Lo, Lola, Lolita

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Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Ah, Lolita. One of the most controversial books of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. It’s a novel which approaches the incredibly taboo subject of paedophilia from a very unusual angle- a romantic one. We are drawn into the twisted mind of Humbert Humbert, an attractive European academic, who develops an infatuation with his landlady’s daughter, who reminds him of a lost childhood love. Nabokov does not portray Humbert as a hero, but does allow him the odd moment of sympathy throughout, and he boldly resists characterising Lolita as an angelic, innocent child.

This novel is, in short, mind-blowing. From Nabokov’s lyrical writing style- which often makes the novel seem more like poetry than prose- to his wonderfully complex portrayal of the disturbing relationship between Humbert and Lolita, he takes your expectations of a novel about paedophilia and turns them on their head. At times, novel is erotic- romantic, even- and forces you to empathise with Humbert’s desire for Lolita through wonderful descriptions of her tanned, bony feet and glossy hair. Even though Lolita is Humbert’s victim and her life is effectively ruined by him, she is often portrayed as cruel and manipulative. Meanwhile Humbert, the predator, who does despicable things such as have Lolita perform sexual acts upon him in the car whilst he watches children walk out of school, often seems weak and pathetic- in making Lolita the object of his affections, he gives her the upper hand. In the end, it is Lolita who breaks Humbert’s heart, not the other way around. Lolita is undoubtedly a victim and suffers some terrible things, but she is strong whilst Humbert is weak, and Nabokov challenges convention- and flirts outrageously with controversy- in playing with this unusual balance.

However, I disagree with those who call the novel ‘immoral’, or even ‘amoral’. Although he is a desperate, pitiful man at times, we are never permitted to forget that he is a lecherous paedophile and any brief flashes of sympathy are soon replaced by enduring disgust. Humbert wishes to view himself as a lover, and in a sense, he is- the problem is, his ardent passion is directed towards a child. He tries to delude himself, and the reader, that his relationship with Lolita is a great love affair, but he has moments of clarity when he is overcome with self-loathing and begs her forgiveness- much to her disgust. Nabokov delights in playing with conventions of romance and his style is poetic, but at the centre of Humbert’s magniloquent narrative lies a rotting core of disturbing obsession; Nabokov leaves no doubt as to who the villain of the piece truly is. However, Lolita is not a morality tale, and nor should it try to be; do we really need a work of fiction to tell us that rape, exploitation and murder are wrong?

Have YOU read Lolita? What did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please leave a comment!

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Ultimate Book Tag

So I thought I’d do a book tag because since I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a while I’m trying to do a few posts a day and I do love doing these things. If you’re reading this, I tag you! Feel free to post your answer in the comments section as well as on your own site, or just comment if you don’t have a blog but want to do the tag!

Questions: 1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?
Yes. I hate it, because otherwise reading would be a perfect way to whittle away a long journey.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?
This is hard because I think that every writer has a unique style. Jean Rhys has a beautiful, haunting style and I love the way F. Scott Fitzgerald writes- the New York Review claimed that Fitzgerald’s prose has “the tough delicacy of a garnet”, and I think that’s a wonderfully apt way of describing it.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer. HARRY POTTER ALL THE WAY. The Potter series creates a whole, incredibly, amazingly well thought out magical world you can get lost in and believe in; I love the friendships in the Harry Potter series; and Twilight is incredibly sexist- Bella can’t be happy without a man and her relationship with Edward meets almost all of the criteria of an abusive relationship.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?
No- haven’t since primary school!

5. Do you smell your books?
Yes. Are you telling me that there are people out there who don’t?

6. Books with or without little illustrations?
Without. I’m not five.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing? (Ex. I read Twilight before I read HP and thought the writing was amazing but read HP and now think Twilight is a little bit of a joke.)
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I did love Twilight when I was about thirteen. I didn’t really understand how unhealthy Edward and Bella’s relationship is and you have to admit that the idea of vampires that sparkle is pretty stupid. I picked it up about three years later when I couldn’t sleep and realised what drivel it was.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!
I thought Hogwarts was real, but then what nine-year-old doesn’t?

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?
Hmm. Maybe Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad- it’s so short it’s basically a novella (96 pages).

