Corruption of an adult by a minor
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
Would you believe I didn’t know the origins, or indeed, the true meaning of the term “Lolita” until a few weeks ago?
Being an English graduate student living with another English graduate student, naturally the topic of favorite books comes up. After I blabbed for about half an hour about and The Catcher in the Rye and Great Expectations, my apartment-mate mentioned that her favorite book was Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.
“It’s so beautiful,” she told me, telling me stories about how Nabokov was so obsessed with finding the perfect word order that he wrote the words of every sentence on index cards and moved the cards around until the flow was just right. On top of it, English is not Nabokov’s first language, which leads to both a self-consciousness about language and a compulsion to get everything exact.
She was right, to an extent. The first paragraph was jewel-like, incredible, amazing; other parts scattered throughout were heart-breakingly beautiful. Still, the plot and the language was not sufficient to make me forget that this was a 40-year-old man having an affair with a 12-year-old girl (however nymph-like she may be). Beautiful though it may be, I couldn’t move beyond the gross-out factor.
I wasn’t quite getting it. I had read too fast, the plot was a little boring, and I was confused by the ending because I had missed a key clue earlier in the book. Thankfully one of my other friends has a passion for Lolita and an excellent DVD collection, which contained Adrian Lyne’s version of the story.
This version, made in 1997, stars a striking Jeremy Irons and a self-conciously sexual Dominique Swain. It’s so very clear in this version that Lolita knows what she is doing to Humbert, that Humbert loves her rather than just lusts after her, and the complete and utter Freudian nightmare that is their relationship is painted in much clearer terms (this portrayal just helped clarify their relationship, not take away from the book’s portrayal of it at all).
I cried at the end (which is nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but this time it was justified). I even forgot somehow that this older man was technically the criminal, and this manipulative, cheating shrew was ostensibily some sort of victim. All I saw was a man so in love he would do anything to keep his lover his, and at the same time a man desperate to protect his ‘daughter’ from the clutches of dirty old men.
Please, do read Lolita. There are some beautiful scenes that the movie doesn’t bother to go into, and if nothing else, it’s worth reading just to marvel at how brilliant Nabokov must be to be able to write like this in what is not his first language.
But if you find that the novel falls a little short for you, go rent the Adrian Lyne version of the film and spend two hours or so watching Dominique Swain drive Jeremy Irons out of his mind. I promise, it will bring your appreciation of the story to a whole other level.
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