• Wed, Nov 16 2011

For The Record, Lolita Was Not Sexually Precocious — She Was Raped

When I first encountered the literary classic Lolita, I was the same age as the infamous female character. I was 15 and had heard about a book in which a grown man carries on a sexual relationship with a much younger girl. Naturally, I quickly sought out the book and devoured the entire contents on my bedroom floor, parsing through Humbert Humbert‘s French and his erotic fascination for his stepdaughter, the light of his life, the fire of his loins — Dolores Haze. I remember being in the ninth grade and turning over the cover that presented a coy pair of saddle shoes as I hurried through the final pages in homeroom.

Although I remember admiring the book for all its literary prowess, what I don’t recall is how much of the truth of that story resonated with me given that I was a kid myself. Because it wasn’t until I reread the book as an adult that I realized Lolita had been raped. She had been raped repeatedly, from the time she was 12 to when she was 15 years old.

As a young woman now, it’s startling to see how that fundamental crux of the novel has been obscured in contemporary culture with even the suggestion of what it means to be “a Lolita” these days.  Tossed about now, a “Lolita” archetype has come to suggest a sexually precocious, flirtatious underage girl who invites the attention of older men despite her young age. A Lolita now implies a young girl who is sexy, despite her pigtails and lollipops, and who teases men even though she is supposed to be off-limits.

In describing his now banned perfume ad, Marc Jacobs was very frank about the intentions of his sexy child ad and why he chose young Dakota Fanning to be featured in it. The designer described the actress as a “contemporary Lolita,” adding that she was “seductive, yet sweet.” Propping her up in a child’s dress that was spread about her thighs, and with a flower bottle placed right between her legs, the styling was sufficient to make the 17-year-old look even younger. The text below read “Oh Lola!,” cementing the Lolita reference completely. The teenager looks about 12 years old in the sexualizing advertisement, which is the same age Lolita is when the book begins.

And yet Marc Jacobs’ interpretation of Lolita as “seductive” is completely false, as are all other usages of Lolita to imply a “seductive, yet sweet” little girl who desires sex with older men.

Lolita is narrated by a self-admitted pedophile whose penchant for extremely young girls dates all the way back to his youth. Twelve-year-old Dolores Haze was not the first of Humbert Humbert’s victims; she was just the last. His recounting of events is unreliable given that he is serially attracted to girl children or “nymphets” as he affectionately calls them. And his endless rationalizing of his”love” for Lolita, their “affair,” their “romance” glosses over his consistent sexual attacks on her beginning in the notorious hotel room shortly after her mother dies.

This man who marries Lolita’s mother, in a sole effort to get access to the child, fantasizes about drugging her in the hopes of raping her — a  hypothetical scenario which eventually does come to fruition. Later on as he realizes that Lolita is aging out of his preferred age bracket, he entertains the thought of impregnating her with a daughter so that he can in turn rape that child when Lolita gets too old.

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  • Eileen

    I was twelve when I read Lolita and remember thinking – “This is supposed to be illicit and naughty? It’s just…gross. She’s twelve. As she turns thirteen he’s worried that she’s getting too old.” I’m pretty sure that most of the people who talk about Lolita as if she’s a sexy, appealing character have never read the book, although perhaps they’ve seen the Stanley Kubrick movie, which to pass standards laws made Lolita more physically mature and flirtatious.

    What I find most amusing about the “Lolita” image is that if you actually look like you’re Lolita’s age (twelve! and if she’s only four-feet-ten, she likely still has a child’s body), no one calls you a “Lolita.” “Lolitas” are sixteen and seventeen years old, underage but with the bodies of women, so normal, non-pedophile men are attracted to them. Argh. Read the book!

  • DL

    I was dating this really cute guy and we were having a lot of fun until he told me that “Lolita” was his favorite novel. They say that people tell you who they are in the beginning, and I think he told me right in that moment, and I believed him! I went silent on the phone after he told me, which I don’t think he liked at all, and luckily, he never called again, we never saw each other again. Gross!

    • Allie

      Good job! You probably narrowly avoided dating someone intellectual.

    • Melinda

      I’m sorry, I’m not exactly understanding why you thought the guy was a bad person just because his favorite book was “Lolita?”

      One of my favorite books is “The Catcher in the Rye.” I hate to wonder what you think that says about me.

    • Miles

      You don’t have to agree with the characters’ behaviors to enjoy a book. I used to read a lot of books about serial killers for “fun”, especially back when I was a crim major. Does that make me a murderer? Or imply I condone their actions? You would probably be horrified at the content of my bookshelf.

    • Hope

      That’s idiotic. If he had told you he read ‘Crime and Punishment’ would you assume he was a murderer?

