The love for an abstract, for a muse: Lolita, his Lolita and only Lolita.
What would you think if I told you, doubtful reader, that I, your troubled narrator, loved small children? I know that if I say this there is a small twang in your moral conscience that tells you to stop reading immediately and gently fold and put down this morally delirious narrative. Of course, because this is such an open minded and liberal nation, and you such liberal and accepting readers, you will consider that I have perhaps made a small slip of the tongue or that you merely misinterpreted my statement and that maybe there is some strangely romantic shading to my love of small children (in the same way that Blake wrote of that innocent lamb, learned readers might comment), but of course this will be lost in the great flood of moral outrage that will overtake your minds and, for some of you, beget cause in putting down your paper or closing the window of your internet explorer that allows you to read this little confession. Alas: I’m afraid my tale will not allow the washing away of guilt moral judgement provides; my confession will remain a desert and your tears will not make a goddam difference.
For those curious enough, for those who once sweated with delirious anticipation when Grandfather Time cracked open their first walnut to reveal the raw flesh of nature, to those, I ask to consider: an idea: withhold disbelief; and perhaps a path: always and never, never -- which cannot be stressed enough with any greater assortment of iambs -- judge me solely on the object of my love, but think solely of that love as an object. There is a heart beating somewhere in this story, and like the vampiric readers you are you will find it and suck it dry.
Do you not see?
It is not fair of you to bestow upon me those socially obtrusive titles which will have me chased from neighbourhoods and put on every neighbourhood watch lists across this glorious nation; this is a very large hindrance to my well-being as a member of society and constructs very unnecessary walls in my journey throughout said society. To alleviate your imaginations in how this might work, I will say it: I have never touched a child. Oh, well, you know: I have held babies before, in good company of course, and thrown a ball or played cards with some pubescent boys and girls at family barbeques, but I have never touched a child, alone, don’t you see? I am not a criminal and never have been.
If I were in your position, vicious reader, I would ask very simple questions. First, I would ask how such a desire became manifest. This I consider a well chosen question. Since the relationship between narrator and reader cannot divulge into a Q&A, I have no means of discerning what individual readers will ask first; even by presuming that there is a ‘first’ response ‘most’ readers will have, some other readers -- but certainly not you who are reading now, dearest reader! -- will think it a pretentious gesture. This may lead to a hostile relationship between me and those readers, which is certainly not conducive to understanding and empathy, but of course I do not believe this is you, loyal and obedient reader, not you indeed!
However: there shall be no more delay. It is a book, a most Nabokovian tale, one of which this author himself witnessed, or participated in: this, it seems, I shall never know. I search for Lolita everywhere I go but sometimes I believe I search in vain, almost like she was some fleeting figment of my ferocious imagination. I wonder if this is too abrupt of an answer for you to accept, most exonerated reader? Did you perhaps expect a long winded soliloquy where I expostulated an adolescence of sexual deviation and molestation by a deranged parent, uncle or older cousin? I’ll be honest: it would have been a fair guess in most circumstances. Unfortunately, your devious imaginations must first deflate: it is just a book, a story, what some would deem a work of fiction. But, the hope is, upon devouring this small morsel of information, the imagination will inflate again and this time be rejuvenated. The story: Lolita; characters of interest: Humbert Humbert, Dolores Haze, Charlotte Haze; trajectory: complicated. But O! I suppose one forgets that such readers will not be acquainted with this book, or perhaps maybe even the ideas which have been my skin for these four long years? It is likely indeed, so deviation from my intended course of action is required. I suppose I will explain. It shouldn’t take that long and will assist in the compression of less -- how shall one say? -- ‘physical’ or ‘material’ concerns I am sure you, nervous reader, are having.
Chapter 1: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I do hope these detestable headers won’t become too trite for you? It seems they are necessary, however. A mere stylistic issue, I assure you. Much like the master himself, Monsieur Nabokov, I will hide certain clues within them that will help you better understand -- or perhaps I won’t; the point: to keep you guessing.
But only guessing on a certain level: I will try to make it as simple of a tale as possible.
June, 2003. I had just graduated high school. Forgetting that I was supposed to have become an adult at this point in my short life, I spent the summer frolicking among the trees and mountains of beautiful British Columbia. Of course, in the most parentally and loving manner possible, my father implored me to join him on a two week trip through southern B.C, including the Kootney Valley and well into the Rockies, up to and including Radium, B.C. Envisioning winding roads, towering and tearful mountain cliffs and fearlessly curious wildlife -- bears, deer, rabbits and big horned sheep which would meander down Main Street in Radium, on the wrong side of the road as the sun rose and the fog began to clear in the wake of the mourn -- I decided I would need literary escapades to keep my interest at least idle. I forget how I had exactly come by Lolita, or how its infamous name had crossed my unquenchable desire for devious tales, but nonetheless there it was, packed among my clothes, toothbrush, deodorant, identification and a horridly tiled yellow and black compact disk player I had received years prior for Christmas (although horrendously dated, it rarely skipped and provided quite adequate sanctuary from real life pursuits), and I wondered if I would even have time to get to it.
