Jul. 31



The Literary Pedophile

     "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul.  Lo-lee-ta:  the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo.  Lee.  Ta."

     That has to be the best opening paragraph of any novel ever written. I think it even beats Dickens's famous best of times, worst of times opening.  Nabokov was a literary master.  What an accomplishment to take the story of the forty-year-old pedophile Humbert Humbert who falls in love with the twelve-year-old nymphet Dolores Haze and turn it into a poetic literary masterpiece.  It's a contradiction of terms that still astonishes me every time I read it. 

     Like The Great Gatsby, this is a book I pick up every year.  However, I only read the first half over and over.  The second half begins to trudge as we follow the escapades of Humbert and Lolita and Quilty.  But the first half makes up for all future shortcomings.  Humbert makes an eloquent plea to his detractors on the first page:  "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied.  Look at this tangle of thorns."  By the end of the novel, the reader has somehow found herself feeling sympathy for this "pentapod monster" Humbert Humbert who has basically raped and pillaged a young girl who has just lost her mother.  Even when he gives an unreasonable, labyrinthine list of others who have "copulated" with young girls -- Rahab of the Old Testament who was a harlot at the age of ten, Dante who fell in love with his Beatrice when she was nine, Petrarch who fell in love with Lauren when she was twleve -- the reader still feels sympathy.  You don't believe me?  Pick it up and read it yourself.  No matter what mindset you have when you begin reading, I promise Nabokov will turn all your assumptions on their heads. That, my friends, is the power of language.  The pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword.

     Lolita is on my top-ten list of best novels ever written.  And if you only make it through the first fifteen chapters or so, you will have enriched your life.



8 years, 6 months ago

I wonder if our sympathy for Humbert Humbert is supposed to be aided by the fact that in his list of supposed literary pedophiles, there are several that seem tacked on rather awkwardly to the list as a means for his own self-justification. For example, Dante did fall in love with Beatrice when she was nine years old, but he was only a child himself, and he only ran into her one other time in her life before she died at the age of 24. They may not ever have spoken, and it's doubtful they fell into sin.(No one actually knows how old Rahab was when she fell into harlotry; the Bible doesn't say). But then, I forget that we're talking about Vladimir Nabokov, and I imagine this novel is the principle reason we use the word "Nabokovian" to describe a delightfully, deliberately misdirecting narrator. In part because of its ravishing literary beauty, in part because of its almost imperceptible subtleties, it really is a fine novel. But I would be curious to read a list of the other nine books in your literary pantheon.

Katie Hunter

8 years, 5 months ago

Having read this book, I completely agree with you. Nabokov is a master of language. No question about it. What I have been meaning to research is, why he decided to write about such a controversial and disturbing topic? But then, I just answered my own question.

Tayler Wilson

8 years, 5 months ago

When I read this novel I found it interesting how Nabokov successfully justifies Humbert's disturbing life style. He gives examples of importent literary figures who have been infatuated with young girls. This logical justification of his lust is some what similar to the Wife of Bathe's explaination of her promiscuity in "The Canterbury Tales". She also uses logic to prove that her actions are acceptable and simply human.

Amber Taylor

8 years, 5 months ago

Lolita amazes me because Nabokov really does establish an intriguing sense of sympathy within the reader. When reading the novel and the entry, I was surprised to find myself questioning my initial opinion about Humbert Humbert as well as other pedophiles. It is true that it is beyond impressive the way Nabokov can inspire slightly more than an inkling of compassion for one of the most despised types of criminals, some one who preys on and ruins the lives of people, girl children, not much different from myself or my friends and family.

Steven Rahbany

7 years, 8 months ago

Similar to your interest in the novel, Lolita has been one of my favorite novels that I have come across throughout my high school career. On the contrary to your claim though, I believe the second half of the account, although drudging at times, to be as or more important than the first. Perhaps this could be because of your attraction to style, and mine to theme, but the content in the second part cannot be overlooked. I believe the first half of the novel to familiarize the reader with Humbert's tendencies whereas the second half of the story reveals herself fully. The murder of Quilty is an example of a vital plot point that characterizes Humbert's inability to accept what is dealt to him. His "tragedy" is emphasized more in the second half in my opinion. Although you may find the second section to lack fluidity and excitement, I find that this section contains more than a plethora of content to satisfy a theme-hungry reader.

2 years, 10 months ago

/ I agree that Lolita is too daunting for an inutdotcrion. I read tons of fiction, and I couldn't get through it. I liked most of your other picks and that you picked some books by women. I would also say that Catch-22 is daunting, but I first read it as a child and it is one of my all-time favorites, so what do I know? I think I would pick one book by an African American maybe The Color Purple? and one that is not Western. And leave off Alice in Wonderland.But I know that I would never take a course that required me to read Twilight.

2 years, 3 months ago

That's a knowing answer to a dicilfuft question

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Listening to the whispering pines

Hello. My name is Donna Cozart Pauley. Welcome to The Whispering Pines, a literary blog dedicated to my love of the written word. It is an eclectic collage of my life -- from my poems to my stories to my family to my pets to my causes to my photographs to my recipes to my love of teaching to my favorite literature. Please feel free to comment. Words are only important if they are heard or read. Just like those soundless trees falling in the forest.

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