This is not a love story; this is a story about the idea of love. Humbert Humbert, a middle age European intellectual, moves to the United States where he finds the love of his life, Lolita.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (Nabokov, 7).
Dolores Haze is neither extremely pretty nor particular charming. She has freckles and skinny arms, she adores popular culture and chewing gum, she is stubborn and has an unladylike behavior. To non-pedophiles, Lolita would be a typical twelve-year-old American girl, but in Humbert Humbert’s eyes, she is the most exquisite “nymphet” in the world. A “nymphet” is a term used by the protagonist to define a seductive and sexually attractive young woman, between the ages of nine and fourteen. Humbert has had this unusual taste on women since his first love, Annabel Leigh, died when both were on their early teens. When he meets Lolita, his decease love embodied into the girl, causing him to conceive fantasies about her. Throughout the novel, Humbert decides to ignore the immorality of his actions and refuses to recognize that Lolita may not share his feelings.
Humbert Humbert employs a beautiful and poetic language, as manifested in the previously quote, in order to seduce the reader. He has an excellent skill with language, which he uses to seek sympathy within his audience. He is a very persuasive but completely unreliable narrator, that is because he deceives himself and is always on the pursuit of compassion. Humbert Humbert constantly refers to the reader as his “jury”. He also speaks of himself as a third person, with the purpose of making his statement objective and trustworthy. Humbert, to manipulate the reader, is continually making historic references about pedophilia, explaining how it is neither a sin in other cultures nor a crime in the past to marry younger girls. This is how, throughout the story, Humbert Humbert’s reader, even without approving his actions, ends by understanding him and occasionally feeling some pity for him.
The novel is divided in two parts. The first part describes Humbert Humbert’s childhood in the French Riviera where he met Annabel Leight, his first love, and his education in France and England. It also narrates Humbert marriage to Valeria, who ends up leaving him, and his decision to move to the United States. He settles down in Ramsdale where he moves in with Charlotte Haze and her nymphet daughter, Dolores. This is when the idea of Lolita is born, the idea of love. Humbert Humbert fantasies about her endlessly, he writes a diary of his daydreams and composes poems about her. He creates a Lolita that does not exists and makes her the love of his life, without realizing that it is all in his head. He does not love Dolores Haze, he loves the notion of her. In my opinion, this part is the apex of the story. This is where the narrator touches the reader. No matter how crooked he is, he succeeds at manifesting his uncontrolled craving of Lolita, and the aching that this craving causes him. He knows he is not supposed to love her, he is aware of the inaccuracy of his thoughts and the danger of his yearnings; however, he is not able of repressing his feelings. The idea of Lolita becomes like a drug to Humbert Humbert to the point of being consumed by it.
The second part of the book, I consider, looses sparkle. The story becomes monotonous, the poetic language decrease, and the real Dolores replaces the majestic and sublime thought of her. She appears as a stubborn child who is constantly shouting and rebelling against Humbert. She often shows great frustration, mostly because she feels trapped by her arrangement with Humbert but she is unable to run away because she has no one and nowhere to go. This is the part when the reader realizes that the narrator is ruining the child’s life; nonetheless, he does not become conscious of this until the end of the story. Lolita changes radically throughout the novel. At the beginning, she is an innocent and curious twelve-year-old girl. By the end of the story, after only six years, Dolores becomes a worn-out pregnant woman who does not hold rancor against Humbert Humbert for crumbling his childhood, behaving as if she had anything he could steal.
Four American publishers rejected “Lolita”, the novel, until it was published in 1955 in Paris, France. Three years later it was published in the United States, becoming a Best Seller despite its controversy. “Lolita” was banned from England and other countries for being classified as obscene and pornographic. In my judgment, the work of Vladimir Nabokov was misclassified. It is a mistake to say that the book is obscene because a rich and poetic language, which abstains from vulgar vocabulary, composes it. I also think that “Lolita” is not a pornographic novel. Yes, it holds erotic scenes that involve sexual intercourse. However, a decent language, which avoids dirty and offensive words, always describe these scenes. I won’t say it is not a crude story, but I strongly believe that it is not a story that deserves to be banned or even despised.
The first time I read “Lolita” was online. I liked the novel so much that I wanted to have it on my bookshelf. It took some time to choose the best version of the book, but I finally pick the Penguin Essential Edition published in 2011 that includes a cover art made by Kathryn Macnaughton. Soft colors predominate the cover, such as white, baby blue and light yellow. The main figure is a little blond girl holding an apple near her red lips. This image may be connected with Adam and Eve’s myth. God imposed only one limitation on paradise: not to eat the fruit of a certain tree. When Eve eats the forbidden fruit, she looses her innocence immediately. God realizes about the disobedience and expels her from heaven. Lolita’s story is similar. When the girl gets involved with Humbert Humbert, her stepfather, she eats the forbidden fruit. She looses her innocence and her life gets transformed into a living hell. She is deprived of her childhood, is psychologically abused, and is trapped into a harmful parent-lover relationship. Kathryn Macnaughton does a great job interlacing these contrasting concepts into her work: innocence and sin, heaven and hell. The Penguin Essential Edition is not just a pretty cover; it is a cover full of meaning.