    • Lionel

      My girlfriend (a feminist grad student) consistently says this is the greatest novel ever written. Should I have left her the minute she said this? Is she gross for writing scholarly papers on Nabokov?

      I think you might be too ignorant for that guy anyway.

    • Kate

      I understand what you’re trying to say, DL. It’s one thing to think the writing fantastic, to revere the writer; it’s another thing to let a book like that become your favorite novel. Calling it a favorite implies that he’s read it numerous times, something that is difficult to do (if you find the sexuality in the book at all disturbing).

      I’ll raise you one higher, though: I once had a date tell me (a couple of years ago) that he had a celebrity crush on Bonnie Wright, who plays Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. He was a grown man, almost 30. Needless to say, I was a little put off by that.

    • Melinda

      Kate, since when are there rules about what a person can call their “favorite novel?” Who are you to even judge them for it? You and DL both need to take a step off that pedestal you have yourselves posted so high upon.

  • Fabel

    The term “Lolita” nowadays is barely even an allusion to the book– it’s just become a descriptive word for a sexually appealing young girl. It’s obvious that those who call someone a Lolita either didn’t read the book, or failed to understand its meaning. And they don’t care, because the word itself (without any reference to the book at all) is enough to call to mind a pretty, perhaps tempting to some, underage girl. It’s become very far removed from the source, therefore twisting in the process into a gross misinterpretation.

  • Catherine S

    Thank you Koa for a long overdue truthful analysis of Lolita. This book has been celebrated by far too many in the literary world as well as the Hollyweird set for years on end.

    As far as the new Marc Jacobs ad, I found it a sad commentary on what we deem acceptable these days. My husband and I were horrifed when we saw the ad on a news segment.. These lowering standards of decency are eroding any moral fiber left in our society, unfortunately.

    • LV

      I’m just curious what you mean by “long overdue.” Are you saying you’ve read most of the literary criticism on Lolita and found it all celebrating pedophilia? Have you even read the book?

    • Jen

      @LV: The article isn’t about what “literary criticism” of Lolita says. In general literary critics can be relied upon to have read the book. This article is about the general populace (and especially advertisers/screenwriters) equating Lolita with a sexy, underage girl. Amy Fischer was the “Long Island Lolita”, a few years back Gap introduced “Lolita jeans” for their pre-teen set and most recently Marc Jacobs launched an ad campaign “celebrating” pre-teen sexuality. That’s just a few examples that I’ve seen, there are plenty more. The general populace has basically taken Humbert Humbert at his word: Lolita came on to him, he was seduced, Lolita is a seductive, tricky minx. So yes, this is long overdue because 9 times out of 10 if you are seeing a reference to Lolita it’s not about how horrible pedophilia is, but about how sexy little girls can be.

    • Miles

      You don’t have to agree with the characters’ behaviors to enjoy a book. I used to read a lot of books about serial killers for “fun”, especially back when I was a crim major. Does that make me a murderer? Or imply I condone their actions? You would probably be horrified at the content of my bookshelf.

    • Miles

      Sorry, replied to the wrong person. Whoops.

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  • Sarah

    You guys don’t think Nabokov knew that Humbert Humbert was an evil pervert/pedophile? The book is an intellectual farce, and if the message you come away with after reading it is ‘gross’ then I’d guess you’re missing some of the word play, literary references, and general parody. Obviously it’s messed up when people fetishize ‘Lolitas’ today, but that’s no reason to slam the novel.

    • Lionel

      Thank you for standing up for the book. The ones attacking it are completely missing the point. It’s sadder really than the misreaders at the other end of the spectrum—the romantic fetishizers.

    • Jen

      @Lionel: So people who misread the book and get upset because they think it’s glorifying pedophilia are WORSE than people who misread the book and agree that pedophilia should be glorified? Hmmm…good to know I guess.

  • S.

    DUH

    Dude. Lolita is meant to be basically akin to a glimpse in the mind of a serial killer, etc. The whole reason it’s revered is because Nabokov did such a skillful job writing it that one can barely believe they’re able to empathize with such a dark character. Congrats on publishing two whole pages on how you finally ‘get’ Lolita.

    • Sarah

      This!

    • Alison

      Yeah but a lot of people don’t seem to “get” it. I think the point this article makes is an important one. The book is an amazing piece of literature but for anyone to reference it out of context is creepy!

    • Mish

      S,

      Did you read this piece? It’s not about Nabokov, but how people misread the idea of Lolita. And that, is certainly a bit creepy.

    • Allie

      Yes. This.

    • Lionel

      Even the leading critics of Nabokov’s time misread the book … here Lionel Trilling makes the greatest misread of the book to date:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-wcB4RPasE&feature=player_detailpage#t=94s

      And, he does it in the presence of Nabokov himself!