O how naive and unconfident I was in my own thirst! Even after our first stop to refuel our petrol I was well into the novel. Devouring page after page, I filled my stomach with metaphors, alliteration, simile, apostrophe, all the while picking commas and semi-colons from between my teeth.
Perhaps my father was rather disappointed that I chose to spend my time in a different world than he, but I hope he understands now how important this was for me at that time in my life, how Lolita and only Lolita (My Lolita!) could have been there at that time, in those places, filling my consciousness with towns so far away (yet so near), and characters so fictional (yet so real!) that its world became far more captivating and real than the roads of the southern British Columbian highways.
Somber Humbert’s doomed passion for delirious Dolly left me parched. My lips were dry and cracked from mouthing the words as they seeped out from my mind, forcing me to make them audible (“buy me a lollipop!”). My father would look over at me, thinking I had said something to him. My eyes would glean over and I would glance at him with thirsty eyes, eyes he would misinterpret as wanting, but really, surely, dear father, the twinkle in my eyes was not a want for companionship but a dazzled Humbert sparkling in each of the iris’. Do try to forgive me, father, if and when you ever read this! Please, please do understand that it was she, seductive Lolita, it was she who seduced me! It was like the peach my mother would pack for my lunch in grade five turned slowly in my hand and looked at my face to wonder what it would be like to taste my lips for the first time. I implore you: how was this my fault? But alas, caught up as Romeo might have been upon first sighting Juliet: my fate was sealed.
I was there with Humbert and Dolly at every right turn, left turn, u-turn and round about; I was in Ramsdale; I was at the Enchanted Huntress when ill-fated Clare Quilty approached poor Hummy for the first time, and I was on the Haze lady’s piazza overlooking a forest of delight when le deux Humbert spotted his Juliet and decided to board in dull Charlotte’s humble abode. It was almost as if Robin Goodfellow were perched on the lowest branch of the third tree in the Piazza -- just beyond the water fountain: not described but one envisions classical motifs -- contemplating my fantasy world with anticipation and foresight:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend
Taking a step back from the page, I looked around to see the sun dipping over the horizon of the highway. I reached for my Pepsi and questioned my father as to the itinerary; tentatively (he had had a long day) he responded that it was less than an hour until the next village. I smiled and told him I was glad I had come on this little adventure. He smiled back. I felt this should have been one of those moments you hear of in sappy family comedies where father and son reconcile their long-standing differences; this was not so. Although my eyes were torn from the page, my mind could not help but fabricate alternate identities for Humbert and Lolita; if Lo had been Titania and Hummy Oberon, and me the farcical ass end of the joke (poor, slapstick Bottom!), all would still have been right in the verisimilitude of my fabulous and preposterous existence (Bottom’s up!).
I returned to the page. Everywhere doomed Humbert and lulling Lolita ventured, every winding, crooked road and lecherous hotel room, my imagination was there, transforming my winding and crooked roads and my hotel rooms into theirs; quickly I became as infatuated and as passionately bewitched by Lolita as Humbert. It was like a dream, reader, a beauteous and deviant dream which let my heart’s desire explore the full breadth of all lust’s dangerous possibilities.
Little did my father know, however, the disastrous and seething eyes with which I was greeted upon checking into roadside motels, Lolita under my arm, lustful smile on my plump red lips. “Hide our small daughters,” fathers in Nelson shouted to their wives; “where has little Sally gone to,“ fathers whispered to their buxom brides in Radium; no where was a gaze in any way beneficent. What is a teenager of eighteen to think when grown men gander with eyes burning not with desire but distain? Is there something wrong here? Was I not supposed to be reading this book? Curiously, not until my second reading of Lolita did I understand its infamy in American contemporary culture (this, of course, weaseled its way across the 49th parallel to find itself, like some meditating Buddha, standing behind waist high counters in the bush league motels of the Kootney Valley: forty-five year old disillusioned immigrant fathers distressed about the innocence of their twelve year old Persian nymphets). This scene was far from my virgin mind; I had no interest in sultry Sally, dallying Daisy or little limping Lindsey (so tragic!). I already had my Lolita.
