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NaNoReMo 2008: Lolita Part II, Chapters 1-5

Page reached: 180 of 298 (60.40%).

Status Report:

Favorite passage: And suddenly the book becomes a satirical incitement of Americana and our rampant consumer culture. Well, I guess it wasn’t that “sudden”–the whole point of dividing a novel into parts is to compartmentalize distict narrative arcs and motifs, I guess–but still, I was somewhat surprised in the complete change of focus found in the the first five chapters of Part 2.

But once I got into the groove, I thought I knew where Nabokov was going with it. After laying the expository groundwork, I fully expected the author to draw an equivillence between Humbert Humbert’s “consumption” of Lolita and mindless consumerism of the average American. In other words, I expected H. H. to be dissatisfied with Lolita now that he had obtained her, to have a kind of buyers remourse, to already be on the market for his next purchase.

Instead:

I do not intend to convey the impression that I did not manage to be happy. Reader must understand that in the possession and thralldom of a nymphet the enchanted traveler stands, as it were, beyond happiness. For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet. It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plane of sensitivity. Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise--a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames--but still a paradise.

Yeah, not exactly how one feels a week after buying an iPod. Moral: Do not try an anticipate Vladimir Nabokov, for he works in mysterious ways.

Words Looked Up:

  • Matitudinal: Not in the dictionary, but my annotated Lolita defines it in the endnotes as “from matin, an ecclesiastical duty performed early in the morning.”
  • Leporine: Of or characteristic of rabbits or hares.
  • Crepiated: Not a dictionary word, but “crepiation” means: A noise produced by the rubbing of fractured ends of bones, by cracking joints, and by pressure upon tissues containing abnormal amounts of air.
  • Caravansaries: An inn built around a large court for accommodating caravans along trade routes.
  • Pavonine: Of or resembling a peacock.

defective yeti’s Konsumer Korner

Tip! If your standing in line to purchase something at your local Shell station, and a woman suddenly enters the store who:

  • Has a head of hair that looks as though it has not so much as exchanged a postcard with a comb in the last five years; and
  • Is clad in a terrycloth bathrobe and slippers; and
  • Has left a 1975 Olds Omega idling inches outside the automatic doors to the establishment;

It is best to simply step aside and let her purchase her cigarettes.

NaNoReMo 2008: Lolita Part I, Chapters 23-33

Page reached: 142 of 298 (47.65%).

Status Report: Nabokov has broadly hinted that Humbert Humbert’s obsession with “nymphets” is a result of his abortive relationship with his childhood sweetheart Annabel. As corroborating evidence, I would point to this moment in chapter 26, when HH picks up Lolita from camp:

I felt the blood rush to my head as I heard her respiration and voice behind me. She arrived dragging and bumping her heavy suitcase. "Hi!" she said, and stood still, looking at me with sly, glad eyes, her soft lips parted in a slightly foolish but wonderfully endearing smile.

She was thinner and taller, and for a second it seemed to me her face was less pretty than the mental imprint I had cherished for more than a month: her cheeks looked hollowed and too much lentigo camouflaged her rosy rustic features; and that first impression (a very narrow human interval between two tiger heartbeats) carried the clear implication that all widower Humbert had to do, wanted to do, or would do, was to give this wan-looking though sun-colored little orphan au yeux battus (and even those plumbaceous umbrae under her eyes bore freckles) a sound education, a healthy and happy girlhood, a clean home, nice girl-friends of her age among whom (if the fates deigned to repay me) I might find, perhaps, a pretty little Magdlein for Herr Doktor Humbert alone. But "in a wink," as the Germans say, the angelic line of conduct was erased, and I overtook my prey (time moves ahead of our fancies!), and she was my Lolita again--in fact, more of my Lolita than ever.

You can almost see HH sculpting the the actual (and inevitably disappointing) girl into the chimeric object of his desire, chipping away at those things that don’t fit his vision, slapping on more clay and frantically molding incongruities until they are subsumed by his fantasy.

Earlier HH provided a fairly convolution rationale for why he calls Dolores something that has only a passing resemblance to her real name; passages like this provide a far more convincing explanation: because Dolores and Lolita happen to be two entirely different girls, one real, the other ideal.

Later, I found myself almost unable to begin chapter 28. And then again chapter 29, when Nabokov strung us along for 5 pages. So great was the tension, the “oh god, where is he going to go with this”, that I found the scene that followed–Lolita fitfully sleeping in bed, HH beside her, terrified to move–to be laugh out loud funny. That’s a little something the French call the douche ecossaise: the sudden shift between horror and humor–two opposing emotional “temperatures”–each heightening the effect of the other.

Favorite passage:

I had another visitor--friend Beale, the fellow who eliminated my wife. Stodgy and solemn, looking like a kind of assistant executioner, with his bulldog jowls, small black eyes, thickly rimmed glasses and conspicuous nostrils, he was ushered in by John who then left us, closing the door upon us, with the utmost tact. Suavely saying he had twins in my stepdaughter's class, my grotesque visitor unrolled a large diagram he had made of the accident. It was, as my stepdaughter would have put it, "a beaut," with all kinds of impressive arrows and dotted lines in varicolored inks...

