Disclaimer: I do not think that Nabokov himself was a pedophile. I do not think that he wrote this book with the intention of romanticizing the situation. I believe that Nabokov’s intention was to write a narrative from the perspective of a true villain/criminal. I am in no way saying that this book shouldn’t be read/sold. Though I think that this narrative is important, I am adamantly against romanticizing the events. I decided to post this concept piece right after Valentine’s Day because of the common misconception that Lolita has anything to do with love. It doesn’t. It is anti-love at best. Expect spoilers.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is an extremely well known book. Some consider it a love story, something that I consider deeply flawed, flawed being a gross understatement. We see and hear quite a few references to Lolita in pop culture. Lana Del Rey’s songs Lolita and Off to the Races both incorporate either lines or concepts from the narrative, Pretty Little Liars uses the book as a clue in season two to explain a character’s alias: Vivian Darkbloom, and the unrelated Lolita style to name a few. A lot of us have heard the introductory sentencing “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins…” and without proper context those lines might seem romantic. The initial reason that I picked Lolita up as a junior in high school was definitely those opening lines; I wanted to read this great love story I’d heard about vaguely, and I felt compelled to read more classics. I’d like to be honest here; I had no idea I was picking up a narrative written as perspective from the mind of a pedophile, and I was quite shocked at the things I’d heard before
Here are my top ten reasons NOT to romanticize Lolita.
- Humbert Humbert is a pedophile.
He is sexually attracted to children. the ‘nymphets’ that he describes are not women, they are pre-teen girls. Pedophilia, when acted on, is a horrendous thing that traumatizes it’s victims. Humbert acts on his fantasies. Humbert is a child molesting rapist.
- Lolita, real name Dolores, is a child.
Dolores Haze, Lolita herself, is a 12 year old girl. You read that right, she is twelve. Humber meets her when he comes to see a vacant room at her mother’s house and decides to stay because of her.
- Humbert manipulates his way into her life.
After initially situating himself closer to Dolores, Humbert pretends to love Dolores’s mother, eventually marrying her while continuing to obsess over Dolores.
- Humbert kidnaps Dolores and lies about her mother’s death.
When Dolores’s mother is killed after finding Humbert out and being hit by a car, Humbert goes to pick Dolores up from camp, lying and claiming that her mother is just ill and that they are on the way to visit her. Humbert is her new step-father, and though he knows he shouldn’t, he rushes to pick her up, fearing that she would be sent to live with blood relatives.
- Humbert repeatedly rapes Dolores.
After abducting Dolores, Humbert repeatedly rapes her. The assaults begin in hotel rooms and last through the rest of the novel until she eventually escapes with the help of a man that Humbert does not know.
- There’s never a good time to romanticize rape.
I feel like this should be obvious… If there is a disconnect, say you read Lolita and did not interpret those scenes as rape, keep in mind that Dolores is a child.
- We live in a society that is riddled with the hypersexualization of young girls.
The concept of the nymphet is in and of itself horrifying. It is a term coined to refer to children who a grown man finds sexually attractive. This is not a process that should be condoned in our society, much less romanticized.
- Delores’s experiences aren’t romantic, they are traumatic.
I will not begin this concept with “imagine being a twelve year old rape victim, forced to live with your rapist,” because, fortunately I cannot imagine that sort of hell. There’s no way that someone who wasn’t in that situation could, but I feel comfortable assuming that it was incredibly traumatic and ruinous. To even begin to consider that sort of situation positive is poisonous. Humbert’s obsession with Dolores (it was not love, potentially infatuation) is not some sort of supreme love. There is absolutely no reason to label that as a relationship goal, a life goal, etc. Do not misconstrue his abuse as love, it is not love, it is abuse.Do not misconstrue the repeated rapes as sex, there is no way to have consentual sex with a twelve year old, NONE.
- Nabokov’s intention was likely not to romanticize this situation.
Nabokov, when interviewed, indicates that Humbert was not written as a lovable or morally good character. Thought that interview deals with more than just Lolita, it’s worth reading to gain some more context on his writings and intentions. There are other examples of how the concept of the nymphet has been misunderstood in society listed in the article as well.
- Validating and romanticizing the rape of a child contributes to rape culture, victim blaming, and self-blame for victims.
Again, I feel that I shouldn’t have to explain this. Rape-culture is a concept that basically boils down to the normalization and occasional romanticization of rape. The protagonist in this narrative is a rapist, he should not be seen as someone who is loving and wonderful, he is someone vile and hate-worthy. The concept of the nymphet being even remotely to blame for her abuse, be it that she was too suggestive in pulling on her sweater or eating a sucker in front of Humbert, is incredibly indicative of rape culture and victim blaming. Blaming a child for the rapes that she endured is not acceptable. Self-blame for victims stems from victim blaming; when society tells a victim that she was to blame, she believes it. She is fragile, she is traumatized, and she should not be told to blame herself. Again: a child is not to blame for their abuse, the only person to blame is their abuser.
As you’ll likely hear me say again (maybe in an upcoming book review on a memoir), I am not (and never will be) here for the romanticizing of Lolita. If you plan on commenting an argument against that go ahead and reconsider. My stance will not change. There’s literally zero chance that I will suddenly decide to condone the repeated rape of a twelve year old, even in a fictional context.
I decided against including a link to purchase Lolita in this post, mainly because I don’t feel 100% comfortable profiting from the sales of it, though I don’t think it should be banned, etc. Again, I would strongly advise against reading it if you’d be triggered by the content.