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Nabokov is not a horrible man

Junior year of college, I took a course on Nabokov. I'd never read anything of his, but a professor I was totally in love with was teaching it, and so I pretty much didn't care what the subject was.

We read eight of his books. Eight. Do you know how many of Dickens's books I've read? Eight. And I LOVE him. Actually, as of now, I've read nine Nabokov books, and that kills me a little bit, but okay whatever.

Lolita was a bit of a problem. I was already frustrated in that class because it had a lot of super-smart grad students. Pretty much all I'd read up to then was Victorian lit, and when it came to modern/postmodern lit, I felt like an idiot. So then we started reading this, what seems on the surface, pedophilic work, and I just hated it.

Our professor said things like "You have to look at it from the side of your eye" and "Don't judge it yet," but I pretty much ignored all that and focused on how yes, the opening lines are wonderful, but then it swiftly descends into Humbert Humbert being gross and me feeling gross for reading it.

UNTIL. The ending. There's a line towards the end I loved so much I put it on my bedroom door (I have a collection of quotes on my door at my parents' house). Humbert goes through the novel not really seeing Lolita. She's this fantasy object with no interiority, and her perceived-by-him lack of self is most of what enables him to do what he does. If she's not a fully-fledged person, what does it matter? He wants her, she's obviously leading him on, so there we have it.

But something happens towards the end that makes him realize that "quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile cliches, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate".

That almost turned the novel on its head for me. Humbert Humbert's behavior is not condoned. He is not any kind of hero. He is a terrible man, but Lolita is a beautifully written book.


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