Lolita: Lit Geek’s banned indulgence

4 Oct

I hope everyone had a lovely banned books celebration this past week (Sept. 25th-Oct. 2nd). As an avid reader, I must admit that most of my favorite literary endeavors have either been challenged or banned at some point. It is likely that some of your favorite books have been banned as well.  If you’re interested, take a gander at the American Library Association’s resources on the topic (ALA Banned and Challenged Books).

Lately, my previously banned indulgence has been Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Now, I have read this novel before for my college coursework, but the theme of pedophilia seriously disturbed me so deeply that I was unable to fully comprehend any other message contained within the novel. Realizing that a vast amount of my classmates were able to comprehend this novel despite the sensitive subject, I obviously felt silly and just NEEDED to revisit the novel.

Now…what have I truly noticed? For one, the novel is embellished with some ingenious allusions. These work toward crediting the intelligence of our narrator, Mr. Humbert Humbert. It cannot be denied that Humbert is an extremely intelligent man, but is he a reliable narrator? This was mentioned in my coursework (more like heavily emphasized), yet I only scratched the surface in understanding Humbert’s dwindling reliability as a narrator. For example, nearly in the same breath he dictates to the reader that he is extremely handsome while instantaneously describing unsavory physical features.

Unreliable narrators are not uncommon in literature. For example, in Sylvia Plath’s the Bell Jar, the reader is to realize that the narrator/protagonist suffers from extreme mental illness. Perhaps the simple task of existing is not so difficult as Esther Greenwood would have us believe, but then again, the narrator is…for all intensive purposes…mental.

An image from Adrian Lyne's 1997 adapation of Nabakov's classice novel. (image courtesy of

Yet, Humbert Humbert, an imprisoned criminal who rewrites his experiences with Lolita (as his original diary had been destroyed), would have us believe that Lolita was not opposed to his advances. After all, Humbert is trying to cultivate some sympathy from the reader (or jury), who will, no doubt, judge him harshly for his affair with a little girl. Humbert tries to flaunt the psychologically unstable card, combining his argument with the notion of the irresistible “nymphet.”

My overall second impression of the novel, once I surpassed the initial shock of the content, is that it truly is a work of genius. With intense imagery, endless allusions and a sympathetic (though unreliable) narrator, readers are easily dragged into the messy decisions of Humbert Humbert.


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