Lolita is absolutely vile, and I cannot be convinced otherwise. Yes, Humbert Humbert is the worst, and yes, we are supposed to know that he is a monster, but good lord this book is venerated from here to kingdom come as if it is the be all-end all of twentieth century literature. The edition that I picked up, which was published in 1997 as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the original pressing- and is still the one in current re-prints and mass circulation, STILL features a quote from Vanity Fair (of course) calling it “the only convincing love story of our century.”
The cover also still features the mouth of a child (and the audio, which I switched back and forth between, features a photo of a child’s legs) – which is why I am using the cover of an edition that I did not read: The Annotated Lolita. Why? Because it DOES NOT FEATURE A SEXUALIZED CHILD ON THE COVER.
I have been attempting to read this book for twenty years. It was first given to me by a male teacher when I was 13. I was confused and bored by the first few pages; I pretended to read it and avoided him for the remainder of the year. It was recommended time and again throughout high school; sometimes by adults, sometimes by “best of” lists, and – maddeningly- from other teen girls. It was presented as being “so romantic”!
An older boyfriend gave it to me when I was 17; content-based or not, I did not want to do anything that he told me I should do. I tried to read it a few times throughout college; it was still featured on lists, still a venerated classic, and still readily available in every used bookstore that I wandered into. I gave it a few chances in college, but still: I was grossed out and not curious enough to continue. I was happy to abandon my efforts.
Then, this past spring, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s terrific My Dark Vanessa roared into the forefront on my thoughts; it features a teenage girl being groomed by a teacher with, you guessed it, Lolita. Her book is beautiful. Lolita is horrifying. I knew that I had to finally dig in my heels and force myself through that book. I refuse to be open-minded on this one; it does not matter how well-written it is, does not matter how respected Nabokov is- does not matter what the original intent was. Lolita is a how-to guide for pedophiles. It is lurid, horrifying, and repulsive. It has become an altarpiece for “tormented” men to “worship” their “nymphets”. It has inspired criminals- and it has normalized the still-persisting idea that children are active participants in their rapes. How often do we still hear grown men moaning about how children (not “underage women”- another problem term. children) are “seductresses”. Lolita is every man with a teenage “girlfriend”. Lolita is every school district writing dress codes policing girls and their bodies for “distracting” boys and men. Lolita is every child who thinks that having an adult “in love” with them is the height of sophistication, and that it is in fact love and not abuse.
All in all, while I hated reading this, hated thinking about it, dreaded picking up the book again, and winced my way through narration from Jeremy Irons, I am sated by finally finishing this White Whale. Now I am armed with the facts as to why this book is detestable; I don’t just have an icky feeling anymore; I have proof. I wouldn’t have forced myself through this piece if it wasn’t for that final Bingo square!