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Old 03-09-2013, 03:34 PM   #61
crich70
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I wanted to know what was really going on in her mind and how much pain she was enduring as opposed to how Humbert presented various situations to the reader.
Wouldn't that have defeated the purpose though? I mean if we really knew how much she was hurting as a result of Humbert's actions there would go any chance of our being able to listen to his story. And it is a story told from his viewpoint so any empathy or whatever we feel towards him would be lost or tainted. We can't condone what he does, but we do listen to him as he tells the tale.
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Old 03-09-2013, 05:02 PM   #62
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I was commenting on this technique of the one-sided narrative and the effect it has on the reader. It would have been an entirely different book had Dolores had her own voice in equal to Humbert. It probably would have made the subject matter significantly less palatable. But I still wondered what she was really thinking because you couldn't rely that everything Humbert said was truthful from her perspective.
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Old 03-09-2013, 06:00 PM   #63
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Thanks for the great insights, issy. I hadn't picked up on the anti-Semitism but of course it would have been there. (I think for example of Groucho Marx being refused membership of a swimming club and saying that as his daughter was only half-Jewish, could she join and just go into the water up to her waist. It's funny, but he was using humour to highlight prejudice.)

Yes, at the end I thought immediately that Dolores could not have lived much beyond Humbert, and that's why I went back to reread the Introduction.
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Old 03-09-2013, 11:01 PM   #64
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Thanks for the great insights, issy. I hadn't picked up on the anti-Semitism but of course it would have been there. (I think for example of Groucho Marx being refused membership of a swimming club and saying that as his daughter was only half-Jewish, could she join and just go into the water up to her waist. It's funny, but he was using humour to highlight prejudice.)
me too, completely lost that point!
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Old 03-10-2013, 05:03 PM   #65
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I was commenting on this technique of the one-sided narrative and the effect it has on the reader. It would have been an entirely different book had Dolores had her own voice in equal to Humbert. It probably would have made the subject matter significantly less palatable. But I still wondered what she was really thinking because you couldn't rely that everything Humbert said was truthful from her perspective.
I think it's a given that Humbert's perspective was slanted in his favor. He was after all trying to justify his actions against Lolita and wouldn't be likely to want to paint himself in any worse light than he was. It's human nature. When we do something wrong and get caught at it it's never our fault, but the fault of that person over there or someone else who led us astray.
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Old 03-10-2013, 06:29 PM   #66
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I'm in the group that has to fight to read this book that's why I'm late here in this thread.
Although I appreciate the good composition and style I can't say I like the book, the topic is too dark. But - it really keeps my mind occupied and thinking and it goes to the heart. In this sense it is great art.

I have a question that may be a little bit naive because simply no one of us can know. But I am wondering how realistic is the person of Humbert?
Is this really how a paedophile "works"? Is this something we can "learn" from the book?
Of course, I'm mostly thinking of his feelings and thoughts with regard to Lolita but also of his attitude towards "the rest of the world". In my mind this is a little bit over-caricatured, his "love" of the little girls and his arrogance and disgust towards almost all of the other persons.
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Old 03-10-2013, 07:33 PM   #67
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As I understand it, paedophiles often work on the parent or guardian of the child that is their target, to gain the adult's trust. Think of all the dreadful stories that are coming out about paedophile priests who ingratiated themselves with the children's families, and of course were trusted because of their position as priests.

I found Humbert's contempt for everyone else quite believable too. If you believe you have the right to do something that is condemned by society, you would have to hold that society in contempt, or it would be much harder to justify your actions to yourself.

I hasten to add that I am not acquainted with any paedophiles! But I found the psychology of Humbert's character absolutely convincing.
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Old 03-16-2013, 10:58 PM   #68
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Finally finished!

I will have to queue this for a re-reading at some stage because the time it took to read diluted the minutiae a bit and left me floundering in parts.

I enjoyed the latter third of the book much more than the beginning. I had been put off early by the continuous stream of poetical desire coming from Humbert.

OK - I tend to think that Humbert was not a particularly handsome man. Actually I felt that his unreliability as narrator extended to his perception of his appearance. At a couple of places he references the rather large size of his organ - which gave me a hint that his perception of himself was possibly "generous".

Compare his descriptions of himself versus his description of C.Q. and his "friend" Gaston, both paedophiles in ways only slightly different from himself. What a happy juxtaposition he creates of himself against these fat, hideous creatures; his noble bearing, his supreme intelligence. I would not be surprised to find out that he was not half the creature he pretended and his warped self-perception extended to his appearance.

I also think despite his understanding that he had destroyed Lolita, he still maintained a kind of nobility - a pureness - in his aims (if not his actions). For some reason it brings about the saying, "the end justifies the means".

In any case, the respectable are laid low in this book: the successful playwright, the lecturer(?) Gaston and the academic Humbert. Purveyors of culture and wisdom - all reprehensible destroyers of youth. If we wanted to take the themes of the book to a broader level - why not start there?

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Old 03-17-2013, 12:55 AM   #69
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Or are they just posing as purveyors of culture and wisdom? I think Humbert is certainly posing, and I don't think he could be called a reliable narrator by any stretch of the imagination.

