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Old 02-13-2013, 08:27 PM   #16
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I think the difference is in the fact that Hannibal's victims were either dead when we hear about them or were going to be. A dead person can't feel pain or suffer mental anguish after they are killed, but a victim of someone like Humbert can suffer even after it's all over. That and we've all had the desire at one point or another to hurt someone else for what they did (or we think they did) to us. It's easy to understand rage but not so easy to understand what makes someone like Humbert tick.
I think the discomfort can come from understanding what Humbert feels, even while disapproving strongly. There may be a secret fear that we're not so different, and an unwillingness to confront that thought in case it might be true. I don't think many people are in danger of feeling too close to Hannibal Lector, so they can read about his antics without fear of self-loathing.
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Old 02-13-2013, 10:29 PM   #17
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I think the discomfort can come from understanding what Humbert feels, even while disapproving strongly. There may be a secret fear that we're not so different, and an unwillingness to confront that thought in case it might be true. I don't think many people are in danger of feeling too close to Hannibal Lector, so they can read about his antics without fear of self-loathing.
Maybe it's even a mix of the two. We can understand rage and how it could get out of control to the extent of committing murder, and on some level we can understand what drives a man like Humbert, though we don't want to because at some time or other we all want to do something that we know is socially unacceptable. Not necessarily what Humbert chose to do in particular but something which we know is based in the dark side of our human natures. Most of us of course resist acting on such impulses and consider them to be 'unthinkable' when we hear about someone doing such acts, but at the same time it's like when we're out driving and come across a car accident. We can't help but look for the red stuff.
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Old 02-14-2013, 03:49 AM   #18
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Maybe it's even a mix of the two. We can understand rage and how it could get out of control to the extent of committing murder, and on some level we can understand what drives a man like Humbert, though we don't want to because at some time or other we all want to do something that we know is socially unacceptable. Not necessarily what Humbert chose to do in particular but something which we know is based in the dark side of our human natures. Most of us of course resist acting on such impulses and consider them to be 'unthinkable' when we hear about someone doing such acts, but at the same time it's like when we're out driving and come across a car accident. We can't help but look for the red stuff.
Yes, I'm sure it's a mix, with disgust thrown in, as well. I suppose that's a mark of Nabokov's skill, that he can produce so many simultaneous reactions, many conflicting, without it being too exasperating. A melding of all states, rather than a frenetic jumping between them.
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Old 02-14-2013, 02:40 PM   #19
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There are some really interesting ideas in the posts. I'll just comment on a couple:

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I'm about 40% in and yes the author is painting a detailed picture of Humbert's particular perversion, but I honestly don't get the reaction people have to this book. Hannibal ate body parts of his victims and no one freaks out when people read The Silence of the Lambs. We happily read extremely violent books, books from a serial killer's perspective, biographies of monsters like Hitler or Stalin, etc. and don't blink an eye, but if the topic is sex everyone gets squeamish. Damn those Puritans.
I also thought about Silence of the Lambs during my reading. I think, though, that SOTL makes it easier for us to tolerate {barely} Hannibal Lector because the film presents another perhaps even more horrible serial killer whom Hannibal is helping to capture. Further we are never really invited to deeply explore his thought processes to the extent that we are with Humbert; Nabokov pulls us into the horror through incredibly beautiful prose in which Humbert massages self-justifications and rationalizations to excuse hideous evil. In a way, Lolita is far mor frightening than SOTL


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Maybe it's even a mix of the two. We can understand rage and how it could get out of control to the extent of committing murder, and on some level we can understand what drives a man like Humbert, though we don't want to because at some time or other we all want to do something that we know is socially unacceptable. Not necessarily what Humbert chose to do in particular but something which we know is based in the dark side of our human natures. Most of us of course resist acting on such impulses and consider them to be 'unthinkable' when we hear about someone doing such acts, but at the same time it's like when we're out driving and come across a car accident. We can't help but look for the red stuff.
I think that is a powerful insight. Our pity is for Dolores--the innocent and helpless victim--but our fear is that Humbert is an evil mirror of our own weaknesses--whatever form they take. It is the pity and the fear that make reading Lolita so uncomfortable--even painful--despite the beauty of the language.

