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Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
Lolita is a 1955 novel, Vladimir Nabokov's wacky road-trip "romance". Chronicling the misadventures of erudite pedophile Humbert Humbert and his stepdaughter/kidnappee Dolores Haze. The action takes place between 1947 and 1952. Chock-full of convoluted wordplay, multilingual puns, and allusions to everything from entomology to Edgar Allan Poe. Originally written in English and set in the US, but had to be published in France as pornography because no one else would touch it. Nabokov himself pointed out that this is probably the main reason why parents don't name their daughters "Lolita" any more.
This is where we get the terms "Lolita Complex" or "Lolicon" in Japan, and the slang for "lolita", meaning a sexually attractive and/or promiscuous young girl.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Lots and lots. The title quote shows it well.
- A Boy and His X: A man and his under-aged lover.
- Affably Evil: Humbert Humbert in spades. There's at least one moment in the book (which also turns up in some form in the movie adaptations) in which he contemplates killing his wife and how easily he could get away with it, but finds that he really is just too nice to do it. In some ways, this actually makes him even worse, and the mid-story Diabolus Ex Machina that puts her out of his way that much more bitterly ironic. The unabridged audio book version, read by Jeremy Irons, carries this further - Irons' reading over twelve hours almost makes the character's actions excusable.
- Anti-Villain: Humbert Humbert again. He does show a streak of genuine guilt from time to time in his narrative and try to make up--in part--for what he's done to Lolita.
- Author Avatar: Oddly, given his crimes and Nabokov's own opinion toward him, Humbert could count for this, being one of a number of Nabokov protagonists who like the author himself, is a highly cultured emigre. This is tidily averted in one aspect: Nabokov was a respected lepidopterist. H.H. sees hawk-moths in the Arizona twilight and thinks they are hummingbirds. It is also interesting to note how Humbert discredits his journal as being a work of fiction using people he knows as archtypes and putting them into extreme situations. He even says that this is part of the trade of the author as well.
- Awesome McCoolname: Invoked by the narrator when he tells that he introduced himself to Charlotte as Edgar H. Humbert.
- Bear Trap Bed: Film only.
- Black Comedy: The blackest.
- Boom! Headshot!: Humbert tries to kill Quilty this way, but fails gruesomely.
- Bottle Fairy: Rita, an alcoholic whom Humbert once described as "amiably drunk".
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Lolita, or so Humbert would want us to believe.
- Break the Cutie: The entire book could be considered one for Lolita, considering her childhood is essentially destroyed. Most of the time she doesn't show this (except when she cries at night), and at the book's very end when she is pregnant and married at 16 she seems oddly accepting and bears no ill will towards H.H.
- Chick Magnet: Humbert, according to himself. It's a source of some irritation, given that he isn't all that interested in grown women.
- Children Are Innocent: Subverted; Humbert is astonished by how much Lo already knows, even though a large part of his worldview revolves around the existence of a class of pubescent girls that are non-innocent by nature. Most likely due to Unreliable Narrator. See Fridge Brilliance, below.
- Crap Saccharine World: Read the novel closely and you'll note the very disturbing contrast between the rosy, carefree surface of postwar American society and its rotten, vicious core. Lolita herself a good example: on the surface, she's a cheerful 12-year old girl who loves milkshakes, movies and other innocent pleasures; inside, she is deeply miserable.
- Daddy's Girl: Though Humbert's love for his "daughter" is not so fatherly...
- Dawson Casting: Averted in both film versions, which is rather surprising given the subject matter.
- Death by Childbirth: Mrs. Richard F. Schiller AKA Lolita.
- Deliberately Bad Example: Clare Quilty, although he barely makes Humbert look any better by comparison.
- Detective Drama: Parodied.
- Domestic Abuse: Humbert hits his first wife after she tells him she wants to leave him. He cheerfully admits that he would have gone much further if he'd managed to get her alone after that.
- Drive-In Theater: One scene takes place there in the Stanley Kubrick film.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Eagle Land: Flavour two. The novel is a very scathing portrayal of postwar American society: philistinism, kitsch pop culture, hypocrisy and all manner of vice behind a cheerful facade rule the day. Possibly a case of Unreliable Narrator (Humbert is a European snob, after all).
- Erotic Eating: In Adrian Lyne's version, Lo erotically sucks on bananas in the car to distract Humbert from Quilty.
- Evil Is Petty: In addition to being another child molester, Quilty's pettier vices (rudeness, chronic drunkenness, being an Upperclass Twit, etc.) make him so disgusting to everyone that even his fellow revelers don't like him very much. One of them mentions at one point that they've all thought of killing him at some time or other, though never really very seriously. Both movie adaptations do a very good job of portraying him this way as well.
