Why You Shouldn’t Be Put Off Reading Lolita | LibroLiv

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.

Image result for lolita

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Until next time, and to keep up with my reading as it happens, find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Tumblr.

Love, Olivia x

6 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Be Put Off Reading Lolita | LibroLiv

  1. Thanks for this interesting perspective on “Lolita”, Olivia.

    I must confess that I didn’t enjoy the novel the first time I read it, nor the second time around. Perhaps (having read your review) I will re-read the novel.

    Do you think that “Lolita” would be published today given the growing concern over paedophilia? At the time of the novels publication the subject did (to the best of my knowledge) receive relatively little attention. However with the Jimmy Savile revelations and the trial (and convictions) of several child grooming gangs awareness of paedophilia is at an all time high. Given the climate I suspect that many a publisher wouldn’t touch the novel with a bargepole for fear of being accused of being an apologist for Humbert Humbert/paedophilia. I am not in favour of banning things (being a liberal with a small l), but I can’t help thinking that it would be very difficult for Nabakov to publish his novel today (where he to be writing now).

    As an aside, I was interested to read that Lana Del Rey has been inspired by “Lolita”. I only really know her through the track “Video Games” but will look out the other tracks you mention.

    Best – Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but we all have different tastes I guess! I think one of the reasons that spurred me to reading Lolita in the first place was the curiosity of how Nabokov dealt with such a taboo subject. That being said, I have grown up in a world where this taboo is increasingly spoken about and condemned. I definitely think a modern Nabokov would struggle to publish Lolita in the more politically-aware and politically-correct society that we live in. Whilst it remains on many so-called ‘banned books’ lists today, I fear it would be on plenty more if published today. I say ‘fear’ because I think this is a great novel. Ingenious, almost. We often have the opportunity to delve into the mind of criminals in thriller novels, but these are usually murderers – I assume because this is the least taboo of all criminal taboos? However, with Lolita, we have the opportunity to delve into a much more sinister perspective. I understand what you mean when you say Humbert apologists and I certainly agree that such behaviour should be condemned, but that does not mean to say this such a poetic and well-written novel as this should be condemned, too. Unfortunately, though, I am sure it would be, as I have said, in modern climes. I guess that’s the world we live in today! However, I also do believe that people quick to judge such novels purely based on their subject matter are also those who tend to be a little bigotted or ignorant to the power of literary works. I’ve always believed that if you don’t like a book or the subject matter of a book, don’t read it! But don’t stop other people from reading it at the same time. Like you said, liberal with a small ‘l’ haha! So in short (I’ve begun to ramble a little) I agree that this novel would be extremely difficult to publish today – but I think that in itself is a shame.

      In terms of Lana Del Rey, I never realised her references until reading Lolita, but I quickly came to realise that her first album (Born to Die) actually has many references to this novel! There is also quite a Lolita-esque aesthetic to this album – think red lollipops, red lipstick etc.

      Thanks for commenting! Don’t worry about the like (:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your great and detailed response to my comment, Olivia.

        I think that you are right about paedophilia being more of a taboo subject to tackle than is murder.
        Perhaps this is due to the fact that there exist different degrees of murder, with not all murderers being viewed (both in fiction and under the law) as being equally bad. For example the battered wife who snaps after years of abuse and kills her abusive husband is (rightly) given a much lesser sentence than is the hitman who cold bloodedly kills for money. Indeed, in the former case, the battered wife may escape a custodial sentence. In contrast, little (if any) sympathy is expended on the paedophile (“Lolita being, in literary terms a rare exception that proves the rule, as Nabakov’s portrayal of Humbert Humbert is not entirely negative, I.E. he is shown to not be wholly devoid of humanity, while most portrayals of paedophiles show them as evil monsters which does, of course accord with the tabloids view of the matter).

        You are right about it being a shame that a publisher would be unlikely to publish “Lolita” today. Perhaps some of the concern about the novel stems from the fact that nowhere (to the best of my recollection) does Nabakov explicitly condemn Humbert Humbert. But, then again one could argue that it is a matter for the reader to pass judgement and not for the author to do so.

        Best – Kevin

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharie

    Hi Olivia,

    I just found your blog after looking for some informations about Lolita. I was inspired to read this novel by the TV-series Pretty Little Liars. I´m from Germany where this book isn´t really popular. It was even difficult to find a good exemplar in german. I´m still reading the book and I think it is brilliant. I agree with you about the new perspective. I also find it really interisting to be able to look inside a person like Humbert Humbert. I think I´m going to read Lolita again, after I´ve
    finished, because it is really complex and intensive. How long did it took you to read the novel?


    Liked by 1 person

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