  • Mirah Riben

    The quotes by publishers on the back cover of the second edition prove how necessary and important this article is!

    And how timely, in view of the Sandusky scandal recently revealed. Adopted children are at particular risk for sexual abuse by their parents and siblings because of absence of kinship taboo….think Woody Allen!!

    • Avodah

      Mirah,

      That is at terrible misreading of Freud as well as all literature pertaining to kinship.

      ALL adopted children? The screening process for adopting infants in the United States in extremely rigorous.

      Thanks for using your first and last name. I know that if I ever encounter your book I can safely ignore it and move on.

    • Jen

      Completely wrong, Mirah! 90.9% of parents who commit child abuse (including sexual abuse) are the biological parent, NOT an adopted parent. And, while Woody Allen is super gross, he was not the adoptive parent of Soon-Yi so including him in your false allegation makes it doubly wrong.

    • blergh

      Excuse me, could you please quote ANY objective source that backs up this outrageous statement? Oh, and if it’s your prejudice alone that’s talking, please shut up and stop annoying people. Woody Allen is not the sole representative of step/foster parents in the whole world, and I resent what you say on behalf of millions(!) of all those kind-hearted people who took in a child to make them happy.

    • Joy

      I am disgusted by any gross overstatement of facts especially by those who speak them as loudly as you do.
      Of course there are issues but biological ties does not make a person a worthy parent either. With 420,000 US children in foster care you only help to set the system back.

    • Jen

      Joy: It’s not even an overstatement of facts, it’s completely inaccurate. Biological parents are FAR more likely to abuse (sexually and otherwise) their children than adoptive ones–again 90.9% of abusive parents are biological. This is probably in large part because of the very intense screening process that all parents who adopt within the United States have to go through. I think it’s much more important to focus on the root causes of abuse and the continued problem of sexualization of children rather than attempting to imply that somehow adoption is the problem.

    • Sara C

      Jumping in here, but if you want an objective source that backs up Mirah’s statement then read Stephen Pinker’s work on kinship.

    • Jen

      @Sara: Yea, I don’t see anything in Pinker that would indicate he thinks actual genetic relationships make kinship more powerful. It’s fairly obvious that close relatives feel certain ways about one another, what’s ridiculous as an assertion is that adopted children and their parents do not have an equally close tie. Anyone who thinks that is, frankly, an idiot whether they have PhD after their name or not.

    • Jen

      Rather, not that would indicate Pinker doesn’t think that way, but that would back up the notion that genetic relationship has ANYTHING to do with feelings of kinship. Personally, the dude is working from some fairly old and outdated stereotypes that were never particularly true to begin with. Usually a good sign he’s full of it.

  • Victoria

    Thanks for writing this! It’s what I’ve felt for a long time, that there isn’t anything meant enjoyable or sexy about the story itself. I don’t think Nabokov meant for his readers to admire his narrator.

    Also, I never understood the almost total misunderstanding our society has about the definition of Lolita. True Loli-cons are pretty much inhuman.

  • Jen

    Thank you! Nabokov obviously didn’t mean for his novel to be interpreted the way it has and the fact that so many seem to think Lolita is about a promiscuous child is upsetting. As for Vanity Fair, they did name the Olsen twins their style icons AND they think spending $200 on a white t-shirt is a “steal” so obviously their EIC is more than a little crazy.

  • Rachael

    I’m a Russian Literature major who has studied Lolita twice, and you are dead-on. There are lots of other clues to Humbert’s lack of perception of the situation. For example, his bad teeth are a clue that he’s not as handsome as he thinks.

    My prof thinks Nabokov wrote Lolita as a response to WWII- his half-Jewish son was in very real danger before they emigrated, and that he sought to explore the idea of a vulnerable child, with no parents, exposed to all the dangers in the world. I’m not sure to what extent I subscribe to that, but it does make sense. Others have also suggested that the sexual ideas are secondary, and that it’s truly a battle for intellectual dominance between Quilty and Humbert.

    Have you ever read Despair? It’s sort of got a Humbert Humbert prototype (though not a pedophile). Very interesting read.

    There are plenty of ways to interpret the novel and its intentions, but the way it’s become known today is definitely a way to misinterpret it.

  • Kelly

    Ok, alot of you are missing the point of the novel… of course Lolita is not suposed to seem seductive, but simply thinking “gross” and throwing away the book is just as bad as think she is sexy.

    Just being creeped out by the literal words is so far from the point, not just of this book, but of all books! It’s like reading Lord Of The Flies and your only commentary on it being that the boys were “crazy”.

    • Kiona J.

      No, actually, you’re missing the point of the article. The point of the article isn’t to demonize the book as “gross”. The author is just pointing out that the term ‘Lolita’ is synonymous with sexually precocious young girl. When, in actuality, the girl to which that terms refers was a victim of sexual abuse.

