Lolita: Beauty Versus Crime

Morgan Hickman

I had been wanting to read “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov for quite some time, and often found myself picking it up gingerly along the fiction aisle at Barnes & Noble, spreading my hand over the racy cover while flipping through the pages before letting it nestle back on its spot among the shelves. Knowing the controversy surrounding it, the book itself became this center of mystery to me and formed this reputation in my mind as the forbidden fruit of literature. Beckoning me with its provocative pages and promise of unrequited love, curiosity finally got a hold of me and I found myself up at the register, clutching the novel bashfully to my chest.

On the first page I experienced syrupy-sweet poetry, a siren song for a lost love — “light of my life, fire of my loins” — I became a part of Humbert’s seemingly innocent desire — lost in a eulogy of ashen lust. Then, as the story progressed, what simple sweetness that had emerged on the early pages, soon turned dark as I realized Humbert’s rather alarming past. Confused as to where his own illegal desires come from, he contributes it back to his sexual awakening in his childhood, involving a girl who died shortly after their acquaintance. This view darkens further as the reader discovers just how Humbert spends his time: stalking children in the park, engaging in sexual acts with young prostitutes, and even acquiring a wife in which he abuses verbally and physically.

I found the perception of the story that I previously held was completely false — revering a plot which follows a man with a demented mind-set that allows him to perform illegal acts on behalf of his unavoidable desires for “nymphettes” — labeling him as a pedophile and criminal. These desires run his life, meaning everything he does in the novel, every move and waking breath, is performed to reach his goal of satisfying his own lust.

Even as I am writing this, I am finding it hard to admit what Humbert had done, to call it like it really was — I found myself torn between the poetic phrases in the novel, and this sickening plot. But I think this perfectly explains what Nabokov wanted to portray — a broken man, with his incredibly abusive tendencies but also this overwhelming desire in which he seems to have little control over. One realizes when reading, that the desire expressed for Lolita on the first page was driven by his pedophillic tendencies, but made stronger by his loss of her — and the loss of her innocence toward the end of the book, focusing only on the absence of her from his life — instead of what caused the absence itself.