In an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1964, Monsieur Nabokov, responding to the same questions I’m sure you are formulating now, responded: “Many readers have concluded that the Philistinism you seem to find the most exhilarating is that of America's sexual mores. Sex as an institution, sex as a general notion, sex as problem, sex as a platitude-- all this is something I find too tedious for words. Let us skip sex.” Even the wonderful weaver of this whimsical and mordantly witty wallop of a tale dismisses so readily the easy way out you -- I’m sure, reader -- want to pursue. My fascination with Lolita has nothing to do with sex. I do not dream, late into the evenings, of violating small, innocent (yet ever so complacent!) Dolores Haze. No, dim sighted reader: this is not the case. Sex, I am afraid, does not factor into this narrative; I did not place Chekhov’s Gun upon the table ands never intended to. This may disappoint some, and aggravate others; either way: your first sublimation (if I am correct) was incorrect.
Since my father’s profession involved extensive travel, we rarely stayed in one place more than a single evening. It felt curious that the planes of literature and life would come together to create such a spark; it was like an inordinate Gift had been given to me to behold by some ghostly apparition (here I am looking at you, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev). Making the correct motions and biding my time, I managed to finish the novel in approximately one week. Work, sleep, food and Lolita were my life for seven whole, divine days in the month of June, in that third year of the second millennium. It may seem strange that Lolita would interest and influence a young lad like me who had but freshly graduated high school and was to start his freshman year at University in the fall, but I assure you: there is nothing strange about it.
When I say ‘Lolita’, when I mouth the syllables in that peculiar American way, ‘Lo’ ‘Lee’ ‘Tah’, or whether I take the meter of a more Spanish or Italian pronunciation -- the way Monsieur Nabokov preferred -- ‘Lol’ (like in lollipop) and ‘ita’, utilizing the full extent of the tongue’s rolling ‘l’s: lulling Lo, like a lullaby, like a dream, the meaning remains dynamic and ever changing; like the name ‘Lolita’ itself, whether pronounced with the harshness of an American accent or the debonair swagger of an Italian one, Humbert’s story is far more than merely a pedophile’s confession of his affair with a twelve year old nymphet. Lolita opened her legs for Humbert Humbert: yes, probably and most probably absolutely: yes; and like Humbert’s name, the crease between the part beheld a rapture almost unimaginable; but for me she did no such thing, and never did I implore her to. She instead demonstrated the purity of raw feeling, raw human compassion between two fundamentally flawed characters and two fundamentally flawed people. Did it matter that Humbert’s actions were ‘wrong’ (in the popular ‘moral’ sense of the word)? No, it did not. Did it matter that I was being gawked at for my apparent participation in this amoral behaviour? No, it did not. What did matter was the honest and brutal attempt at capturing the intricate and complex labyrinth that is the human relationship: that single multifarious emotion, both divorced from and part of this world, that bulging vein of ironic, lamentable, ludicrous and blessed blood, as an object which both nourishes and conceives: that is my Dolly; that is my Lolita.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
Chapter 2: Factory Girl
The novel Lolita was first published in Paris by Maurice Girodias' Olympia Press, the same press who earlier had published other controversial works by authors Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and William S. Burroughs (sitting naked at some perverse picnic playing poker and eating black forest ham sandwiches). Monsieur Nabokov had attempted to publish his work in America, but had already been turned down by four American publishing houses by 1954. After selling 5,000 copies in its first printing, Lolita was banned on December 20th, 1956; the British Home Office (headed by undersecretary Sir Frank Newsam) was to make sure no copies were to touch the hands of people touching British soil, and petitioned the French Minister of the Interior (Jean Gilbert Jules) to ban the book and Monsieur Gilbert Jules hesitated not (in this it is like Ulysses, first published in France and later banned in England). It seemed all was lost, but when two copies of Lolita were seized at the American border and later given back to their respective owners, an act which would effectively establish precedent, Lolita was able to be published in America, and it was, by G.P.Putnam's Sons in 1958.
The book was a massive success, selling 100,000 copies in its first three weeks of publication! Can you believe this reader? One hundred thousand tiny, pregnant, lonely nymphets springing across America state by state in thigh high skirts and one sock. But it wasn’t just she who conquered and seduced the American beast; as enchanting and provocative as she can be, it was also the Dolores and Lo, the Lola and Dolly in her, and let us not forget about beloved Hummy, or indeed the Haze lady, Charlotte Haze and damned as he may be Claire Quilty, the one who conquered the conservative cynic of the crowd.
Bifurcated, the American consciousness struggled with its reaction. Hailed as a masterpiece of the 20th century (and beyond and before the 20th century), critically and commercially successful, Lolita still was resisted. There were instances, however -- though they were few in the literary circles of the Unites States upon its publication -- of voices which recognized its brilliant flare for language and its insatiable, teething wit. One instance was Elizabeth Janeway (an American author and critic who married an economic advisor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson and authored the novel The Walsh Girls) who wrote in The New York Times Book Review, ''Humbert's fate seems to me classically tragic, a most perfectly realized expression of the moral truth that Shakespeare summed up in the sonnet that begins, 'The expense of spirit in a waste of shame / Is lust in action': right down to the detailed working out of Shakespeare's adjectives, 'perjur'd, murderous, bloody, full of blame,' Humbert is the hero with the tragic flaw. Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh - which is the eternal and universal nature of passion.''