  • Avodah

    @Jen- Thank you for standing for adopted kids and their parents (and informing Mirah of, you know, reality).

    • Jen

      No problem. Adopted kid, right here and I have the most loving, amazing parents you could imagine!

  • Allie

    Also… you’re nuts, Dakota Fanning doesn’t look anywhere NEAR 12 in that ad. She looks older than 17, imo. Yes, she’s in a girlish dress. Yes, there’s a Lola reference. But she doesn’t look like a child at all.

    • Marissa

      Thank god I’m not the only one! I thought she was 19. I’ve been seeing all this uproar… I was think what the heck? I also thought she was over 18 because of her girl on girl sex scene in The Runaways with Kristen Stewart =/

  • vomiting

    Dolores Haze was not 15. Read the fucking book again.

    • LV

      Came here to say that.

    • Jen

      Just noticed this. Read the article again. Lolita was sexually abused by Humbert from 12-15 is mentioned in the last line of the second paragraph. So, yes, Koa was the same age as the main character at the end of the novel. Characters age in novels just like people do in real life.

    • Stormy Bodden

      Amen.!!!!

  • Kiona J.

    When I first read the headline, I thought, “Duh! Isn’t that a given?” Once I read the article, however, I realized you made a really interesting point about society’s interpretation of this particular literary piece. As someone who has read the book, it is obvious that despite the obviously biased narrative, Lolita is a yet another victim of Humbert’s sexual crimes against female children.

    The movie, however, places a disturbing amount of emphasis on this idea that Humbert and Delores aka Lolita have a consenting love affair. When we [the audience] finds about Delores scheming her getaway, I get the feeling that we’re supposed to feel bad for Humbert for having been bamboozled by this scheming Lolita. As a result, Lolita has become synonymous with a sexually empowered young girl uses sex to get what she wants.

  • AnnabelleLee

    Thank you for this article!
    It is a shame that apparently so many readers (let alone those who haven´t actually read the book) don´t realize that Humbert is an unreliable narrator and take his version of the story literally.

    Another dead giveaway, by the way, are the references to the works of Edgar Allen Poe in Humbert´s accounts. Poe often wrote about monomaniacs, people grotesquely obsessed with a particular subject which leads to their madness and/or ruin. This is like Nabokov waving a flag to the reader about who, and what, Humbert really is.

    It is a depressing thought that Lolita is 12, in the sight of reports that today many girls start having their first intercourse at or even below that age. There´s just something so very wrong about this development. :-(

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090817142855.htm

  • Eileen

    To clarify, my “gross” was referring to the relationship between Humbert and Dolores, not the novel itself. I’m sorry if it wasn’t as obvious as I’d hoped it would be.

  • A. Walker

    Thank you for writing this article. I recently attended a panel discussion at UCLA Law School about Rape as a Crime Against Humanity. I always thought that the sexualization of the girl in the book Lolita, was creepy. I never wanted to read the book as I felt that it was about an inappropriate longing of a grown man to be sexual with a child. Though it is literature and perhaps it gives a glimpse into the mind of a pedophile, I can only hope that it does not glorify sex with children but enlighten most on the excruciating torture that the child has to go through. So sad that child rape has been going on since the beginning of time. Rape destroys the soul.

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  • Susan

    This seems like a very black and white interpretation. It’s not like sexually precocious people can’t be raped, so how is the fact that HH is raping her evidence that she isn’t sexually precocious? Isn’t her first sexual experience independent of Humbert (and, we are led to believe, with consent)? Also, just because Hubert is a manipulative rapist doesn’t mean that he isn’t in love. It’s certainly ridiculous to say that “‘Love’ holds no space in this novel.”

    One of the great things about literature is that the ideas we hold about human experience and emotion can be explored without being so limited by moral values. We wouldn’t consider the tender feelings of an actual child molester because we aren’t adequately removed from the repugnance of the situation. A novel provides a safe space to examine the disturbing contradiction of love and cruelty having the same object. “Lolita” is a love story; even a monster can fall in love.

    • Jen

      Humbert Humbert refuses to provide Lolita with food until she sexually services him each morning, he forces himself on a child who is crying and actively fighting back each day and the very first time he has sex with her it’s after he’s informed her that her mother is dead and manipulated her into believing it is her only choice. That’s NOT love by anybody’s definition. Additionally, she’s not the one child he has done this to, she’s just one in a long line by his own admission. Compulsion is NOT love. Trying to say this story is about love is kind of sick, Nabokov makes Humbert a despicable character for a reason and it’s not so we’ll try and sympathize with how he’s feeling.