With his hummingbird pencil deftly and delicately flying from one point to another, Frederick demonstrated his absolute innocence and the recklessness of my wife: while he was in the act of avoiding the dog, she slipped on the freshly watered asphalt and plunged forward whereas she should have flung herself not forward but backward (Fred showed how by a jerk of his padded shoulder). I said it was certainly not his fault, and the inquest upheld my view. Breathing violently though jet-black tense nostrils, he shook his head and my hand; then, with an air of perfect savoir vivre and gentlemanly generosity, he offered to pay the funeral-home expenses. He expected me to refuse his offer. With a drunken sob of gratitude I accepted it. This took him aback. Slowly, incredulously, he repeated what he had said. I thanked him again, even more profusely than before.

Words Looked Up: Lost my word list. :(

NaNoReMo 2008: Lolita Part I, Chapters 14-22

Page reached: 97 of 298 (32.55%).

Status Report: From sex to death in 30 pages. Having insinuated himself into the home of Ms. and Lil. Haze, our young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of homicide. But even given his history of depravity, he just can’t pull the proverbial trigger when the time comes to do the deed. Apparently even Hummy Hum has his limits.

There’s something a bit bizarre about the way Lolita turns on its head the conventional wisdom regarding what is and is not permissible in polite literature. There is, after all, an entire industry devoted to fictitious murder: crime novels, mystery magazines, cinematic thrillers, and the like. And yet few of these would dream of showcasing pedophilia in the brazen manner than Nabokov does here. Presumably that is why the spin-off show Molestation, She Wrote was canceled after only 13 episodes.

Aside! I am really enjoying this novel.

Words Looked Up:

  • Preprandial: Before a meal, especially dinner.
  • Venery: 1. Indulgence in or pursuit of sexual activity. 2. The act of sexual intercourse.
  • Incarnadine: 1. Of a fleshy pink color. 2. Blood-red.
  • Chiaroscuro: 1. The technique of using light and shade in pictorial representation. 2. The arrangement of light and dark elements in a pictorial work of art.

NaNoReMo 2008: Lolita Part I, Chapters 1-13

Page reached: 62 of 298 (21.81%).

Status Report: I knew very little about Lolita before reading it, aside from the general subject matter. These first 13 chapters quick disabused me of two huge misconceptions I somehow come to harbor about the novel.

Misconception #1: Humbert Humbert is a stereotypical perv Man, I had such a clear idea how H. H. would look. Old. Obese. Balding. Perhaps clad in sweatpants and a too-small t-shirt bearing ketchup stains. The knowledge that Jeremy Irons played the lead in a recent film adaptation of the novel should have told me otherwise, but still the mental image persisted. I mean, just look at his name: Humbert Humbert. Surely my description more aptly fits that moniker. Or maybe I am thinking of Herbert Hoover.

Furthermore, I expected The Hum to have no real background (perhaps a few hints of past perversity, nothing more), and would be engage in no introspection whatsoever. He would be a big, odious ball of id, unabashedly leering at every girl that walks by and feeling not a whit of remorse.

Instead, we are told that H. H. has movie star caliber looks. The novel is written in first-person, giving us ample insight into the his profound self-loathing. And we are told of his upbringing, his first marriage, his struggle with his “degrading and dangerous desires”. We even learn of relationship with Annabel, a detail that puts his lifelong attraction toward “nymphets” into some sort of context.

Which is all a long way of say: I was expecting a stock character, and was surprised to discover an fully fleshed-out protagonist.

Herbert Hoover,
The 31st Pedophile President of the United States

Misconception #2: Lolita is really not all that lurid I assumed Lolita was one of those books that people routinely condemn without based on its reputation alone, and were they to actually read the novel they’d realize that, despite the controversial subject matter, it’s so literary and farcical that no one could truly be offended by the prose within.

Ha! Yeah, no. Chapter 13 pretty much put that myth to the lie.

Honestly, I was nothing short of astonished that Lolita is 12. Twelve! I assumed she would be 15, which is the standard age most artists use when they want to discuss pedophilia without, you know, actually discussing pedophilia. But, no, apparently Nabokov is actually going to discuss pedophilia, which means prepubescence, which means 12.

And while I have no doubt that the vast majority of people who routinely condemn Lolita have not, in fact, read it, I don’t think this is a case where I would urge them to give it a whirl and see if their opinion doesn’t change. Chapter 13 ain’t gonna make a whole lot of friends.

Favorite Passage:

I have no illusions, however. My judges will regard all this as a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert. Au fond, ça m'est bien égal. All I now is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of knees in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and --

"That was my Lo," she said, "and these are my lilies."

"Yes," I said, "yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful."

Words Looked Up:

  • Dirndled: A Nabokovian neologian (I suspect we are going to see a lot of these). A “dirndl” is a full-skirted dress with a tight bodice and low neck, that is either sleeveless or has short full sleeves; here Nabakov uses “dirndled” as a verb, meaning “wore a dirndl”.
  • Corscating: Giving forth flashes of light; sparkling and glittering (e.g., “diamonds coruscating in the candlelight”).
  • Palatial: Of or suitable for a palace.
  • Crenulated: Having an irregularly wavy or serrate outline.
  • Meretricious: 1. Attracting attention in a vulgar manner. 2. Plausible but false or insincere; specious. 3. Of or relating to prostitutes or prostitution.
  • Bellelettrist: One who authors light, stylish writings, usually on literary or intellectual subjects.
  • Equipoise: 1. A state of equilibrium 2. A counterbalance.