By focusing on Humbert’s doomed passion and desire for the unattainable instead of Lolita as an object, as a little, luscious and devious child, Janeway and other critics managed to pick at a piece of the novel which would escape others who perhaps only knew it as a disgustingly fowl and morally pervasive piece. A fellow critic and author, Erica Jong, has to add that Humbert‘s tragic obsession with Lo can be compared to many things, such as “the obsession of the artist with the creative process, the butterfly collector with his specimen, the exile with retrieving a lost homeland.”
Humbert can never satiate his desire; his obsession will forever remain idle, his cup will never brim; the tragedy exists in this concept: not that he can’t always have his pubescent princess, but that he can’t have the thing he most wants (the object, then, as an object it itself, is irrelevant). Jong elucidates this point when she observes that “the book works, above all, because it is so clearly the story of a man maddened by an impossible love, the impossible love for an impossible object: a banal little girl who calls him 'kiddo.' Are not all impossible, obsessional loves inexplicable to other people? Do our friends ever understand what we see in them? Isn't that inexplicability the wonder and the terror of obsessional loves.” And have not we all sat on the top of mountains to view sunsets, wishing and hoping that one day we could cup the setting sun in both of our shaking hands? Have not we all desired to sprout wings and soar through the unbounded sky, circumnavigating the place we grew up, spotting Daniel’s and Ben’s and Mica’s and Collette’s houses nestled softly among the fern trees and mountain valleys? The object is irrelevant, inconsequential, pointless: ‘Lolita’ is not twelve-year-old Dolores Haze; she is the desire, the unattainable manifestation of our love in all its glorious madness.
In 1992 Kim Morrissey published a collection of poems entitled “Poems for Men who dream of Lolita”. Intending, perhaps, to augment the trepidatious sexual identity surrounding Lolita, Morrissey (curiously enough born in 1955) published a series of poems that best highlight the identity crises our dimpled darling resists. One particular poem, reviewed by Richard Price in Verse (an excessively foppish piece), is a good place to begin:
I am the book of Dolores B. Haze
otherwise known as Dolly
(sometimes as Lo) age twelve
and almost a quarter
I come with a curse
and my pages
if you read me, be warned
I am the Book of Dolores
put me back in my box
and be happy
Not common among the literature I have researched for this piece, the poem is told from Lo’s perspective, highlighting the problems I have been hinting at. She tells the reader to ‘put her back in her box’ and to ‘be happy’ that we have not parted her legs like the lecherous and corrupt readers we are. It is interesting how Morrissey bestows an identity onto those who would have the temerity to explore this personified ‘version’ of young Miss Haze. A curse to beware? Hardly are these pages private, and hardly does ’this’ Dolores have the right bestow upon Humbert’s story such a fatal ambience.
Another piece, “Last Night in the Hammock”, is a curious poem that further elucidates this problem. It is again told from the perspective of Dolores (with a small interruption by an ogrish Humbert) and imparts her refusal to be called ‘Lolita’, asserting quite vehemently her identity as merely Dolores or Dolly (to her school friends):
Last night in the hammock
he called me "Lolita"
playing hand over hand over hand
No. My name is Dolores, age twelve
grade six, size three
my frends call me Dolly
Lie still little apple pie sweet
your name from now on is Lolita
leg over leg over leg
and you need your cheeks pinched
like a pie crust pressed down
two fingers two fingers two
Just a prick and she's done
says my mother and purses her lips
peering into her mirror
as she puts on her eyes
My name is Dolores
My friends call me Dolly, but
My name's really Dolores
My name is Dolores, age twelve
How inhumane, dear reader! Lolita does have her own voice; she is quite passionate, quite cunning and manipulative. Morrissey paints a seductive portrait (like that sly smirk of Mona Lisa) of a molested Dolores ensnared in a clever net set by Humbert, like a spider would catch a fly, toil with it and eventually devour it. Robertson Davies, in 1959 (a year after the novel was published in America, brave man!), writing about this problem, excused the narrator almost entirely by saying that Lolita is not about “the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child.” This seems quite plausible, especially near the end of the novel, but are we not missing the point here?