      Additionally, the point about promiscuity is two-fold. First, because Humbert Humbert is our narrator we have to be sure that we take EVERYTHING he says with a grain of salt. For example he makes himself out to be devastatingly handsome, but the book drops several clues that he’s totally not. The examples he cites of Lolita’s promiscuity are equally fictionalized because he thinks it somehow makes his behavior justifiable. Nabokov leaves so many clues throughout the novel that Humbert is a liar as well as a rapist and pedophile that it becomes difficult to tell what’s true, so the information we have to work with is that Humbert is a rapist who has a pattern of raping young females.

    • Stormy Bodden

      you need to reread the book. If you read it at all

    • Susan

      I’m not saying that Humbert isn’t despicable, I’m saying that that doesn’t preclude him from feeling love. You say that what he does is not love by any definition, but the dictionary definition has nothing to do with actions; it’s just “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” How does HH being selfish and manipulative keep him from feeling that? And if Nabokov doesn’t intend for us to sympathize with him (it seems absurd anyway to think that we aren’t to sympathize with the narrator and protagonist of the novel…) why would he include passages such as: “Don’t think I can go on. Heart, head – everything. Lolita, Lolita, Lolita…”?

      As for Lolita’s sexuality, I agree that it’s being misrepresented by Humbert, but I think you may be exaggerating his general un-trustworthiness. In any case, I only meant to point out that any interest in sex that Lolita actually did have is not an excuse for HH’s behavior, so why is the issue being discussed as if her sexual precociousness is incompatible with a condemnation of his actions?

      As I said before, one of the powers of literature is to allow difficult and complex subjects to be addressed. If you insist that the parts of the book that disturb your worldview are merely Humbert’s inventions, you can’t take advantage of that.

    • Jen

      Susan, Humbert forces Lolita to sexually satisfy him every morning before he will allow her to eat and he uses every trick in the emotional abusers handbook to terrify her into doing whatever he wishes while giving her an awesome case of Stockholm Syndrome in the process. That’s not feeling tenderness or “love” towards someone, that’s needing a pre-teen to get off and not caring how your actions are going to effect her. Conflating or comparing that to love is just plain wrong.

      And the problem with taking Humbert at his word is that he is a manipulative, awful pedophile. And the reason this article was written is because rather than seeing that A LOT of people have used Lolita as the sort of Holy Bible of pedophilia to justify the sexualization of young girls in the media and real life. By pointing to Lolita’s “promiscuity” they can attempt to say their own misplaced desires (lust, not love) is A-Ok, after all the twelve year old totally loves having sex and totally came on to them. We can argue about the causes and solutions to pedophilia all day, but pedophilia–like rape in general–is about power, control and abuse, not love. And that is black and white fact.

    • Abby

      Absolutely agree with Susan. That Lolita is raped is not just subtly hinted at throughout the book, it is in fact quite obvious and Humbert himself pretty much admits to it at the end. I don’t think anyone who’s read the book ever tried to paint Humbert as the victim of a young temptress.

      However, this does not cancel out Lolita’s sexuality one bit. It is quite alarming that most of the people in this forum seem to define an act of rape as such only when the victim lacks any kind of sexuality. This attitude is only the reverse side of the “she’s asking for it” coin, and I don’t see how anyone can reasonably subscribe to it. Just as sexuality doesn’t justify rape, rape doesn’t preclude sexuality.

    • Stormy Bodden

      you’re nutz!!!!. Probably a sexually repressed female who never had loving sex in her sad little life. :(

  • Byron

    This book has the marvelous quality of turning sick situations into something you can laugh at long enough to distract you from what is really going on. I remember this line that went something like “She would always prefer a hamburger over a Humburger” referring to her appetite and his fears she’d get fat on him. Chuckling over that line somehow renders the subsequent events somehow not all that…abrasive on the reader.

    Hubert was basically heartbroken into madness and delusion but I don’t think we can attribute absolutely everything we get through his eyes as the thoughts of a crazy person that should be granted no consideration or validity whatsoever. What about that scene before they live her school where Dolores runs away and when located she gets her way and they live the school she dislikes and she is like “I feel romantic tonight” for example.

    I believe that there was a two-way-street going on. He was controlling her with food and funds and whatnot but she was controlling him with sex and with her knowledge of his general obsession over her.

    This is an impression I got numerous times from reading the book, that all those situations were not that much simply a rape victim acting out the trauma like victims do but more a succubus keeping her captive soul on it’s toes with fickleness and instability.

    You may not like the implications of children having such control over their sexuality but I will say that this is a more empowering state.

    It is BETTER and more empowering for Lolita to be a temptress than for her to be a rape victim. It is better for there to be less rape victims around.

    You may dislike the image of a little girl seducing men for her own gains, you may think that adult women doing that is despicable and that there has to be some form of duress applied that will allow you to classify all such incidents as rape. However, no matter how much sex as a tool for power gain may revolt you, too many people have and are using it for you to be able to say that only once you become an adult do you gain the potency to sleep with someone for reasons beyond procreation/fun/pleasure.