Interesting thoughts, caleb. Glad you got there.
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Old 03-17-2013, 08:42 AM   #70
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Of course, I'm mostly thinking of his feelings and thoughts with regard to Lolita but also of his attitude towards "the rest of the world". In my mind this is a little bit over-caricatured, his "love" of the little girls and his arrogance and disgust towards almost all of the other persons.
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I found Humbert's contempt for everyone else quite believable too. If you believe you have the right to do something that is condemned by society, you would have to hold that society in contempt, or it would be much harder to justify your actions to yourself.
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OK - I tend to think that Humbert was not a particularly handsome man. Actually I felt that his unreliability as narrator extended to his perception of his appearance. At a couple of places he references the rather large size of his organ - which gave me a hint that his perception of himself was possibly "generous".

Compare his descriptions of himself versus his description of C.Q. and his "friend" Gaston, both paedophiles in ways only slightly different from himself. What a happy juxtaposition he creates of himself against these fat, hideous creatures; his noble bearing, his supreme intelligence. I would not be surprised to find out that he was not half the creature he pretended and his warped self-perception extended to his appearance.
I think Caleb might be on to something there. We get the scene at the end, where drunken, dishevelled and dirty Humbert scares the young girl; his inner depravity finally manifested. And certainly Dolly found Quilty to be the stuff of adolescent imaginings, when we remember the magazine ad pinned over her bed.

It's perhaps too obvious to think there's an element of cultured European vs. crass Americans to explain Humbert's loftiness; just the same.... Especially in Nabokov's treatment of Charlotte (charlatan?) and her pretensions and artiness. However, Nabokov made a point of having Gaston and the Russian cabbie subject to the same contempt, so it's not a simple case of European superior, American inferior.
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Old 03-18-2013, 02:13 AM   #71
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I almost feel like an argument could be made that this book was an attack on:
- the education system for failing our youth (Gaston and that ridiculous headmistress)
- academia for being able to so easily delude itself and justify all sorts of horrible actions in the name of some lofty and absurd ideal (Humbert)
- culture for treating youth like prey (C. Q.)

And then a massive broadside on the rest of society at the time for holding such institutions so sacred as to ignore the wanton destruction of children right under its proverbial nose.

I find it very telling that Humbert did not get arrested for being a paedophile, only for murdering another disgusting individual (another held up as respectable by society). I can't help feeling the author had a specific reason for this. Throughout the novel I expected him to finally slip up and get caught - and he never did.

Maybe the reason the murder scene itself was slapstick (even the escape of Lolita was farcical) was that Nabokov was telling us that these are insignificant events despite their apparent drama. We should remain focused on the child and what was done to her. And it may even be possible to replace 'child' with 'generation'.

I'm drawing with a very long bow today, but this idea won't go away. I don't know enough about which actual society and time that Nabokov might have been commenting on to suggest that this idea has legs - but that's no reason it can't generate some extra discussion with my learned friends.
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Old 03-18-2013, 07:42 AM   #72
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And the really sad thing is that it wasn't just back then, but has continued on. Just think of the case of this Jimmy Saville (spelling?) fellow in the UK who got away with decades of abuse of children under the noses of the BBC. No-one would believe the children because everyone just knew what a wonderful fellow he was.

So yes, I think you are right. Our society continues to think that because a person is cultured, or popular, or in a position of trust and authority (priests, teachers etc) then that person couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong and it's positively wicked to suggest that they might be doing so.
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Old 03-19-2013, 03:58 PM   #73
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You also have to wonder if it's a reflection of the society that it came from at the time it was written. I mean many countries tried to ban it I'm sure at the time, and it's just a fiction. How many real crimes and atrocities were committed at that time against real people by equally real people and were swept under the rug by society as not being as important as defending youth and society as a whole against the evil of Mr. Nabokov's book?
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:25 PM   #74
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Actually, I wonder if we should actually spend some time on the controversy of this book. It might be a bit strange to conduct a discussion on one of the most controversial books of the 20th century and not try to understand the reactions it generates.

Even today - as we've seen here in MR - this book generates heated discussion and protest.

I don't know if the sexual abuse of minors is actually what Nabokov wants to explore in this book or whether he's using this as a powerful example of a more symbolic rape that we all submit to when our innocence is taken by the society around us. But if so, he's used a really powerful vehicle. I wonder sometimes if it was a little too powerful as the crime often becomes the focus rather than the message. This is often referred to as a book about a paedophile rather than a book about the loss of innocence.

Did Nabokov go too far to make his point? Is the hammer with which he strikes obscuring what he is attempting to uncover? Will this forever be a book about a paedophile?
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:48 PM   #75
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The theme of the book is socially "taboo". Further, It explores the psychological processes of a person who delights in violating this forbidden area and portrays him as superficially cultivated. In addition to this there is--as Caleb72 has pointed out--a condemnation of the social processes which should protect the vulnerable who are victimised.

Nabokov subverts so many social structures so effectively that that this kind of exploration is simply too difficult for many people to engage with. I would find Chinatown a cinematic equivalent. It brilliantly subverts and expands the world of film noir. But the sheer horror is just too ugly for many. Still such works remain necessary to cast light on the dark.

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