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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.
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.
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.