    As for whether is was love or not, I think the final scenes where she’s older and pregnant, quite past his “preferred zone”, do testify to that. He did love her, his pedophile tendencies didn’t apply to her any more and he still asked her to come with him and gave her money that she needed. He didn’t really care for sex at that point, nor for control nor for “possessing” her, he just wanted her to be happy.

    Oh and one last thing (more minutia really but whatever :D), I remember early on a reference about Hubert looking like some actor who Dolores was fond of (her mother made that remark) so I doubt he was ugly if he looked like an actor of the 40s that a 12 year old girl likes.

    • sparkles pederson

      wow, scary. YOU may prefer to think of a 14 year old child as a “temptress”, in charge of her own sexuality, but she’s not. She is still a child who is dependant on adults to know what is right and to do what is right. If you knew any children you would realize that even when they start to look old, they are not. What’s frightening is that you might actually have access to children and that you are basing your comments on your relationships with them.

  • Kris

    ALL abusers blame their victims. Or project the feelings they wish were there upon their victims. Or blame their parents. Abusers are people who are damaged and unable/unwilling to control and take responsibility for their own actions. Some abusers were in fact damaged by abuse however if they know better (not insane) or have reached adulthood, they are responsible. Then, the question is what to do with them.

    • Kiona J.

      Thank you for this!! Abusers often project what they feel onto their victims. From a pedophile’s perspective, the book depicts Delores aka Lolita as a sexually promiscuous young girl who uses her attractiveness to manipulate poor men like Humbert. However, in the reality of the book, we see glimpses of how much of a victim Delores really is and how much of a predator Humbert really is.

  • Byron

    quoting sparkles pederson: “wow, scary. YOU may prefer to think of a 14 year old child as a “temptress”, in charge of her own sexuality, but she’s not. She is still a child who is dependant on adults to know what is right and to do what is right. If you knew any children you would realize that even when they start to look old, they are not. What’s frightening is that you might actually have access to children and that you are basing your comments on your relationships with them.”

    So let me get this straight, my interpretation of a fictional character is somehow enough for you to think I have relationships with actual real children….really?

    You may have not noticed but I wasn’t speaking about all girls here, I was merely speaking about the one you have in this story, just because I got this impression from reading this book about this one character it doesn’t mean I have this blanket belief that the same holds true for every girl out there. In fact, I don’t believe the “temptress” little girl even exists in reality but I DO believe Dolores indeed was one. That’s the thing with fiction you see, anything is possible and you’re not somehow deviant for observing it as is and not twisting words to make it a realistic counterpart or the next best thing that actually exists. A snake with a pair of bat wings taped on it’s back ain’t no dragon and no nymphet is a damn rape-victim-by-definition.

    Notice, by the way, that dragons and nymphets are equally mythical creatures as far as I’m concerned. (you make me feel I need to clarify these things for some reason…)

    That’s the point of the whole story, the whole deal is about imbuing adult traits in forms that shouldn’t posses them and seeing the calamities that befall everyone.

    All I simply said was that I experienced them for what they were and didn’t try to interpret them in a way that victimizes a person I came to know as a strong character who was in control all through the story, whose influence completely consumed the soul of the protagonist and who I felt the entire story was about.

    • Aileen

      I guess you read a different novel than I did. What I saw was a little girl being abused who did anything she could to survive, even consenting to the abuse at times in order to gain something, anything, from the situation she was in.

      Your analysis of the “whole point of the story” being about “imbuing adult traits in forms that shouldn’t posses (sic) them” is obviously divergent from almost every other person on this board. Your conclusion that she “consumed his soul” is my clue that you feel the Lolita character WAS in control and somehow Humbert was helpless to resist her.

      You talk about the use of literature to present a “fiction” of the temptress child as if it was a device used by Nabokov to shock us. And yet, you seem to take that in stride. No shock for you, you just have this great insight into why he would use that device. And yet you didn’t “try to interpret” you just “experience them for what they were”.

      It seems to me that YOU didn’t read the novel very well either. Maybe you can get a job as Marc Jacobs’ assistant. You’d fit in well, I’m sure.

    • Aileen

      I guess you read a different novel than I did. What I saw was a little girl being abused who did anything she could to survive, even consenting to the abuse at times in order to gain something, anything, from the situation she was in.

      Your analysis of the “whole point of the story” being about “imbuing adult traits in forms that shouldn’t posses (sic) them” is obviously divergent from almost every other person on this board. Your conclusion that she “consumed his soul” is my clue that you feel the Lolita character WAS in control and somehow Humbert was helpless to resist her.