Returning from whence I came: there was an interesting work published in 2003 (the summer of my first reading!) entitled “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi (a book that has been on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two different languages) that documents a teachers private class after she left the University of Allameh Tabatabei in Tehran, Iran, where she requisitioned seven of her best (female) students to take part in a private study. The book is divided into four sections: ‘Lolita’, ‘Gatsby’, ‘James’ and (finally) ‘Austen’ (it is interesting to note that soon after 1979, after a coup of Shah Mohammad Reza Pavlavi, the Islamist regime lowered the marriage age for girls to nine years old). The work documents the study of two works and two authors, and it has been reported that one of the girls was arrested by the Iranian police for displaying ‘Western Attitudes’, was subject to a ‘virginity test’ and apparently raped several times by the guards. Although I have not read this book myself, and it has only recently come to my attention, the buzz I have heard surrounding Nafisi’s work (aptly subtitled “A Memoir in Books”) suggests a similar reading of Lolita to that of Western readers (for the most part) and that its devious aura even pollutes the air of foreign lands. It is interesting that in such a controlled state as Iran Nafisi would take the risk of exposing Persian readers to such strongly Western and ‘dangerous’ works of literature. I wonder if it was any surprise to her when her student returned one tragic Monday afternoon and declared, “Professor Nafisi I have been raped and tortured and subject to many terrible things because for what you suggested I read! It is all your fault!” Of course, this is preposterous, but a writer with any aptitude for imagination has to wonder. Azar Nafisi would comment that "what linked us so closely was this perverse intimacy of victim and jailer" and "like Lolita we tried to escape and create our own little pockets of freedom"; this gave them (her seven female students) a strong emotional connection with the book. She continues to say that "Lolita was given to us as Humbert's creature [...] To reinvent her, Humbert must take from Lolita her own real history and replace it with his own [...] Yet she does have a past. Despite Humbert's attempts to orphan Lolita by robbing her of her history, that past is still given to us in glimpses". Such a malleable little darling! It is a wonder the novel does not come with makeup and tiny little clothes to dress her up with ourselves!
Lolita the novel has been made into two movie adaptations, one in 1962 by famed director Stanley Kubrick (starring James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers and, as our doomed nymphet, Sue Lyon; the screenplay was written by Vladimir Nabokov, but was changed and edited drastically by Kubrick) and the second, a more recent adaptation (one this author prefers, though both have their flaws) is a 1997 version directed by Adrian Lyne (starring Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain and Melanie Griffith). It was also been made into a musical in 1971 (“Lolita, my Love”) by librettist/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry (a five time Academy Award winning composer). The name ‘Lolita’ itself has come to describe a young, sexually attractive female and the word ‘nymphet’, similarly, has become common nomenclature in America and abroad.
Why is all of this important to know? Do you know what ‘The Factory’ is? Well, for those who aren’t familiar with ‘The Factory’ or the Warhol Superstars, I will indulge you (the metaphor is important, I assure you). ‘The Factory’ was Andy Warhol’s original (and subsequently various) New York Art Studio(s) where he and his entourage (the ’Warhol Superstars’) mass produced art (film, paintings, music) to sell for profit and fame to feed their insatiable and pompous lifestyles (with, of course, the ’Warhol’ insignia always readily available in stamp form). There were many prominent members: famous artists, musicians and writers frequented the hip and trendy New York hangout; so many are their numbers that it may be frivolous to repeat them in their entirety. One, however, bears mentioning: Edie Sedwick was Andy Warhol’s star actress and muse for one year between 1965 to 1966 where she starred in his films, influenced his art and was heralded as the ‘Queen of the Factory’ and even began to call herself ‘Miss Warhol’.
A star one minute, a muse and love to a greatly powerful and important artist of a revolutionary era, and then Andy (decadent Andy!) vanished, left her, alone, a muse without an artist! Now compare this to our darling: five thousand Lolita’s were sold, exposed to a greater world, and then swept under the carpet for some ‘Ultra Violet’ or ‘Candy Darling’ to take where she had left off, to flaccidly grasp that royal sceptre and try to keep its fire burning. But then, dear reader, there was for her, dear Edie, Bob Dylan still, and The Cult, and even The Velvet Underground (at Warhol‘s request, no less!) and, it seems, many more after them (a muse, after all, will always find its artist).
What is that essence of an artist which gives to them their inspiration? Sometimes it is hard to exactly understand what is happening, and other times it feels like a ghost has passed through you, kind of making you shiver, but more giving you this nervous malaise that won’t quite go away until you force it out somehow with the tip of your fingers, or the lens of a camera, or the paint from a brush: you channel the energy (and this is the hard part) so that its directed at the object of the ghost that originally passed through you. For a little while it was Edie for Andy, and for some time it was Dolores for Humbert, and for me it is was Lolita.
She has become a pre-eminent staple of a larger popular framework and has had a lasting and sometimes scarring effect; she has influenced language, literature, film, theatre and has managed to retain, like a battery, a charge and electricity about the very utterance of her name: Lo. Lee. Tah. Lolita has effected many people, inspired maybe many more, but the one thing that she has accomplished above all (even in her artistry in all of its various representations) is that she has seeped her way into a greater consciousness: a factory of information where she is a cog in the greater machinery of life.
