Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Lolita Reads Lolita

Okay, today was meant to be my DMC post but unfortunately I have had a stinking cold the past few days. So I am doing a bit of self care and posting a post I already had written up. I am hoping to have the chance to go through all my stuff later, so the DMC post should be up next Thursday. Apologies for the delay. So much crazy stuff has been going on! Anyway, here is a post about the Lolita novel...

As wearers of lolita fashion, how many times has the phrase "It's not like the book" come out of our mouths as we explain to others what the fashion is about? It has almost become a bit of a running joke in the fashion community. There is this great fear of the clothing we love getting compared to the main subject of the book- pedophilia. But how many of us have actually read the book? I got asked recently if I had read Lolita and I had to admit that I hadn't. So I decided that something needed to be done about this and went and got myself a copy. Be warned- MASSIVE SPOILERS are going to follow.

The book is told from the point of view of Humbert Humbert, the nymphet loving pedophile who falls in love with Dolores (also known as Lolita). He has been imprisoned for murder and the book sort of reads as his confession. Before reading the book, I was expecting to view Humbert as simply being a dirty old pervert. In the beginning, that is indeed how I viewed him. Despite hearing his tales of his early love life pre-Lolita, all I could see was the pedophile. In fact, hearing his tales sounded awfully as if he was trying to justify what he was about to tell us all about his misdemeanors with Lolita. Humbert obviously knows what he did is wrong and has the audacity to try and pleas with the reader to understand him!

But as I got further in to the book, it became more confusing to me. The Humbert near the start of the book is very focused on his lust and his careful pursuit of Lolita. He catches little glances of her and satisfies himself with brief moments, such as having Lolita sit on his knee. I never had the impression that he was genuinely in love with Lolita. I don't believe that Humbert feels he is in love with Lolita either. He talks about how when she gets older, she will eventually lose her 'nymphet qualities' and how he wishes to enjoy her whilst she is still young. Later on, it becomes apparent that there is another Humbert. This other Humbert is hopelessly in love with Lolita. When he sees her as a pregnant, married 17-year-old, Humbert tells us that he is still in love with Lolita, even though she is no longer a child. His feelings towards his former lover seem to genuine. The romantic poetry and flowery descriptions throughout the book feel more heartfelt. I never once felt sorry for Humbert, and it remains the case that his sexual tendencies are illegal, but I found myself feeling a lot less hostile towards him as I finished the novel.

Initially, I was not a fan of the character Lolita. Her character felt very two-dimensional and written to sound like a 'typical' teenager, obsessed with movies, clothing and all the usual stuff. Humbert is not a reliable narrator, which means we are only seeing her through his eyes. He is focused solely on the sexual elements of their relationship for most of the book. It is only later on that he realises how damaging his actions have been and how maybe Lolita may have been thinking. To truly build a picture of Lolita's character, I had to remind myself how I was when I was her age. When I was 12, I was curious about sex but not so much in forming meaningful relationships. I see that same curiosity in Lolita. It is almost as if sex is a game. Only as time goes on, and Lolita's vulnerabilities come through, it becomes more apparent that she is maybe not as willing a sexual partner as Humbert first thinks.

When I finished the book I was pleased to see that it really wasn't anywhere near as smutty as I thought it was going to be. Humbert is clearly a very troubled character, as evidenced by his time in a mental institution and the mourning of a childhood lover. Lolita is equally troubled, and you do have to wonder how a typical 12 year-old would react if they were to go through the same events as Lolita. I found myself finding that the way the events pan out in the book are maybe not as unrealistic as I first thought. It is the tragedy of the situation that I have found has stayed in my mind after finishing the book.

Although the book left some confusing feelings inside me afterwards (there are lots of little subtleties I missed at first until they were pointed out in the afterword and reviews of the novel) I am still glad that I read it. I do think the book fully deserves its reputation as a Modern Classic and it was interesting seeing what other people thought of it. Perhaps on a second reading, it will gradually begin to make more sense to me. From a lolita fashion point of view, the book has absolutely nothing to do with the fashion. But rather than dismissing the book as some kind of dirty piece of erotica, I would invite others to actually pick up and read the book. It is also fair to say that there is a sexual fetish named after Lolita, but usually it is simply enough to explain to members of the public that it is not connected to the book. At least now, I can say with confidence that I have indeed read the book. I may still dislike Humbert's appalling actions and his pathetic attempts to justify them to both the reader and himself, but the book is written in such a way that you can almost get a better idea of how his mind works. His realizations towards the end help to make him seem a lot more'human'. Lolita is maybe not a good book for a more casual reader, but if you are a book fan then I would recommend giving it a go.


  1. I had read Lolita purely because of the fashion, so that I could say exactly why the two are different. I don't know how I managed to finish the book, because I really didn't enjoy it. Like you said, I felt like it was Humbert putting down a lot of words, often with a bit of style over substance feeling to it, to justify himself. I also found Humbert go from self-confessed 'nymphet lover' who was relatively harmless while he practiced restraint with prostitutes and voyerism to a very controlling and psychologically abusive person later on when Lolita was at school (you can't do this, you must do that, I need to know what you're doing and who with etc.), which is not an easy read. Having said this, Lolita's time at school was the closest thing there was in the book that you could call a favourite of mine because this is when Lolita gained more depth as a character as she finally had an opportunity to interact with someone else but Humbert or her mother and got a glimpse of teenage normality. Let it be clear, I'm glad that I read it because not only I can better explain the difference between the book and the fashion now, but also because the book itself is so misrepresented and misread in popular perception. Many people sum it up as 'a young girl seducing an old man' when in fact, as far as I'm concerned, there is no seducing at all that we can be absolutely certain of because of the first person narrative (as well as child psychology suggesting that while a 12 year old may be curious, they are not yet emotionally developed and aware enough to secude - although as Humbert's relationship with Lolita continued, she did learn how to use his obsession with her to her advantage and learnt to be manipulative). But I can't say that I enjoyed the book nor that I ever intend to go back to it or watch the film adaptation.

    1. I really did struggle towards the end to finish the book. I started off not minding Humbert's character too much but as the book went on I got increasingly angry with his actions. He is selfish, abusive and manipulative. It is probably because as you mentioned, he starts off relatively 'harmless'. I liked it when Lolita attended school as well. Initially I thought her character was poorly written, but I came to realise that it was mostly because we were getting Humbert's very narrow view of her. When she was at school her character flourished a bit more. It is a very misinterpreted book. I can't say I enjoyed it that much, but I am going to try reading it once more in a year or so just to see if I can get a better grasp of it, as I feel as though it may become a bit clearer.

  2. I read Lolita in high school, since I had some very literate and educated friends who I wanted to keep up with and it was a "classic". I have to say I wasn't a fan, it was an uncomfortable slog for me. But it's so good to have read it now that I'm into lolita fashion! Good on you for giving it a read.

    1. I found that initially the book was quite readable, but it became a lot more of a slog towards the end. Despite not massively enjoying it, I am glad that I at least tried!


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