      You talk about the use of literature to present a “fiction” of the temptress child as if it was a device used by Nabokov to shock us. And yet, you seem to take that in stride. No shock for you, you just have this great insight into why he would use that device. And yet you didn’t “try to interpret” you just “experience them for what they were”.

      It seems to me that YOU didn’t read the novel very well either. Maybe you can get a job as Marc Jacobs’ assistant. You’d fit in well, I’m sure.

    • Stormy Bodden

      So in order to survive, she screws another guy, gets knocked up, then writes her so called abuser for help. Give us a break. Lolita was a little tramp.

    • Pauline Parrot

      She didn’t really have much of a choice she’d been socially isolated since her mother died her and Humbert kept moving around constantly and even when they did settle he never allowed her to socialize much incase she met someone else, because of this, the fact her mother died and the fact she felt the need leave Beardsley and run away to get away from Humbert so she had leave any friends she sort of had there, Humbert, despite everything, was really the only ‘family’ she had other than her husband at that point and I think by that time Humbert realised his part in that.

    • Ding

      You clearly don’t know much about sexual abuse survivors. Sexual abuse really messes people up. ESP. About their sexuality and what is considered appropriate or inappropriate sexual conduct. He was the only adult figure in her life, so when she got in trouble, it only seems natural that she’d ask him for help.

  • Aileen

    Thanks for this article. I think the title alone is something that ought to be shouted from the rooftops. It’s clear in today’s society that the “Lolita” mythos is perpetuated by people who haven’t actually read the novel. Any who have (unless they are nodding along with the pedophilic Humbert and need to be locked up or something) can understand the true horror that is occurring over the course of years.

    Nabokov was very daring, at the time, to tell the story from the viewpoint of the criminal. Now, we have many examples of such stories when it comes to serial murders and the like (I love the show Dexter, myself), but none told from the viewpoint of a pedophile come to mind. I guess such work is less palatable, since it involves the all-too-frequent abuse of children, rather than the infrequent (and therefore more distant?) actions of serial killers.

    How is it that we can read or watch Silence of the Lambs or shows like Dexter, and identify somewhat with a serial killer? Because the author has taken pains to make sure the victims are somehow “deserving”, if only by being horrible people we don’t like. You can’t do that with a pedophile, because no rational person would think a child somehow “deserves” to be raped.

    I think the true genius of Nabokov is not merely that he allows this sickening and far too realistic glimpse into the disturbed mind, but that he shows the way such abuse and trauma can change a victimized child. Her desperation was palpable in the tiny ways she found to manipulate Humbert with his sickness. The ways she found to survive her ordeal resonate very realistically. Case after case of long-term sexual abuse shows that children will eventually learn to get small things from cooperating; since there is no way they can see to escape the situation, they seek to lessen it’s anguish by turning it into a tool.

    It is disgusting to me that these survival techniques that abused children are forced to learn from their abusers are now, in our modern and enlightened society, labeled “seduction” and “appealing”. It is obvious that the sick individuals that prey on children will always blame their victim- “the 2 year old seduced me” argument from the 72-year old abuser comes to mind- but it is another thing entirely for the rest of us to accept these sick rationalizations.

    So to people like Marc Jacobs, and those who chuckle indulgently at the “dirty old men” that ogle 7th grade girls, and any other person who thinks of a child in terms of their sexuality- YOU ARE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS SICK, TWISTED SOCIETY.

  • manuel1fool

    This story has clear provocative topics related to age and sexuality (a huge hot topic in our country), however, can we talk about feminine sexuality and at what age is it ok to be attracted to females? Can men be sexually attracted to blossoming young females?

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  • smallfatchild

    did you have livak at uoft by any chance?

  • Byron

    So you would actually delete a properly formed reply without notice of deletion and without giving reason at all simply for presenting a view you (I imagine, you gave no reason of deletion! XD) disagree with? Well, that’s definitely not fair…

    I don’t exactly have it saved or anything but I can formulate a similar one which I will save and keep reposting when deleted just cause censorship bugs me to the core. I’ve never actually even thought of spamming a board or forum or anything with the same wall’o text ever before so that’s really why you shouldn’t just delete posts random people made in good faith. The thing is that I had some pretty good jokes in the previous one which would sound lame if I try to replicate, so if you would please just return my older reply back that would be great, it’ll save us both time too.

    If you honestly reply to me that you can’t return it but you wold if you could I will believe you and do nothing after that.

    I’ll give your might deletion god-hand like a week to return my post, I should come up with some good funny bits to deflect personal negativity aimed at thoughts rather than acts with in this time…though the spark of writing a thesis you’re really into seldom ignites twice :(. Ah well, this is about principle more than penmanship.

