Perhaps one of the most scandalous and restricted books of the modern era, today I will explore why you should be encouraged to read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov as opposed to avoiding it.
In pop culture, the name Lolita has evolved to be synonymous with jailbait, a feat that can be traced back to one key person: Vladimir Nabokov, late author of a number of works, including the title we will be discussing today.
A lot of Lolita-centric art has developed since the publication of this novel in 1955, from fashion to music to film. This novel has acquired two movie adaptations, multiple opera adaptations, and more. Lana Del Rey is potentially the most affluent and charismatic figure in modern, western culture who is openly inspired by this novel. Her music often draws inspiration from this novel’s subject matter, her second album – Born to Die – incorporating many references to it. Off to the Races for example, contains the opening lines of the novel: “Light of my life, fire of my loins.” The closing song of the album itself is named Lolita. Her music is often described as a modern response to Nabokov’s character, Dolores, and the icon she has grown to be in our modern society.
So, why are we so enthralled by this character, this 12-year-old girl, who is the victim of such a controversial novel? And why am I encouraging the reading of this novel?
- New perspectives. Reading Lolita – and novels like it – allow me to experience a narrative I would never otherwise have any insight into. Humbert Humbert is a paedophile. I am not condoning this. I am not glamorising or romanticising this as many people think readers of Lolita are. I am merely enthralled by this unreliable perspective, and find it interesting to read from a perspective I will never, personally, understand or relate to.
- Mental challenges. The most scary aspect of Lolita is Humbert’s ability to persuade the reader into thinking his actions are justifiable. Obviously, they are not. But I am interested in how using such flowery language can blind a reader to the reality of what they are reading. Frankly, on many occasions when reading this novel, I would have to pause, take a step back, and figure out what I had just read. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t justified. It was horrific and amoral. I am able to separate the two in my mind: Humbert’s perspective, and reality. It does, however, propose a challenge, as do all novels with unreliable narrators.
- Brilliant writing. There is no denying that Nabokov can write. Lolita is often called Nabokov’s love letter to the English language, because his writing is so complex, so playful, so intriguing. Why not indulge in this?
- Character complexity. No character in this novel is purely good, nor are they purely bad. Each character is extremely complex with a number of dimensions, and – despite yourself – you find yourself sympathising with all of them at one point or another.
- Social Commentary. Reading this novel, for me, highlighted many flaws in our society. To read this novel critically is to further understand the culture it came from, and setting this novel in America only heightens this. This country is home to the majority of its readers, and recognisable to every other reader. Lolita offers a rare opportunity to explore what happens behind the facade of ‘the greatest country in the world.’ America is riddled with flaws, just like every country. We should explore both sides of the coin.
That being said, you should not read this novel if you are sensitive to the subject matter. I also do not recommend it to readers under the age of 15. A certain degree of maturity is required to fully appreciate this novel and approach it sufficiently critically.
Thank you for reading – I hope this post has been food for thought!
Have you read Lolita? What did you think? Do you disagree with what I’ve said? Let me know down in the comments!
Love, Olivia x