Lolita: A Falsely Accused Dominatrix?

Image source: Max Temescu, Pinterest


R E V I E W – B O O K  


Fiana Islam


“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. 

My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.” (Lolita, p. 1)

Dissecting a particular character from any fiction is always fun. Although it seemed quite difficult (and interesting) to me when I was analysing Dolores Haze, a twelve-year-old teenage girl from Vladimir Nabokov’s fiction Lolita (1955). The role she played, or should I say was “made to play” – seems quite out of track. Dolores Haze, aka Lolita, has been portrayed as one of the most powerful fictional female characters through ages.

However, the novel only speaks its narrator Professor Humbert’s side of the story. Point to be noted: this very man is also her step-father. In many places of the novel, Humbert mentioned that this little girl manipulated him into sexual intimacy, whereas I hardly found it possible. Back in the 1950s, this novel was banned in several countries (France, England, Argentina, New Zealand) because of its not-so-modest concept. Educational institutions were forbidden to add it to their syllabi. Apparently, from the ideal perspective, this book was not “decent” enough to read, especially for the children or youth. 

It seems like Lolita’s/Dolores’s “misinterpreted” character got more limelight than Humbert. 

What could be the reason, and why? 

Here’s what I think.

  •  Patriarchy 

When this book was written or published, the society was highly patriarchal. The concept of the novel was dominated by this ideology by default. A grown man’s confession overpowered the molestation of an innocent child. Nobody wanted to see a child’s immense struggle to survive with the man she disliked, as she was all alone and had no other options. Professor Humbert was not exactly conventional and he was against some of the moral rules set by society, which is depicted in his narration. Despite his disregard for “societal ethics”, he certainly got a very decent recognition as 

a) He was well known and highly educated, 

b) He had an eminent reputation because of his profession, and

c) He was an elegant man.

Even if some readers back then figured the actual part out, not much of their opinion came in light or under criticism. Again, patriarchy overruled it all. 

  • Media 

When the movie adaptations of Lolita came out in 1962 and 1997, the readers got to see their imaginary characters for the first time on screen in flesh and bones. Some posters and banners that the media served, portrayed Dolores as a beautiful teenage girl with multiple seductive attitudes, whereas the same posters showed Professor Humbert as a posh and masculine grown-up. Dolores’s fashion, gesture, and even her gaze were nothing resembling those of a normal child (as the media delivered), rather it was made to indicate something quite questionable in those posters. Girls with these features are commonly judged as provocative by the mainstream community.

The audience buys what the media feeds them. It’s very unlikely that all those were not done deliberately and the misleading attributes somehow had a negative impact on shaping a fictional character, especially an innocent one like Dolores. 

  • Impact on the underaged  

As I previously mentioned, this book was banned in many countries; the reason was certain that it was labelled “disturbing” for the underaged. Why? Because they must have thought that the central character was supposed to be a girl with fine qualities (and by fine, I mean qualities required to be a proper lady), rather than flirtatious ones. The conventionality made people over-conscious as they suspected this book might encourage something distorted, or the children/youth might exploit themselves by knowing such diverse characterisation of a young girl their age.

Banning this book not only misapprehended the character of Dolores Haze, but also overlooked the fact that Humbert defended himself by justifying his unusual sexual acts towards a child. The literary society took too long to choose a side between right and wrong despite having proper knowledge about the truth, which I find very unfortunate. It surely will feel quite unreasonable for any critics nowadays. 


 

Lolita became a culture after the book was published in 1955. The term Lolita Effect was coined by Meenakshi Gigi Durham in 2008, and underaged prostitutes were termed as Lolita. Fashion society and Pornography industries began using the name “Lolita” as a cultural icon to promote their shady businesses, and all these overtly gave power to adults with perverted minds and normalised their acts.

Dolores always wanted to be free. Many thought her acts atypical, but in reality, she was nothing but a caged bird. Her own choices and interests were buried under the male dominant society that Humbert represented. From the beginning, Dolores has been objectified because of her clothes, her expressions, her childish acts, and even for her desires. Sadly, some readers to date still unconsciously think of her as a spoiled brat and the ultimate seducer, as the novel only focused on the man’s perspective. While the girl was supposed to be shown as a child with innocence, she was not just portrayed but also received as an intriguing “nymphet” by most readers. The good thing is that this idea is slowly but surely changing, and the modern critics are finally managing to reveal the unspoken truth.

Humbert loved Lolita; if we see from his perspective, he fell for a fresh and blooming girl, and became a “victim”(!) to that “little deadly demon” with fantastic powers (Lolita, p. 16-17).

He stated, “I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me.” (Lolita, p. 132)

The more you analyse the characters or the book itself, the more you will observe the truth behind the poetic narration. What seems unfortunate is that Dolores aka Lolita’s molestation was overlooked in the name of the protagonist’s obsessive love/attraction. Many consider this book a twisted love story because of its rhythmic words and beautiful language (hats off to the author). Whereas, in reality, it showed how a child was getting abused and raped by a father figure now and then. 

It was unethical and unacceptable, regardless of the fairy-tale language. So, is the author to be blamed for projecting such a thing? ”No” would be my answer. Nabokov’s job ended when he metaphorically represented a brutal version of pedophilia in his novel, and it has always been on us — the readers — to be unbiased and pay attention to the monstrosity. 

   


Fiana thinks of herself as a human-ish, who wants to count her each step on this Earth, just like she counts the pages of her books. 

 

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