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Old 02-27-2013, 06:06 PM   #46
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Here is another thought that occurred to me that I wonder if anyone else feels the same way. To me the scene where Humbert murders Quilty stuck out like a sore thumb relative to the rest of the book. It was just so absurdly comic. Larry murders Moe; Curly was not in the scene. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. What do there rest of you think?
The "murder" of Quilty does have a surreal comedic element. Throughout the novel Nabokov seems to play with genres--usually ironically. {I now think that perhaps the references to Poe are part of this ironic use of literary iconography.} Here the motif is the "avenging angel". Humbert sees the murder as punishment and revenge. It is really one monster killing another even more horrible monster. Evil is essentially and ultimately nonsense--thus we have the utterly cartoonish effect of what the participants themselves regard as something serious.

But in another sense the scene has a serious dimension. The comedic--as in Dr Strangelove, and indeed much satire--can be dark and deeply pessimistic. Nabokov is dramatizing the tension between an emergent but flawed morality and nihilism. Quilty is the latter. Humbert--in however limited a fashion--is beginning to develop a conscience. It is all surreal comedy on one level. On another it is an elemental dualistic moral clash.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Lolita is that it allows an enormous range of interpretive freedom and there are all kinds of valid ways of seeing this book. It has certainly justified the validity of being considered significant Literature.

Personally, I think it is a masterpiece but very difficult and uncomfortable to read on an emotional level.

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Old 03-03-2013, 08:55 PM   #47
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I'm only just over a third through this book. I'm finding it a bit painful to be honest. Nearly every time I start reading I want to fall asleep after about 10 pages.

I'm going to try to read a chunk tonight as I need to return the novel to the library soon.
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:03 PM   #48
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I'm only just over a third through this book. I'm finding it a bit painful to be honest. Nearly every time I start reading I want to fall asleep after about 10 pages.

I'm going to try to read a chunk tonight as I need to return the novel to the library soon.
I thought it was a bit painful too, and I did fall asleep a few times. I especially struggled with the book at the 50-75% range. It really lost its rhythm for me once I hit part two and the long travel list. I think this book is probably one that is easier / more appreciated on a repeat read. It could have been that I was a bit apprehensive about what to expect and how lewd it might be so I think I was constantly wondering where the book was going to go next.
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Old 03-04-2013, 09:53 AM   #49
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I think this book is probably one that is easier / more appreciated on a repeat read.
I finished my re-read last night - I do not have much novel to contribute to the discussion, bar a number of quotes that however I will spare you. The book is so beutifully written, I found it a real pleasure to read, but I do see your point - if you are apprehensive you cannot enjoy the writing.

I don't think I am spoiling it for Caleb, as it has been mentioned a number of times before, anyhow Caleb I am going to mention the ending, so look away now
I had completely forgotten the Quigley murder, completely blanked out. The fact that Lolita had eloped with him had completely gone out of my mind, and in some way the path of revenge Humbert was on did surprise me, as he (thought) he knew all along that Lolita could only be "temporary". Then something happens: maybe it is good old jealousy, need to possess - yet I found Nabokov managed to make the last few paragraphs of the book rather moving in a desperately sick sort of way.
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Old 03-04-2013, 05:38 PM   #50
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And it is all the more moving because you realise that Dolores had died in childbirth. It was my first time reading "Lolita", so I didn't pick up the reference at the very beginning about her death, because I didn't recognise that she was Mrs Schiller.

She really never had a chance to have a full and happy life, did she.
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Old 03-04-2013, 06:11 PM   #51
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It was an interesting technique to introduce the outcome of the characters at the beginning of the book before you really know who the characters are. I re-read the intro after I finished the book. I wish I had thought to re-read it at the midpoint instead.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:38 PM   #52
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I did exactly the same thing - went back and reread the introduction after finishing, and it all slotted into place.

It was uncomfortable reading while I was doing it, but after I finished it, there was such a profound sadness for Dolores that I still feel when I think about "Lolita". Definitely one of those books that you go on living with long after you have closed it. I suppose that's one of the definitions of literature, isn't it.

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Old 03-04-2013, 11:08 PM   #53
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Nabokov describes Humbert as manipulating the people around him, but at the same time Nabokov himself manipulates the reader by his clever use of words. He seeks an educated, broad minded audience. For me, in a way, the two melt together. Perhaps this is what disturbs me in this book...the use of people in- and outside the book.
The book is told through Humbert's one-sided point of view and such eloquence that the reader starts to feel lulled into sympathy for his mental state even though you certainly can't condone his actions, and then Nabokov would insert a harsh statement into the narrative that jars the reader back to reality. Because of this style, I was surprised to be less offended by the subject matter than I anticipated.