10. What is the thickest book on your shelf?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- 1011 pages.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author? Yes, I’d love to be an author and I’m working on my first novel right now. It’s hard because I’m so used to writing short stories and I hate planning, but I love doing it- I’d love to get it published but I am realistic about it. Anyway, it’s a while before I’ll be anywhere near completion and it will need a LOT of editing before I even consider maybe sending it off or publishing it via Kindle.

12. When did you get into reading?
I’ve always loved it. When I was little and starting school I couldn’t wait to learn to read- I got so annoyed when they gave us those books without any words where we had to make the story up ourselves! The first book I read that I really loved was The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark when I was eight, and ever since then I’ve pretty much always had a book on the go!

13. What is your favorite classic book?
Oooh, tough one. I love Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, but then a lot of my favourite books are considered to be ‘modern classics’… so it depends on your definition of classic, really.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?
You got it… English and French have always been my favourites!

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?
Depending on who gave it to me, I’d probably tell them that I’d already read it- but not that I hated it! With gifts it’s definitely the thought that counts so I’d still let them know how much I appreciated it.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?
Maybe the Maddaddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood- the dystopian elements as well as the hybrid creatures mean (and the Painball arena) mean that Hunger Games fans would probably like it! As for HP… it’s incomparable.

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?
Not proof-reading before I post- I never do that! And not blogging for a long time then listing the boring reasons why. I also often find it hard to think of books I love off of the top of my head and so I tend to repeat myself a lot and talk mainly about books I’ve read recently, leaving some great ones out!

18. What is your favourite word?
Vom, short for vomit. Urrr, in all seriousness I don’t really have one.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?
I was always called a nerd at school because I cared about schoolwork, but now I’m at uni and everyone’s clever and cares I’ve sort of shed that reputation. I’m probably the least “nerdy” out of my friends- I haven’t read/watched GoT, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Sherlock etc.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?
I’m not a huge fantasy fan… I’d probably say vampires at a push because they’re a bit more badass but neither of them really do it for me- I’ve definitely moved on from Y/A fiction.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?
Again, doesn’t really apply.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?
Never read a book about spirits so… werewolves.

23. Zombies or Vampires?
I like the movie Warm Bodies so I’ll say zombies.

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love
Both can have their merits- I love anything romantic really.

25. AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?
It really does depend on the book. I enjoy a variety!

French in literature…

It’s long been regarded as the language of the upper classes and there’s no doubt that French is sophisticated and sounds beautiful. I personally love it and whenever I stumble across a few sentences of la belle langue in a book, I’m delighted! However, I know not every bookworm is able to read French, so it did get me thinking about why it’s so often included in literature, often without translations. I’m reading Jane Eyre at the moment and the little girl in the book, Adèle, is French and speaks limited English. Although most of what she says is translated, some of her sentences are in their original French. Nowadays if you want to know you can (mostly) get the gist from Google translate (but this is a no-no for any serious linguists, I’d just like to point out) but what about back then? I suppose perhaps Ms. Brontë was writing for an educated audience; back then there was no uniform system of national education. She could also have wanted to demonstrate her knowledge of French, proving herself to be intelligent and educated. French also adds a touch of sophisticated and glamour to the book; it’s exotic, exciting and romantic. 

French is also present in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, accentuating the protagonist’s love of language; he is enamoured by it and again I feel that the inclusion of French gives the book a romantic feel. Although we read of Dolores and Humbert’s escapades with disapproval, to say the very least, he thinks of it as a romance; he does not see their relationship in the same light as his reader. 

You also find French in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, written in the early 1950s (and published in 1953), but set in 1900. This time the language appears in a conversation between Marcus and Leo. A little of it is translated and I think you could probably get the gist of the conversation. Marcus and Leo are both snobs, Marcus more so perhaps, and the conversation in French is an attempt on his part to prove his superiority over his companion. Since French was a language favoured by the upper classes, it seems fitting that this is the one which Marcus selects. I understand (though if I am wrong, please let me know!) that French was the most widely taught language at schools at the time and it is still perceived as a glamorous language- it wouldn’t be quite the same if it were written in Spanish. 

What are YOUR thoughts on languages in literature? Have you ever read a book in another language? I’ve heard that parts of A Clockwork Orange are written in German, but I’ve never read it; if you have, I’d love to know more!