Chapter 3: Lolita Unbound
After I had finished Lolita (for the first time), I went on with my life. I continued my academic career and divulged my appetite with other writers who would soon eclipse my darling Lo as my memory broke against the shores of time and each new wave became the water which quenched the beach of my mind (you didn’t think I’d lost my Romanticism, did you?). I became incredibly infatuated with the Romantic writers; Shelley and Keats quickly became two of my favourites; in the mornings from the second floor of my apartment I would listen for the sound of a Nightingale or Skylark to awaken me to an ideal world, but each morning I would be disappointed to discover that neither bird could be found in this part of British Columbia (a quick search would lead to the discovery, much to my chagrin, that a Nightingale has very specific parameters for breeding, including being less than two hundred meters above mean sea level, – not quite possible in the valleys and mountains of British Columbia -- a mean air temperature during the growing season above fourteen degrees and an aridity index lower than 0.35). Needless to say, Lolita slowly (like a beetle navigating a crevice on a sidewalk) crept from the recesses of my (conscious) mind. I did not forget her, oh no, but she was not the sole object of my love any longer.
Soon I would discover Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Flann O’Brian, T.S Eliot (those modernists would later bewitch me in similar ways, but Lo would have the most raw and visceral effect on my consciousness), and then later a small trip across oceans would lead to the discovery of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho and even Franz Kafka (whenever I felt like a beetle I would open Metamorphosis and realize that, really, when all was said and done, I would not awake from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed in my bed into a giant insect); Nietzsche would destroy me, Virginia would re-invigorate me, Shelley would elate me, and eventually I would have the courage to leave my small, mountain University and move across the nation – across the entity of Canada, from one side of a binary to another, physically speaking, of course – to attend Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had spent exactly half of my projected undergraduate academic life on the West Coast of North America, and through pure chance (it seemed, at least), I strapped a backpack on my shoulders, placed a guitar in hand and boarded a train in Kamloops (two and a half hours north of my home town). I prepared for the one month trip across Canada , hoping to eventually climb down the stairs of car fifteen on the The Ocean VIA Rail train and place both of my wary feet upon Pier 21 in Halifax . It was a great undertaking for a young man who had but barely moved away from his parents home to pursue a life of his own, but, reader, I did it. I would love to indulge you with the details of the miraculous trip which changed my life, which altered parts of my reality and provided instrumental points of reference from which to pick and devour like freshly ripe grapes on an ageing and intricate vine but alas: this, I’m afraid, is for another tale (un histoire que on a besoin a dire)
Although I concentrated mostly on English literature in my studies – and even in my leisure reading would I rarely tread outside these waters, concentrating on almost purely Anglophone text (although, for the most part, American literature does have a distinct flavour, I include it under the umbrella of ‘Anglophone text’ for simplicity’s sake) – I would indeed flounder in other waters at times. This would lead me to take a course on Vladimir Nabokov in the second semester of my fourth year. It was by pure chance that upon registering for my courses (I was in Montreal at the time) I decided to look into the Russian Studies department and discovered (much to my delight) a course on Nabokov which included Lolita in its reading list. This pleased me much, and I counted the days until my eyes would once again graze her lips. During the first semester, Lo’s presence multiplied in my mind’s eye, and soon she became like a pale ghost, small school girls skipping around campus in short plaid skirts and knee high socks; I had to curb my enthusiasm, and this proved difficult. However, with the help of a fourth year seminar on Virginia Woolf, slowly the school girls ceased to multiply and became one distinct and almost palpable manifestation. She slept with me, ate with me, drank with me and smoked with me, but never could I speak to her or her to me; in this were we separated from one and another; in this we were divided, but soon the hours turned into days and eventually weeks and months and I ran to buy her again, to feel and touch and smell her fresh binding and new cover (a rather curious and seductive cover, photographed by Andreas Kuehn, depicting a close-up of a young girls lips donning a wry and enchanting smirk, changed from the previous cover which, even more inviting, was placed vertically).
Reader, I married her. A quiet wedding we had: she and I, life and literature
were present. I returned from the church and told my roommates, “Jason, Kee, Meg: I have married Lolita.” Ridiculousness and persecution followed. I plucked a grape from that ageing and intricate vine of life and mimicked my bride’s smirk (if only they could know). I was, at this point, accustomed to the persecution reading literature – and dangerous literature, at that – brings.