  • a

    You mention one very important fact- Lolita is narrated by Humbert, who is probably one of the most unreliable narrators ever. In his eyes, Lolita is a precocious, flirtatious girl, and his justification of what he does to her is very important. In Lolita, the truth is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that he’s raping her, or that she doesn’t seriously flirt with him- all that matters is how Humbert views their relationship, and if he sees it as a romance, it is a romance (that is his personal truth). I think that’s where our current ‘definition’ of the term comes from- from Humbert’s dream of Lolita, or of all nymphets for that matter. Even his nickname for her shows that he has to create an entirely new persona for her to fully become his fantasy, like Alonso Quixana/ Don Quixote. Lolita isn’t Dolores, Lolita is his little dolly, and she IS a sexually precocious, flirtatious little girl. It’s a real character- just not Dolores Haze.

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  • steph

    Honestly, I always saw Lolita as a term for a sexually-minded child. And I’m a bit sad to find that that’s not what it originally meant, because I used to identify with that term so much.

    Whether people like it or not, children do have sexual thoughts. And sometimes, they act on those thoughts. I know Dolores was raped in the book, but the term Lolita in some circles is referring to how the narrator saw her, not the actual girl.

    People like to pretend its not true, but children do have sexual urges. The average age for a girl to start masturbating is about 8, although for me it was 6. The average age to lose virginity is about 15, for me it was 14.

    So people need to stop screaming about how the term Lolita for a sexual underage girl is this or that, and go visit an ageplay forum.

  • monu rizvi

    Lolita is a great piece of writing .It told the untold truths of a criminal’s mind.

  • Nikki

    Thank you for writing this article. What a tragic shame that victims/survivors have been made to suffer a culture which conflates rape, sex and love instead of recognizing that rape is a violent act about power. How dare we allow this to continue?

    • Stormy Bodden

      you sound so much like a parrot lol

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  • DarjeelinTea

    I absolutely agree with everything said here. “Lolita” is my favorite book, hands down, not because it in any way immortalizes love, but rather because the language is phenomenal. Nabokov was one of our best writers, and even he considered H.H. a monster. I actually own the Vintage edition you refer to (which calls the book the “only convincing love story” etc. etc.) which goes to show that they completely missed the point.

    To me, the book is almost like a beautifully rendered horror story. H.H., a deluded, narcissistic monster ruins the lives of Charlotte Haze, then her daughter (who goes on to find refuge with yet another monster), and then, possibly, Rita. Just because the prose is elegiac and gorgeous doesn’t undo that. It just makes Nabokov’s writing that much more brilliant–that he was able to convince legions of readers that Lolita had the power in that relationship is amazing.

  • http://twitter.com/thepalehorse666 The Geeky Latina 2.0

    “Mythology that young girls are some how participating in their own violation”….

    I don’t really quite think that the “sexual teen girl” is total myth, althought it was probably in the novel. And althought your supposition about the “Myth” is the legal and correct for all standars of society, it doesn’t really tell the truth about a girls sexuality.

  • Lisap

    It comes back to the same old thing, which often elicits eye rolls but is certainly still the main issue; if Lolita was Lawrence no one would try and claim he was the seducer as opposed to victim. But men cannot be help accountable for their lustful behaviour, clearly the adult was no match for the 12 year old vixen.

  • teamoth

    In the book, Lolita was 12, not 15.

  • melissa

    FINALLY!!! thank you! i see images of those damn little white ankle socks and buster brown shoes everywhere i turn-i feel like i am living in crazy town every time. i am so tired about hearing what a literary masterpiece it is, when i criticize the novel and premise. if there were a painting- an amazing painting from an incredibly talented artist,but, it depicted child abuse and rape- would people be able to blow it off so easily. “its a really incredibly piece of art.” would it be romantic? this book is what it is- it is about a sexual relationship between a young girl and her step father. thats it. thee end. i am a survivor of sexual abuse and incest and guess what- my dad really loved the movie remake with jeremy irons- im sure it was for its artistic genius. honestly, thank you so much, i really do feel so insane and alone (and triggered) seeing this book/film and not being able to scream its not f***ing sexy. i am not against the idea of such a book being written- there are a lot of disturbing books out there in all shapes and sizes. i just am exhausted by being told usually by men that its not about rape or sexual abuse-because of course ‘lolita’ is this sexy nymphet who seduces. this seducing theory also a huge hit with my father in therapy. im venting and this is terribly unarticulate,im sorry. its just so nice to finally, FINALLY, have someone understand where im coming from.

  • Anna

    I agree completely, I literally have just finished reading the novel for the first time and after hearing how some feel sorry for Humbert, that it is a love story, was actually surprised at how obviously not a love story it is. I am kind of surprised a lot of people need to read it a few times to get the clues, I picked up on it right away and I think the author makes it clear that this man is a monster.

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