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Old 02-15-2013, 03:45 AM   #20
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...
I also thought about Silence of the Lambs during my reading. I think, though, that SOTL makes it easier for us to tolerate {barely} Hannibal Lector because the film presents another perhaps even more horrible serial killer whom Hannibal is helping to capture. Further we are never really invited to deeply explore his thought processes to the extent that we are with Humbert; Nabokov pulls us into the horror through incredibly beautiful prose in which Humbert massages self-justifications and rationalizations to excuse hideous evil. In a way, Lolita is far mor frightening than SOTL
(...)
I think that is a powerful insight. Our pity is for Dolores--the innocent and helpless victim--but our fear is that Humbert is an evil mirror of our own weaknesses--whatever form they take. It is the pity and the fear that make reading Lolita so uncomfortable--even painful--despite the beauty of the language.
I saw a small part of the film SOTL and that was enough for me. From what I saw I think the two stories are comparable; they both manipulate the minds of people, their prey, and seem to be obsessively drawn to them.
The elegant prose Humbert uses is no more than a smoke-screen, a way to justify his thoughts and actions, his disregard for other people. He uses all and everyone to get what he wants.
And in that sense this story is disturbing. Most people have morals and values that stop their fleeting thoughts (what if I.....) from being reality. That goes also for one's very private thoughts on sexuality.

And of course, Dolores is to be pitied. Futher on in the book she calls the first night she spend with Humbert 'rape'. He describes it as a consensual thing. He is unreliable narrator, so I keep thinking: "what has really happened?".

What bugs me is the role of the adults. Where is her mother, who should protect and look after her girl? She is more of an enemy to that child than a mother. Also the other adults don't seem to care.
It is a very bleak, cruel picture of society that Nabokov shows us.

And to answer my own question; yes, it is literature and not trash. It does what literature should do: examine one's own position on a subject, even though this subject touches on very private things; taboos.

Last edited by desertblues; 02-15-2013 at 05:53 AM. Reason: grammar and use of words; what else....
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Old 02-15-2013, 06:30 AM   #21
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I think that to any reasonable person Humbert clearly raped Dolores, over and over again. She was well below the age of consent (except maybe in some weird parts of the world). Girls of that age do practise flirting with men - uncles for example - whom they know and who should be safe. No decent man would see the flirting of a child as an invitation or justification to do what Humbert did.

I think her mother would have protected Dolores if she had lived, given her reaction to Humbert's journal once she found it. Mothers and daughters often battle with each other - I know I did with mine at times! - but that is really just on the surface. And of course again we are seeing that relationship, and whether Dolores was sad about her mother's death or not, through Humbert's warped view of relationships.

The awful thing is that abused children do still slip through the system and it seems a pretty grim comment on our society that it was necessary here in Australia, and no doubt elsewhere, to make reporting of suspected abuse mandatory for people such as doctors and teachers. People are so afraid of making false accusations I suppose, that they ignore their own suspicions rather than report them to an appropriate authority.

I agree: it is certainly literature, and it is certainly not in praise of paedophilia. I think it is a measure of the power of the book that so many interesting comments have been posted already, and no doubt there will be many more.
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Old 02-15-2013, 12:53 PM   #22
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The only power that Dolores could have perceived having in the relationship, even at the beginning when she first fell into his control, was her sexuality. If Humbert accurately portrayed her taking an initiative on their first morning in the motel, it is easy to realize that she already understood what he wanted and that it was inevitable. She would feel the need to wrest whatever power she could over her situation.

She would have at least dimly perceived that she would be blamed by much of society for her predicament however she responded to Humbert. Even a respected critic (Robertson Davies) in 1959 wrote that the theme of Lolita is "not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child."

He apparently ignored Humbert's musings of the daughter and then the granddaughter he might have with Dolores and how each would fall into his power as the previous generation aged.

Davies' view was similar to that of Graham Greene when he chillingly wrote in 1937 of 8-year-old Shirley Temple: "Her admirers – middle-aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire." He implied that she deliberately played to an audience of vulnerable men.

Young boys have also been victim, not only of salacious older men and women, but of powerful organizations that protected the adult and not the child. It is only in recent decades that the scarred prey have felt safe enough from further condemnation by the prevailing culture to expose the predators.

So Dolores was on her own. Her mother was dead and she questioned Humbert's part in that death. She surely feared for her own life when Humbert no longer wanted her.

I applaud Nabokov's theme. Nothing changes until it is exposed.
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Old 02-16-2013, 06:19 AM   #23
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Spot on, Belle. Terrific (and appalling) quotes.

And that blaming of the victim still goes on today. In only the last few years, a previous Governor-General of Australia had to resign after trying to exonerate a paedophile within the Anglican church, by stating that the man didn't pursue the girl, but "quite the reverse".

I agree too with your final comment. While ever individuals or institutions were able to hide what was going on, it continued unabated. It needs to have bright lights shone upon it, while ensuring lots of support for the victims who have the courage to come forward.
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Old 02-16-2013, 06:45 AM   #24
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to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body
cannot think of any situation where somebody believing the above hasn't definitely got a problem...
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Old 02-16-2013, 08:01 AM   #25
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I found that, to be able to discuss this book, I had to read it twice. The first time I was disgusted at the insight in the mind of a phaedophile.
After having dealt with my disgust I could read the story 'sec', that is as an literary piece of work.