I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
Incidentally: apropos, the reactions I received would indeed affect my relationship with Lola, except this time it would not be as negative of a reaction as it may have been my first time; I had already popped that awkward cherry (the sweet nectar of fruit, dear reader!). This time it would be a group reading; other individuals would have their own versions of Dolores Haze to mould and their reactions, their interpretations and meanings would seep into my conceptions. This may have proven to be compromising, as I was one of three males in the class, but in fact sex was rarely discussed (now what did I tell you about your wandering mind, naughty reader?)
How to approach Lolita for a second time? I remembered her so vividly from my first experience, associated her so prominently with places so far from where I was now; she was supposed to be twelve-year-old Lolita and I was supposed to be an eighteen-year-old narrator freshly graduated from high school. Things had changed so dramatically; my knowledge of literature had increased so much. I knew more of how it functioned and about how the relationship between a reader and a narrator can flourish. I understood events and objects within the literary world as symbolic and meaningful where before my young and innocent psyche would not have grasped what it now had the ability to conceptualize. I could see clearly the allusions in Dolores’ class list, and how Charlotte’s gun, that foreboding and macabre pistol, foreshadowed death; I knew that Humbert and Lo’s travels created a setting that reflected their deteriorating and unstable relationship. I knew all of this now, but how did it change how Lo and I would sit up late in the evenings and discuss her story from cover to cover, endlessly inquiring about Humbert, about Quilty, about her damnable mother, Charlotte?
What I did know was that I would not be alone this time. However many deviant eyes gawked and leered at me and my darling, however many scowls and patronizing adjectives were thrown my way, I would find solidarity in my love. I found this to be moving, to further push my relationship with Lolita to new heights. Having traveled across a continent I understood the instability it brings; having been displaced and thrown onto the other side of a divide I understood how disorienting it could be; even having loved and lost so deeply (leaving scars which would never heal, but reopen and puss with every mental undulation) I understood Humbert (and Lo) with a greater empathy and understanding than was before possible. My first time was like the love of a child for a new kitten; this time I was Romeo in love with his Juliet, Jane Eyre in love with her Rochester , Anna with her Vronsky: the purity, the passion, the doom, the madness, the absolute intoxication love’s deception bestows. It wasn’t an innocent, playful love anymore; it was a deeply romantic and seductively destructive affair that lasted exactly one month, twelve days, eleven hours and thirty-two minutes.
I’m sure you are saying: you know when it started (I did have to start the novel at some point, and by subtracting the elapsed time you can deduce when the start would have been), but how do you know when it ended? I suppose it never does end – in some sense -- but eventually you do have to put down your darling and move onto something else; Lolita was the only thing in my life for exactly this amount of time: no more, no less. I remember it like she was here with me now, her hands on my hands, whispering into my ears sweet declarations, ghostwriting her own story. Is it too much that I have measured her existence down to the minute? No, it is not.
Lolita was an object of pure delight; she became everything, capturing the passion in life I craved and sought in everything. Do you not understand, bedazzled reader? It was not Dolores Haze that bewitched and enchanted so strongly a lonely teenager and an even lonelier young man; it was Humbert’s love for the ‘object’ (which just happens to be the object of ‘Lolita’) that had the power, which was the vein intertwined within the work. The fact that Lolita is a twelve-year-old girl and that Humbert is a pedophile is irrelevant. The love between them, the bond, the strength of that bond: this was my object, this was my Lolita, and she indeed also just happened to be a twelve-year-old girl standing four feet ten in one sock; and perhaps some other day in the not too distant future that ‘object’ will be something else and it will enchant and bewitch with equal majesty, but it was her then and only her (my beautiful muse!)
The class I took was from the most delightful Russian professor (hello Dr. Leving!). There were exactly fourteen of us in the class (including Lolita!), all of us with our different talents, different perspectives, different experiences; we had all, more or less, read Lolita before at some points in our young lives. They, like me, were coming back to her for a second time with a wealth of knowledge and information so ripe for the picking. There were only, let’s see: yes, three males in the class (plus the male professor). We were quite a group sitting in that lonely conference room on the second floor of the Marion McCain Arts and Social Science’s building at Dalhousie University discussing small children and their devilish captors. I remember when we would stay past the end of class sometimes, too caught up as a group in our topics (or watching one of the film adaptations of Lolita) when the door would fly open and a fifty-something-year-old female janitor with short, straight greyish hair, a yellow and black winter jacket and a sharp chin and slightly protruding forehead (which made her face look like a horseshoe), would look up, crinkle her eye brows (developing a menecing crease between those brows) and scowl as she almost slammed the door in frustration (we had a later class in the day). As malicious as it may seem, this gave me extreme delight. Here is a list of the persons in the class:
The class was divided into three ‘parts’. First: we studied Nabokov’s short stories which were chosen by Dr. Leving and organized to help us develop a sense of Nabokov’s prose and the intricacies of his style. Second: we read one of Nabokov’s most famous Russian novels: The Gift. It was a complex mind-bend developing a mobias strip narrative technique where the end of the novel ends up with the narrator deciding to write the novel we’ve just read: a circular journey that begs at its knees to be re-read. And the third part of the class (from March until the end of the semester in early April) was dedicated to a close examination of Lolita.