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It was uncomfortable reading while I was doing it, but after I finished it, there was such a profound sadness for Dolores that I still feel when I think about "Lolita". Definitely one of those books that you go on living with long after you have closed the book. I suppose that's one of the definitions of literature, isn't it.
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.

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I had completely forgotten the Quigley murder, completely blanked out. The fact that Lolita had eloped with him had completely gone out of my mind, and in some way the path of revenge Humbert was on did surprise me, as he (thought) he knew all along that Lolita could only be "temporary". Then something happens: maybe it is good old jealousy, need to possess - yet I found Nabokov managed to make the last few paragraphs of the book rather moving in a desperately sick sort of way.
The coming murder built throughout the story such that I kept anticipating when it was finally going to happen and what would precipitate it. It ended up being so surreal and oddly comic yet theatrically dramatic, not at all as I expected!
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Old 03-04-2013, 11:19 PM   #54
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Definitely one of those books that you go on living with long after you have closed it. I suppose that's one of the definitions of literature, isn't it.
I read a lot of books, most of which I never think about after moving on to the next book. But Lolita haunted me after reading it at the end of last year, although I'm not sure why. This thread has acted as an exorcist for which I'm grateful. I was tired of having Humbert and sad young Dolores stuck in my head.

I've really appreciated all the thoughtful comments.
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Old 03-04-2013, 11:39 PM   #55
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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.
Yes, we don't really know what she is going through, though we get glimpses every now and then with her distress at various times, the look of helplessness that Humbert writes of, and of course her running away with Quilty.

If he was half as repellant as Humbert makes him out to be, it shows how desperate Dolores was to escape from Humbert, though it was a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
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Old 03-06-2013, 11:40 PM   #56
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Still struggling through - only just over 50% now.

Just thought I'd post some observations so far.

I find being trapped inside the head of this fixated man rather painful, not so much because of what he is, but because of his relentlessly one track mind. It's so tiring to me.

At no time have I thought that Lo asked for or was in some way responsible for what happened. In my mind, her desire to act (in any which way) isn't an issue in the society in which we find ourselves during this novel. There are some mentions of earlier society and what was acceptable then, but it clearly is not applicable at the time of our story. All the restraint was the responsibility of Humbert, not of Lo.

I also don't get any feeling that the author himself is justifying it in any way. Quite the contrary. I get the impression that he shows Humbert as a loathsome individual. He banters about holding back coffee for sex and issuing threats about Lo being institutionalised. In no way can I feel that Nabakov is communicating that this is OK.

It has been interesting to note Lo's supposed complicity and perhaps there is something slightly unusual about her, but everything is so obviously coloured by the narrative of the deranged Humbert that I don't think we can trust anything he is writing. He is a terribly unreliable narrator.

The prose itself is quite elegant, but unfortunately it is falling flat for me because of the never changing subject. I'm beginning to think that people like Humbert are not only despicable, but also utterly boring.
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Old 03-09-2013, 09:11 AM   #57
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I have read the foregoing discussion with great interest and it’s with some trepidation that I add my own 2¢, especially since I’m going to admit that reading about molestation turned out not to upset me in this instance. Humbert was a monster and Lolita was destroyed; I accepted that as the basis of the story. I thought at first it was the entirely mesmerizing prose that somehow put a gloss on it, but when I read the comments here I realized that no matter how beautiful the prose I wouldn’t be able to read with any pleasure at all a story of torture. My theory is that torture narrated by the perpetrator would necessarily involve feeding on the victim’s agony and fear, whereas in the case of Humbert it was necessary for him to believe and relate a story of love and romance. Lolita was the opaque center; only very rarely did Humbert allow her feelings to show. Had the story been truly pornographic and focused on their sexual congress, it would have been a very different matter. I’m not saying Nabokov was trying to make rape and molestation palatable, just readable—and frankly, not to appeal to perverted prurient tastes. In that respect, Humbert really was the antithesis of Quilty; as a practical matter, of course, the two were identical in their evil.

I loved how Nabokov was able to borrow from so many themes and genres and shift effortlessly among them. On one level, Lolita was a variation on the great American roadtrip. I’d like to reference crich’s insight about Nazism and add that during the first trip, when a 12-year old girl missed an entire year of school as they moved from motel to motel, at least some must have realized or suspected what was going on, but looked the other way, despite Humbert’s frenzied efforts each morning to hide the evidence.

