Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita tells the story of a deeply disturbed man’s relationship with a young girl. In the novel, the character of Humbert Humbert is on a constant quest to discover the perfect nymphet, young girls “who… reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic,” (Nabokov 24). Humbert heightens these girls to a sexual pedestal, stating that he “was consumed by a hell furnace of localized lust” by the mere sight of these girls (26).
This obsession does not stem from birth, but from a traumatizing failure to obtain love at the age of twelve from Annabel Leigh, a girl of the same age who soon dies of yphoid. Humbert, unable to let this failed conquest go, allows this event to perpetuate itself into an obsession with young girls and therefore creates a deep perversion. At the age of 37, he finds the object of his obsession in a twelve year old girl by the name of Dolores, whom he calls “Lo” or “Lolita”. The two become involved, a disturbing pairing that Humbert paints as a relationship of love through his use of prose.
One may assume that the reader has the ability to see through this fantasy world Humbert creates, but he speaks of their relationship as one of mutual love and caring in such a convincing manner that the eader cannot help falling into his fantasy. Humbert Humbert gains sympathy from the reader through his storytelling, masking his inner perversion and warped view of the female sex. Humbert’s ability to gain sympathy from the reader despite the reality of the situation stems from his clever prose style. At the very start of the novel, Humbert warns that, “you can always count on a murderer for fancy prose style” (Nabokov 10).
He sets up the idea that he will use language to make this tale one of eloquence and thus introduces the idea that he will convince the reader his perverted tale is actually a love story through his erbal prowess (Morton 66). According to Lionel Trilling, Humbert’s “unrelenting self-reference, his impious greediness, seduce us into kinship with him” (11). Humbert reaches this seduction through his use of language, painting a tale that masks the extent of his perversions and ultimately causes the reader to feel sympathy for him, despite the horrible acts committed by Humbert.
In Part One Nabokov succeeds in gaining the reader’s perhaps unwilling sympathy for Humbert,” (81) a feat clearly achieved through his use of prose and misleading narration of encounters with young Lolita. After he first night that Humbert spends with Lolita, he claims Lolita initiated the encounter, and describes her as his “little mistress” (Nabokov 236). This supports his attempt to paint this tale as a love story, but Lolita has a different view of the event, saying to Humbert, “I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you’ve done to me.
I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me” (238). This statement makes clear that Humbert’s descriptions are warped by his own perverted perceptions and supported by his twisted narration, as he leads the reader to believe that this encounter was one of mutual romance when it s, in actuality, the exact opposite. Humbert uses this verbal eloquence “to win (with literary prowess) the prejudiced minds of the jury” (Gans). Humbert feels driven to use his skills in language manipulation to show the jury in his murder trial that he did nothing wrong.
He truly believes his relationship with Lolita to be a loving one, as Humbert weaves the plot that is “deceptively simple” (Morton 65) with sophisticated language. On the surface, he paints his disillusioned tale of love, while underneath, the truth of his perverted love remains hidden until the second half of the novel begins (81). However, this ability to anipulate language and therefore the mind of the reader does not stem solely from within Humbert’s mind, but from another obsession.
Actually, this clever prose style is a manifestation of his perversion that results from his affair with young Annabel Leigh. Humbert’s obsessions and commitment to the study and practice of literature follows his brief affair, at the age of twelve, with Annabel Leigh. Following his failed relationship with the girl, Humbert goes through a period of time trying to find himself, the entire period punctuated by attempts at literature (Jenkins 214). Shortly after the time of Annabel’s death, Humbert oes to university to study English, “where so many frustrated poets end” (Nabokov 23).
Thus, the connection between the failed relationship of Annabel and Humbert can be traced as the cause of Humbert’s eloquence, as she ultimately makes him a “frustrated poet”, and therefore leads him to the study of the English language. Indeed, clearly Annabel ultimately causes not only Humbert’s relationship with language, but also Humbert’s relationship with women. Humbert’s failed relationship with Annabel Leigh plants the seed of his perversion in regard to young girls. Humbert claims, “There might have been no Lolita t all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl- child” (Nabokov 10).
This girl-child to whom he refers is Annabel Leigh. He pursues her over the course of one season, and ultimately finds himself unsatisfied when she passes away from typhoid fever before he fulfills his love fantasy with her. Humbert claims this as the cause of his obsession with nymphets (Morton 68), having been left unsatisfied and desiring the Annabel Leigh he never obtained that summer for the rest of his life (Jenkins 214). Annabel leaves Humbert with an emptiness so that he spends the rest of his existence searching or something to fill that vacancy.