Because our class was so multi-faceted, it allowed for the group to approach our subject in many different ways; we gelled very well and soon it began to feel like we were a team of doctors dissecting a still and troubled patient. Dr. Leving taught us where to make the right incisions to access the vital organs; he mapped for us her foreign anatomy, giving us direction and precision; and most importantly of all, he breathed into her life (like a benevolent Viktor Frankenstein), her eyes blinking, her moist tongue licking her dry lips, so that she, Lolita, darling Lolita, would talk and guide us herself. When I would see my fellow practitioners outside of surgery, I couldn’t help but see them in starch white lab coats, taking notes and making deductions from our latest data. With so many people so excited, it was hard not to get caught up in our study and let our other classes and assignments slip by the wayside. I cannot lie and say that I did not sacrifice other academic pursuits in my perusal of Lolita, and I also will not lie and say that it was not worth it.
During our time together we all approached various topics that interested us or effected us personally; Hilary was interested in Nabokov's synesthesia; Nicholas was intent on transmitting a short story (Ultima Thule) into a screenplay and, eventually, a film adaptation produced and filmed here in Halifax; Samantha was to write musical scores for three of the short stories we studied; everyone seemed to be doing something creative, something imaginative and personal to them. It was so exciting and wondrous to see the sparkle in their eyes, the creativity shine and burst from their iris’ out into the world for others to see and smile at (and maybe leer at). I empathized with them completely; I understood that they had found a muse, a darling little muse who they perhaps didn’t understand, but who was there, nonetheless, sparkling in both of their iris’ (beautiful, darling Lo is stuck in your eye!). We talked about what we were working on, sometimes shouted with anticipation (it is my turn, dear Robin); each of us was accumulating excitement and confidence as we subsequently sprinted through the class and soon (yes, that soon!) it was almost the end of the semester (and year!) and she was almost done, gone, vanished from our live; we would go out and look for summer jobs and type up and work on final projects (for this and other classes). She was done, and really, truly, dearest reader (who has stuck by me this entire time): I could not believe it!
Now that it is over, I have not seen nor talked to anyone from that class; it seems it was Lolita’s spell that held us together for that short (but miraculous) time; this I can live with and, in fact, even celebrate. Just knowing that there is such an object which can charm and enthrall a group of people like that is enough for me to know that somewhere, in some impalpable dimension, there exists a force which has the power to touch this reality.
So, you may still have a few questions you want to ask, or perhaps there are things that are unclear to you? Perhaps, even, you still think that I love small children like a pedophile does (this, it seems, is ludicrous, but you do never know). This is all well and good, and very probably something you should be considering. Unfortunately, your questions may be far too numerous for me to tackle at this point in time. One question, however, may be quite important for you to consider since many of you may think you know who is writing this narrative; you may want to consider who, exactly, on the class list I gave, I am. There are two names which aren’t exactly ‘real’ (in the proper, ‘material’ sense of the word), which does not pertain to any real life individual who breathes the same air we breath and eats the same food, and who sweats and gawks at girls passing by with short skirts or men with bulging arms. One is Lolita, and the other is me (explaining, perhaps, this obtrusive use of bubbles in the narration). If this is unsatisfactory, and you still don’t believe this drunk and beloved narrator (dear reader!), then pick up Lolita for yourself, run and buy her from some used book store (she is not the tramp you think) or to Chapters (for a new, fresher version) and discover for yourself the rapture a small twelve-year-old girl standing four feet ten in one sock can give to a young man or woman merely awakening to the possibilities of a life brimming with love, in all its curious and multifarious forms. She touched me twice in my life, and still I am young, merely graduating from University (for the first time). I can just imagine what, in five years time, having perhaps travelled more, completed a Masters Degree, perhaps; I can just imagine what she will yield to me then when I have accumulated far more experience and knowledge, and will know with far greater understanding the pains of love and obsession. In this I am still young, and in this I realize that my understanding may be limited, but forgetting this for a moment, forgetting that yes, perhaps I cannot understand completely their pain and their turmoil (devilish Humbert, dimpled Dolly!), forgetting this, I can, with passion and love, hold on tight to Charlotte’s car as this odd couple experiences the pain, the love, the passion, the obsession and the utter incomprehensibility over and over and over, for the pages of a book are never idle but are always alive in the mind of a reader who has the aptitude to appreciate and re-live, with care and benevolence, their story forever, where ever he is, whenever he is reading it.