The more I thought about the roadtrip aspect, I realized that although it’s not classed as such, Lolita is a perverted twist on the picaresque. Tale told by a societal outcast (who doesn’t seem to work), a corrupt society, aimless wandering with no plot, really what was missing was the sense of the absurd and we got that in Humbert’s showdown with Quilty, which is why (contrary to Hamlet’s take) it worked for me. It also, especially in the wrestling match, showed that neither had the (moral) upper hand. The difference from the true picaresque, of course, is that Humbert wasn’t essentially good or a force for good, but evil.

I read an annotated version and while I mostly ignored the notes as they interrupted the flow, it did point out a theme I would have missed otherwise, that of anti-Semitism. Humbert was regularly assumed to be Jewish. Oh, the irony, that people would have held him in contempt as a Jew as they overlooked his essential depravity. Just as one example, when Humbert wanted to revisit The Enchanted Hunters and requested a room under the name of Hamburg, he was turned down. The notepaper heading included the phrase “Near churches”, code in mid-century America, the annotation notes, for “No Jews.” This would have entirely escaped me.

The book is fabulous, with Nabokov’s masterly use of a narrator who is simultaneously seen as reliable regarding facts and unreliable regarding interpretation, the stunning prose, the snapshot of American life in the late 40s, the skewering of society; I honestly do not understand people willing to dismiss it as gross without experiencing it. I’m so very glad that by hook or by crook, we managed to get it nominated and chosen. I already know that it will be my book of the year for 2013.
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Old 03-09-2013, 01:20 PM   #58
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I finished the book about two weeks ago and am finally getting round to contributing to the discussion. That said, there is not a lot I can add to the many erudite and insighful posts that precede me.

As with most other readers, I found the writing exquisite, with many many beautiful similes and allusions. Nabakov had a wonderful command of the English language, all the more impressive considering it was not his first language.

I agree the popular view that Humbert was a misogynist, told mostly through his treatment of the women in his previous relationships. A sociopath with no empathy for anyone else, interested only in satisfying his own desires, and I think this was partly what made the book uncomfortable reading. It is nigh on impossible to empathise or feel anything for him as a narrator and character within the story.

I do disagree, however, with the view that he was not a victim. I think Humbert was a victim, not of a predatory nymphet (I see Lolita as completely blameless throughout), but of his own obsession for Lolita, which ultimately ruined his life and brought about his downfall. The relationship with Lolita did change him - the first person he seems to have treated well, and with an element of respect, was Rita, who he hooked up with during his search for Lolita. It was as though his obsession had overwhelmed the old Humbert, and indeed he treated Lolita and her husband well too, once he finally caught up with them. None of this, of course, exonerates him in any way, and his end was an inevitability that had to see him in prison.

I do want to thank @Bookpossum for picking up on the fact that Dolly died in childbirth. I had missed that fact completely. I'm not sure how knowing that from the start would have shaded my reading of the book (and I guess I never will), but it does add a further poignancy to the difficult life she led.

I am very glad to have finally read it, and the story will stay with me for a very long time, I think.
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Old 03-09-2013, 01:40 PM   #59
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I think there's an understandable misconception about Nabokov's facility with language. English was in fact the first language he could read and write, as his first governess was English. His family was trilingual at home and he grew up speaking Russian, English and French with equal fluency. It wasn't that odd in the circumstances; even the Imperial family spoke English among themselves, as the Tsarina never learned Russian well.

I also overlooked the note about Dolly's dying in childbirth at first, only picking up on it when I referred back midway. But I realized at the end that the reader also should infer Dolly's death in the near future, since Lolita wasn't to be published until after she died. So much for the long life Humbert wished for her!
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Old 03-09-2013, 03:30 PM   #60
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I think there's an understandable misconception about Nabokov's facility with language. English was in fact the first language he could read and write, as his first governess was English. His family was trilingual at home and he grew up speaking Russian, English and French with equal fluency. It wasn't that odd in the circumstances; even the Imperial family spoke English among themselves, as the Tsarina never learned Russian well.
Thanks for the clarification. It does explain how he had such a great command of the language.

Reading it has made me want to see the movie again (both the James Mason and Jeremy Irons versions), as there was much that I didn't remember from the films, such as Quilty's murder, which I can't imagine they left it out.
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