That something ultimately turns out to be a deep attraction that he feels toward young girls, an attraction which manifested itself as a result of his failed love affair with Annabel. He searches for this love, “until at last, twenty-four years later, I broke her spell by incarnating her in another” (Nabokov 22). This makes it clear that Annabel is the root of his obsession with young girls, as he feels these urges as a result of his desire to fulfill the relationship he did not fulfill in that summer on the Riviera.
After this failed experiment of love, Humbert is “haunted by her memory until he found her essence reincarnated in Lolita” (Adams). In fact, Lolita is not just a long- term repercussion of Annabel, not just the item to temporarily fill the vacancy, but a replacement for Humbert’s childhood love entirely. Essentially, Lolita and Annabel are the same in Humbert’s world (Adams). He replaces one love with another, showing that he has no real value for the individual themselves but for the ideal that they present.
Throughout the course of the novel, Humbert interchanges Lolita with the name of his young love, at one point referring to his Dolores Haze as Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta” (Nabokov 271). This is a blatant representation of the correlation between Annabel and Lolita’s entities in regard to Humbert’s obsessions. He replaces Lolita’s identity with whichever persona he wants to project onto her, ultimately trying to eradicate the identity given to her (Benson 355) so that he can view her as the sexual being he desires to see.
This tendency shows Humbert’s manipulations regarding the female sex. However, while Humbert projects manipulations onto his young loves, he saves the brunt of his manipulation for older women. This incessant esire towards younger girls paves the way for his treatment of older women, instilling a distaste for women not in possession of the nymphetic qualities he desires (Trilling 12). This characteristic is evident in Humbert’s relationships with Valeria and later with Charlotte, as he treats both of them as obstacles in his path, as objects, as opposed to actual human beings.
He takes Valeria as a wife to keep up the image of being a normal man, using her to his own advantage to hide his perversion, and later marries Charlotte only to get closer to his Lolita. Once again, he uses women of his own age as tools to further dvance his own position in life. Gans claims, “Charlotte is clearly used by Humbert as a means of getting to Lolita. ” This statement is true, and, once he realizes that this marriage will give him no advantage in achieving his goal of a relationship with Lolita, Humbert contemplates how he could be rid of this burden of being married to Charlotte (Gans).
This shows that the entire relationship with Charlotte is orchestrated by Humbert solely as a means of getting to his Lolita, making clear that he only views older women as a rung in the ladder towards his ultimate goal. He uses women to display a certain image to ociety, hiding his passion for young girls with affairs with older women (Morton 65), so that he can live with his perversion in comfort. This act conveys the utmost disrespect he has for older women and his belief that they are only an object for him to possess and control.
All of these behaviors, towards both younger and older women, portray the depth of Humbert’s deep perversion, making clear the idea that he is a deeply disturbed man. Humbert’s several stints regarding mental health also make clear the level of his insanity. Humbert admits that he spent time in mental institutions, however, he denies he fact that he himself is actually mentally unstable (Adams). Humbert instead claims that he manipulates and toys with the doctors in these hospitals, only making them believe that he is on some level insane (Nabokov 54).
This belief that he controls them and not the other way around emphasizes the fact that he actually is mentally unstable and disillusioned, having the complex that he is above others and the most intelligent in the room. This disillusioned view of his own psyche ultimately allows Humbert to convince himself that Lolita could possibly have feelings of love towards him. The warped view of his elationship with Lolita that Humbert possesses ultimately and of all potential for a normal and happy life as a result of his own selfish desires (Benson 356).
After her mother’s death, Humbert takes Lolita on a trip across the country, pursuing the relationship he wants them to have. Once she gives into his desires, Humbert operates under the delusion that Lolita is the one who seduced him, ignoring the truth in favor of a romanticized ideal, when in actuality, he took advantage of her. However, even after he possesses her, despite his original beliefs that his desire would be quenched, Humbert only wants her more. That is because “he never really has her, he has only her body” (Janeway).
Humbert, as a possessive and passionate man, wants more than just her body. He wants her love, as well. As a result of this phenomena, Humbert projects his own feelings onto Lolita, developing the idea that she could possibly love him as he does her. Humbert’s love story is one of selfcreation (Benson 363). His twisted belief that Lolita, the girl he continuously violates and confines to his world, could possibly have true feelings for him reveals that Humbert has a deeply disturbed and deluded mental state.
Humbert’s description of the events following their first night together even further emphasizes the depth of his delusion, as he is aware that Lolita does not come to him out of love, but out of necessity, saying, “she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (Nabokov 142). The fact that Humbert can be aware of the truth of their relationship yet still operate under the belief that she could love him reveals Humbert’s warped and intentionally deluded sense of reality, adding to the level of his insanity.