -porn. It is probably not too much of a stretch to say that many, maybe even most, people who google Lolita don’t even know why – a different kind of obliteration by incorporation, if you like.

All in all, I enjoyed it very much, though not quite as much as the first time around (8.5/10) – the most likely reason for which I already gave here. With the exception of Pnin, which is reasonably entertaining, I have read none of Nabokov’s other work. Yet. Expect a review of Pale Fire on this blog within the next half year.

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