- Fille Fatale: Lolita in the book. H.H. even suspects her of trying to pimp her classmates to him. This is arguable due to the Unreliable Narrator.
- Fille Fatalons: Unsurprisingly both the Sue Lyon and Dominique Swain film versions have these to some level.
- The Film of the Book: Twice.
- The Fifties: More like end-40s (Humbert meets Lolita in 1947), but hits many chords associated with the period.
- Foil: Quilty to Humbert (also a writer, also a pedophile).
- Foot Focus: Both films have several close-ups of Lolita's bare feet.
- Freudian Excuse: H.H. has one of these, but neither he or the author really think it excuses him. You see, he is a pedophile because he fell in love when he was 12, but his 12-year-old girlfriend died and he never got over it. Considering the author's loathing of psychological literary criticism (he would later refer to Freud as "that Viennese witch-doctor") and Humbert Humbert's gleeful attacks on future attempts to psychologically profile him, and really the entire prologue, much of the book is spent destroying this trope. Also, consider that H.H.'s alleged excuse is basically a prose interpretation of Poe's Annabell Lee. Is it real, or is H.H. mocking you with a ready-made Freudian excuse?
- Gratuitous French:
- Thanks to a combination of several years in Paris and his own colossal pretentiousness, Humbert tends to litter the story with this.
- Charlotte in her letter to Humbert takes Everything Sounds Sexier in French to an extreme in an attempt to show her affection for him. Charlotte in everything, really - arguably an attempt to sound more cultured, more European, the middle-class, pretentious rube that she was.
- Happily Adopted: Subverted
- Harmful to Minors
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On
- I Have Many Names: "Lolita" is Humbert's nickname for Dolores. Her mother calls her "Lo" (to which she responds, "And behold!"); everyone else calls her, and she signs herself, "Dolly". Humbert also often refers to her as "Lo" and sometimes "Lola".
- In Medias Res: The Kubrick film begins with Humbert shooting Quilty.
- Insistent Terminology: Humbert is not attracted to children, but nymphets. It's made abundantly clear that the distinction exists only within his own head.
- Kill'Em All: In the end, Dolores escaped from her abusers and married a man she actually loved. When she becomes pregnant, she contacts Humbert to ask for support, and tells him the story from her point of view. Humbert then leaves her his money and goes off to kill Quilty, end up in jail and dies of illness there. Dolores dies in childbirth, along with her child.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book is presented as a memoir written by the main character written while he was in prison and published posthumously with names changed to protect the innocent. In the Jeremy Irons version, Quilty lampshades this, saying "You are a foreigner, you are an agent of a foreign power, you're a foreign literary agent."
- Little Miss Snarker: Dolores, who is quite sarcastic.
- Lolicon: Trope Namer (the word is a Japanese portmanteau/shorthand of "Lolita Complex"). The book is also a brutal avant-la-lettre deconstruction of Lolicon.
- Look Both Ways: When Charlotte finds Humbert's diary, detailing his disdain for her and lust for her daughter, she confronts him with the evidence and tells him she intends to take Lolita to a strict year-round boarding school and away from his grasp forever. However, crossing the street to post letters setting this plan in motion, she is killed by a passing motorist, leaving Humbert as Lolita's sole guardian.
- The Lost Lenore: Annabell for Humbert. Lampshaded with many references to Edgar Allan Poe in her description.
- Love At First Sight: One-way.
- Love Hurts: Annabell Leigh and Poe references embodied by her.
- Love Triangle: One of the Squickiest ones in all of modern literature. Worse because Charlotte has no idea her own daughter is her romantic rival.
- Meaningful Name: Everywhere.
- Dolores, conceived in Mexico, was named for Nuestra Señora de Dolores, Our Lady of Sorrows. "Haze", of course, is an obscuring cloud or fog (after he and Dolores part, Humbert realizes that "I simply did not know a thing about my darling's mind").
- "Dolly" is a pretend person, a human-shaped thing to play with, which is all that Dolly Haze ever is to Humbert.
- Quilty = Guilty.
- Richard Schiller- Friedrich Schiller was an 18th century philosopher who wrote on ethics and morals. Notably relevant is his writing on the moral value of 'play' on moral/aesthetic experience. And of course, Richard is referred to as "Dick".
- Most Writers Are Writers: Humbert is a literature professor, poet, and an aspiring novelist. His Foil Quilty is a well-known playwright.
- Murder the Hypotenuse
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Metaphorically, because Humbert needs to keep perceiving Dolores as his little "nymphet" even as she grows into her teens. And, heartbreakingly, literally: "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller" never achieves adulthood, dying in childbirth exactly one week before her eighteenth birthday.
