The last time I read Lolita I was sixteen and a senior in high school. It was probably Sting's fault I read it in the first place - I was a huge Police fan in high school, a fact that was driven solidly home to me last summer when my mother sent me my high school scrapbook. It was filled with four years of photographs of the band. Not friends, not artwork, not stories, just hundreds of pages yanked out of whatever flavor of Tiger Beat I could get my hands on and pressed lovingly in my memory book, the ridiculousness of which would then be saved for over twenty five years. Sting wrote the song; ergo, I will read the book. I still love the band, really, really love the band, but I am forever grateful that I am 1.) too young to have been attending their concerts when they were in their heyday, because it is a fact I would have slept with all three of them (too much information? Surely not.) and 2.) too old to have followed Sting into the world of Tantric Sex, because for god's sake who has the time?
So: Lolita. I was impressed enough with the book to have had it inspire me to base an AP English assignment on it. We were supposed to write a poem in a certain format, and I wrote about Lolita in the form of Humbert Humbert. The copy of the poem itself is long gone, but I still remember the first two lines of it:
Lovely Lolita, light of my life
Barefoot, you tango with Pan.*
Anyway, I worked for hours on that poem, followed the assignment perfectly, and received a Peppermint Patty-esque D minus for my efforts, because my Jesus-y English teacher apparently did not like the subject material.
Even back in 1986 Lolita was considered one of the best novels ever written, so with all due respect, Jesus-y English teacher, suck it.
Too many years have passed, and I remembered the injustice of the D minus more than I remembered the novel that inspired it, so I took the book off my shelf, the same book I had in high school, the second run of a Crest paperback from 1959 (fifty cents new!) and read it again.
Yep, it's still pretty much perfect, from the gorgeousness of the language, starting with the very first sentence, whose spirit I brazenly stole and put in my stupid little poem, to the wit which makes you feel like a creep for laughing out loud (when, for example, Humbert jealously describes two high school boys flirting with 14-year-old Dolly as being "all muscles and gonorrhea.")
Lolita is such a straightforward narrative with such a stomach-turning subject matter: A pedophile kidnaps and rapes a little girl for two whole years. It was unnerving me to see how "Lolita" is now synonymous with an underage, savvy, your-honor-I-swear-I-thought-she-was-18 Siren, cruelly luring men to dash helplessly up against the jagged rocks of our legal system. I thought I had remembered Humbert as being the classic Unreliable Narrator. Had I been misinterpreting Nabokov all these years?
Nope. Nabokov, through Humbert's twisted prism of reality, makes it very clear that Dolly Haze is a little girl. While Lolita's mother, Charlotte, described by Humbert as a grotesque, blowsy, overripe piece of the female gender, a monster who has swallowed whole the nymphet she once was, chats with him on the porch, Humbert is trying to jockey himself in position to surreptitiously molest Lolita while she sits and plays with dolls. She doesn't like baths and runs around with dirty fingernails and tangled hair, she is obsessed with whoever passed for the 1940's version of the cast of Twilight, and she is prone to temper tantrums. He admits to imagining scenarios with her in which she responds in a way that doesn't correspond with reality, and he openly muses about how he's going to get rid of her when she begins menstruating, despite his exaggerated expressions of "love."
He's a clear psychopath, in other words, a rapist, a kidnapper, a torturer, and just, you know, a real shit head. What happened to Lolita wasn't her fault. She wasn't asking for it, she didn't want it, and when all is said and done she flat out tells him "I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you've done to me." So, yech, please quit calling her and other underaged girls "temptresses." It doesn't speak well of you, and it's not what Nabokov would have wanted.
And all that being said, I would give a kidney to have written this book myself, word for word.
*Here I have to note that I once wrote a blog post about walking down Clark Street in Wrigleyville to my old store, the Honeysuckle Shop, with half a dozen buttplugs under one arm and a twelve-pack of toilet paper in the other. I couldn't care less about being seen with the butt plugs, but was slightly embarrassed about the toilet paper. Similarly, I don't care at all about confessing that given the opportunity I would have slept with an entire band, but horrified by my confession that I actually wrote the above two lines of juvenalia. Such is the horror of teenage poetry.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010