Adventures in Reading

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
November 23, 2007, 7:14 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , ,

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

I had never noticed that the front of my cover of Lolita (the one pictured here) has a quote from Vanity Fair, which says: “The only convincing love story of our century.” I admit it sounds quite odd and disconcerting considering this is a “love story” of a rapist who abducts a child and sexually, physically, emotionally, and mentally tortures her for two years. If this is the “love story of our century” I am frankly scared. However, there is something deeply moving in Nabokov’s prose as he describes a man’s obsession (and dare I say love?) with a pre-adolescent Lolita and his final realization of how he “broke [her] life” (279).

Nabokov is one of my favorite authors and my love for Lolita has little to do with Humbert Humbert’s (the narrator, the abductor, the rapist, the poet) “love” for Lolita as much as the impressive story Nabokov weaves to allow the reader to become so mesmerized with H.H. Granted, I do think Vanity Fair is missing a great deal of the story in their bite-size surmation. In “On A Book Entitled Lolita,” Nabokov writes: “As far as I can recall, the initially shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”

If you have read Lolita, Lolita is very much that ape, but H.H. cannot even be compared to the scientist as he only realizes after he”loses” her that she had capabilities beyond an object. I also found it interesting that the two Vintage covers both depict body parts of a young woman. The edition I have shows two bare legs topped with a pleated skirt and shod with Oxfords, while a more recent version shows partial lips. Without digging into my dust collecting text books, there are one or two (yes, I am being a bit facetious) feminist criticisms that address the objectification of the female body when displaying it in a butchered form: a mouth, a pair of breasts, a navel, an ankle – but not the entire woman.

For those of you who are not familiar with Lolita, it is generically the plot of a man who rapes a girl while criss-crossing the landscape of the U.S.A. The actual sexual violence of the book is almost entirely implied as H.H. uses veiled poetry to refer to most anything of a sexual nature. H.H. quickly becomes a sympathetic character despite his actions. In addition, the actual text is established as “truth” as a result of a fictional foreward that says the book is fact. While the reader knows the novel is a fictional work, the foreward does allow for great suspension of disbelief.

Despite the nature of the book the characters become endearing. As a reader you can easily become lost in analyzing H.H.’s narrative and attempting to piece together what shreds of Lolita exists. I also confess that I find something comforting in the novel. I suppose I can best explain it as being one of my own clean, well-lighted places, which harbors the familiar despite existential crisis existing at the edges.

Other opinions: Melody’s Reading Corner, book-a-rama, Rhinoa’s Ramblings, things mean a lot

Black Friday

Working at a bookstore on Black Friday actually is not too bad. Believe it or not, no one pitches tents outside the night before opening and the police are seldom called in (we saved those shenanigans for the Harry Potter release nights). More than anything today was like a busy Friday or Saturday night but with one exception: it is the time of year where non-book people come out shopping for book people. The result tends to be a lot of confusion and frustration for both the bookseller and customer. The season, however, is only starting and my fingers are crossed that the remainder of the year will go just as smoothly.

Reading wise I have quite a bit going on right now. I am speedily working my way through rereading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and am somewhat more slowly pacing my way through Emma by Jane Austen. Emma has been the first book for me by Austen where I struggled to get through the introductory chapters. In addition, I have two more books sitting on the backburner: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy and The City of Dreaming Books by Moer. Happy reading every one!

Publishing in the 1950s

From Vladimir Nabokov’s essay “On A Book Entitled Lolita” from November 12, 1956:

“Their [publishing companies] 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.”

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