Banned Books Week: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

October 1, 2012 Banned Books, Classics 6

Happy Monday, Bookworms! Today is the start of Banned Books Week. Every year the American Library Association celebrates the books that have been challenged an/or banned from schools and libraries. All week I’m going to be treating you to my views on some well-known banned classics. The first on our list is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Ever wonder what would happen in Chris Hansen didn’t catch the predators on To Catch A Predator?  (Have a seat over there…) The answer lies within the pages of Lolita. It has been banned for obscenity in France, England, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa at various points in time. Not exactly surprising… Since it’s about a pedophile.

Lolita’s narrator is a middle aged literature professor with a predilection for young girls. He calls himself Humbert Humbert. (I don’t really understand the significance of the name, but I’m not a moderately insane Russian novelist.) Humbert develops an obsession with his girlfriend’s 12 year old daughter, Delores. He eventually marries the woman in order to guarantee his proximity to his “Lolita.” To his dismay, Humbert’s new wife sends Delores off to summer camp, so Humbert is left pretending to love his new wife all the while pining for her daughter. He writes his obsessive thoughts in his journal which the wife eventually discovers. She tears our some pages in order to send them to the police. Humbert catches on and chases her to the mailbox trying to intercept the letter. Fate intervenes when the wife is struck by a vehicle while crossing the street to the mailbox.  She is killed, Humbert intercepts the letter, and then takes off to pick Lolita up from camp. (Because you know, it’s totally believable plot twist. Not a stretch at all.)

The cover isn’t suggestive or anything. Sigh. Dirty old men…

What follows is the story of a disturbing kidnapping. Humbert takes Lolita away from summer camp and makes her his captive. She is at his disposal sexually. Lolita may be Humbert’s prisoner, but she’s not entirely powerless. She begins to charge for certain services and manipulate Humbert’s obsession to obtain her own ends. This goes on for a while… Then Lolita begins to age. She’s no longer a pre-teen “nymphet.” She’s maturing into a woman… And Humbert begins to lose interest. When Lolita finally escapes Humbert in the midst of a cross country road trip, Humbert attempts to track her down to no avail.

They reunite years later when a 17 year old Lolita is married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. She decides to cash in on whatever is left of her power over Humbert, so she contacts him. Humbert gives her what money he can and then feels fatherly in the creepiest possible way. He makes a pit stop on his way home from Lolita’s so he can kill the man who helped her escape (and subsequently tried to get her to star in pornography. Magnet for perverts, that Lolita.) Humbert is arrested for a traffic violation and put in prison once the authorities connect him to the murder. In a postscript, it’s revealed that Lolita dies in child birth.

Now I’m stuck with this conundrum. How the heck am I supposed to write a funny blog about this book?! I read this because it was supposed to be brilliant. I don’t know if I’d say brilliant so much as horrifying… Luckily, I’m SO not above bragging. Whenever “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police comes on the radio, I always sing along. I typically use the opportunity to bellow the line “just like the old man in that book by Nabokov!” Because even though it majorly freaked me out, I read “that book by Nabokov!” And that makes me ever-so-slightly MORE awesome. Now. Don’t stand so close to me.

6 Responses to “Banned Books Week: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov”

  1. Arsenic Kitten

    From what I’ve read off of the internet, this book is brilliant because of “Nabokov’s unique usage of the English language”. After reading the book myself, I don’t think that this fact alone is enough to deem Lolita ‘brilliant’. I feel that, while Vladimir’s stylistic qualities may make his usage of the English language unique and interesting to read, Lolita exposes its characters to inappropriate situations without there being a cause, or good lesson behind it.

    • Lionel

      The exposure is as healthy as the fresh air we breath, it allows us to grow and experience without the actual psychological disturbance of being molested. It gives us understanding on a deeper level than simply surveying the the victim; this novel is a not simply something interesting to read, that would make it counter-productive. It is a warning, it is a wake-up call, and it is provocative not because it is artistically pleasing but because the real acts of sexual abuse are atrocious and sadly relevant in our ‘safe society.

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