- Oh, and X Dies: The book begins with a foreword, which tells us that Humbert died in prison from coronary thrombosis and Lolita died in childbirth. However, it refers Lolita as "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller", her married name, which we don't learn until the end of the book.
- Once More with Endnotes: The Annotated Lolita, with said annotations added by Alfred Appel, who had once been Nabokov's student at Cornell. It's funny how Alfred Appel added the annotations, given the author's affinity for alliteration. Given the author's fondness for bilingual puns, it's also fun to note that the French for "reference mark" is "appel de note". Does this man even really exist?
Appel's preface to the annotated edition goes out of its way on this point: "Of course, the annotator and editor of a novel written by the creator of Kinbote and John Ray, Jr., runs the real risk of being mistaken for another fiction, when at most he resembles those gentlemen only figuratively. But the annotator exists; he is a veteran and a grandfather, a teacher and taxpayer, and has not been invented by Vladimir Nabokov." Of course, that's just what a character would say. . . and before the Introduction is over, Appel is saying that you, gentle reader, are "manipulated by Nabokov's dizzying illusionistic devices to such an extent that [you] too can be said to become, at certain moments, another of Vladimir Nabokov's creations."
- Overprotective Dad: A very grim variation. The reason why Humbert's keeping others boys (and men) from banging his little girl is that he wants to do it himself.
- Perspective Flip: Lo's Diary. Would be a POV Sequel, except that it was written by Pia Pera and not Nabokov (whose family was less than pleased about it).
- Precocious Crush: It's noted that Lo had a bit of a crush on Humbert on account of him looking like one of her favorite movie stars. She probably wasn't expecting he'd reciprocate...
- Repetitive Name: Humbert Humbert. Alliterative Name as well.
- Road Trip Romance: Well, sort of.
- Rule of Symbolism: Everywhere you look, but notably near the book's end, when we learn that Dolly has taken refuge in a community where everyone seems to have a disability. Her husband is deaf, their next-door neighbor an amputee. Like her, they're all in some sense broken: but like her, they are survivors. Dick Schiller's deafness is particularly significant, because no one will ever hear Dolly's story.
- Significant Anagram: The character of Vivian Darkbloom anagrams the author's name. Probably also a case of Awesome McCoolname.
- Tastes Like Diabetes: Humbert's in-universe reaction to girly magazines and corny music that Lolita enjoys.
- The Unpronounceable: It seems nobody can get "Humbert Humbert" right. He is addressed to as Humbug, Hamburg, and whatnot.
- Unreliable Narrator: Understatement of the century. This is a book you need to read twice, just to appreciate how horribly screwed up everybody is. And we mean everybody, seriously. To the extent that everything after Humbert recieves Lolita's letter simply could not have happened. If you start with the date of Humbert's death in prison (November 16, 1952) and go back the fifty-six days he very pointedly says it took him to write the memoir, the absolute latest that he could have started was September 22--the day he gets Lolita's letter. Yeah, a bit of a Mind Screw there.
Or else that's just a screwup by an author who, though normally quite attentive to detail, was capable of dating a check or a letter with the previous year, not just in January (like most of us), but in October. And, while writing his Lolita screenplay for Stanley Kubrick to use in his movie adaptation, Nabokov managed to miswrite September 1960 as Oct 1930. In that light, mixing up "November 16" (the date as written) and "November 19" (a date which works, chronologically) wouldn't be too much to ask.
- As Nabokov noted in his afterword, one publisher rejected the manuscript on the grounds that Lolita had no good people in it.
- H. H. gives multiple, mutually incompatible "explanations" for his actions with Dolores: It wasn't his fault, his "pederosis" is a disease. And besides, it's normal for grown men to be sexually interested in preteen girls. And besides, she wasn't even a virgin. And besides, he was still sexually hung up on Annabel Leigh after a quarter century. And besides, Dante fell in love with Beatrice when she was nine. And besides, it was Lolita who seduced Humbert.
- Most of which are actually possible, just very, very unlikely to happen, though reconciling "I'm suffering from a disease that makes me attracted to little girls" with "It's normal for adult men to be sexually attracted to little girls" is far more than very, very unlikely. Also, Beatrice was nine, to be sure, but so was Dante.
- Wife Husbandry: On several levels. Humbert actually muses on the possibility of impregnating Lolita with Lolita: The Next Generation. Ideally really soon, like before she grows up and gets uninteresting. And then doing it again to the next Lolita, and possibly the next...
- Villain Protagonist: Humbert Humbert
- You Are Grounded: Humbert enforces a curfew on Lolita to keep her from dating boys or, you know, calling the police.