Some further thoughts on this book:
In trying to justify himself Humbert writes about his one sided (?) relationship with Dolores in an elegant style, sometimes intermixed with French words and references to famous French writers of the 19th century; Flaubert and de Chateaubriand (p.313 dig.ed.). It is as if he tries to give his story a kind of cultural justification or a refinement, a 'savoir vivre', 'men of the world'. He appeals to a certain cultural snobbery of the reader.

Dolores mother didn't take enough care of her daughter and seemed to be jealous of her. She should have known and seen that Dolores was experimenting, with her sexuality and the power she could have over boys and men. As is normal for girls that age.
She should have seen that Humbert and her daughter were too close at times and should have talked to her daughter about these things.
When she read the diary and found out what Humbert wanted, I think she was angry at the disruption of her life, but not concerned for the safety of her daughter.

“The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious mamma, the—the old stupid Haze is no longer your dupe. She has—she has …”
My fair accuser stopped, swallowing her venom and her tears. Whatever Humbert Humbert said—or attempted to say—is inessential. She went on:
“You’re a monster. You’re a detestable, abominable, criminal fraud. If you come near—I’ll scream out the window. Get back!”
Again, whatever H.H. murmured may be omitted, I think.
“I am leaving tonight. This is all yours. Only you’ll never, never see that miserable brat again. Get out of this room.”(p.209)

Further proof of this: when (after the dead of Charlotte)Humbert wants to buy clothes for Dolores and searches for her measurements:

" One of my guides in these matters was an anthropometric entry made by her mother on Lo’s twelfth birthday (the reader remembers that Know-Your-Child book). I had the feeling that Charlotte, moved by obscure motives of envy and dislike, had added an inch here, a pound there;" (p.236)

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Old 02-16-2013, 08:46 AM   #26
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I finished Lolita today. I can understand why it has been considered a classic.
The language is fantastic.
The concept is certainly controversial in this day and age, and I have to look into how it was received back in the days when it came out.
As beautiful as the language was, and as a horrific story it tells it made me yawn and think "same o, same o". Humbert's story is pretty much the same story abusive men have told, still tell and will always tell, except in a better language than most. This time it happens to be pedophilia, but it's really the same sort of self-justification you hear from rapists, men (and women) comitting incest, pedophilacs and generally abusive men. I have come across it enough in real life to just think "blah blah blah" even when the (hopefully) fictional character Humbert goes on!
There was a quote that really caught my attention in chapter 29:

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Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! I had thought that months, perhaps years, would elapse before I dared to reveal myself to Dolores Haze; but by six she was wide awake, and by six fifteen we were technically lovers. I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me.
I so wish I hadn't heard words along those very lines (including "frigid gentlewomen") in real life! But I can only too well see this pompous self absorbed man in front of me, justifying himself!

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Old 02-16-2013, 08:56 AM   #27
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...while ensuring lots of support for the victims who have the courage to come forward.
(...steps back on soap box)

Support to help those with urges that perhaps they cannot help is also important to keep them from re-offending. Those who come in contact with a person who is sincerely trying to control himself (or is closely monitored by the state) should take care not to reinforce their self-loathing and alienation. He (or she) must believe in the possibility of having a good and respected life, or success will be difficult.

(...steps off soap box)

And now: back to Lolita.
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Old 02-16-2013, 09:20 AM   #28
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I applaud Nabokov's theme. Nothing changes until it is exposed.
I agree! When reading the book I was thinking about how clear it was that Nabokov thought Humbert was completely in the wrong, but that his view may not have been the obvious one.
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Old 02-16-2013, 10:46 AM   #29
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I applaud Nabokov's theme. Nothing changes until it is exposed.
You also have to wonder if he's really talking about Lolita or the need for thngs to be exposed on a broader level. I mean he was born in Russia and then from around 1920 to 1937 his family lived in Germany. So he lived under the early communists and the nazi's before coming to the U.S. And with McCarthy and his hearings you have to wonder if he was trying to stir up a hornets nest about how corruption hides away and then tries to excuse itself when it is found out. He seems to have picked a controversial story setup for what back then must have seemed a controversial idea. That of exposing such corruption I mean.
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Old 02-16-2013, 10:56 AM   #30
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What an interesting thought Chrich! I'm just back from a walk, and as usual I was thinking about the book I just read and wondered about what made him write such a "different" book at that time! And what made him do it the way he did: Letting Humbert tell his story the way he did and by doing so expose him.

(I'm sorry I can't put proper words to my thoughts in English. Even though I read without difficulty I don't actually use English myself except for in forums, so my vocabulary is very limited when it comes to expressing "deeper" things.)
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