Skip to comments.For The Record, Lolita Was Not Sexually Precocious — She Was Raped
Posted on 11/18/2011 6:46:48 AM PST by Borges
When I first encountered the literary classic Lolita, I was the same age as the infamous female character. I was 15 and had heard about a book in which a grown man carries on a sexual relationship with a much younger girl. Naturally, I quickly sought out the book and devoured the entire contents on my bedroom floor, parsing through Humbert Humberts French and his erotic fascination for his stepdaughter, the light of his life, the fire of his loins Dolores Haze. I remember being in the ninth grade and turning over the cover that presented a coy pair of saddle shoes as I hurried through the final pages in homeroom.
Although I remember admiring the book for all its literary prowess, what I dont recall is how much of the truth of that story resonated with me given that I was a kid myself. Because it wasnt until I reread the book as an adult that I realized Lolita had been raped. She had been raped repeatedly, from the time she was 12 to when she was 15 years old.
As a young woman now, its startling to see how that fundamental crux of the novel has been obscured in contemporary culture with even the suggestion of what it means to be a Lolita these days. Tossed about now, a Lolita archetype has come to suggest a sexually precocious, flirtatious underage girl who invites the attention of older men despite her young age. A Lolita now implies a young girl who is sexy, despite her pigtails and lollipops, and who teases men even though she is supposed to be off-limits.
In describing his now banned perfume ad, Marc Jacobs was very frank about the intentions of his sexy child ad and why he chose young Dakota Fanning to be featured in it. The designer described the actress as a contemporary Lolita, adding that she was seductive, yet sweet. Propping her up in a childs dress that was spread about her thighs, and with a flower bottle placed right between her legs, the styling was sufficient to make the 17-year-old look even younger. The text below read Oh Lola!, cementing the Lolita reference completely. The teenager looks about 12 years old in the sexualizing advertisement, which is the same age Lolita is when the book begins.
And yet Marc Jacobs interpretation of Lolita as seductive is completely false, as are all other usages of Lolita to imply a seductive, yet sweet little girl who desires sex with older men.
Lolita is narrated by a self-admitted pedophile whose penchant for extremely young girls dates all the way back to his youth. Twelve-year-old Dolores Haze was not the first of Humbert Humberts victims; she was just the last. His recounting of events is unreliable given that he is serially attracted to girl children or nymphets as he affectionately calls them. And his endless rationalizing of hislove for Lolita, their affair, their romance glosses over his consistent sexual attacks on her beginning in the notorious hotel room shortly after her mother dies.
This man who marries Lolitas mother, in a sole effort to get access to the child, fantasizes about drugging her in the hopes of raping her a hypothetical scenario which eventually does come to fruition. Later on as he realizes that Lolita is aging out of his preferred age bracket, he entertains the thought of impregnating her with a daughter so that he can in turn rape that child when Lolita gets too old.
Lolita does make repeated attempts to get away from her rapist and stepfather by trying to alert others as to how she is being abused. According to Humbert, she invites the company of anyone which annoys him given that the pervert doesnt want to be discovered. And yet, he manipulates her from truly notifying the authorities by telling her that without him her only living relative shell become a ward of the state. By spoiling her with dresses and comic books and soda pop, he reminds her that going into the system will deny her such luxuries and so she is better off being raped by him whenever he pleases than living without new presents.
Given that Humbert is a pedophile, his first-person account is far from trustworthy when deciphering what actually happened to Lolita. But, Vladimir Nabokov does give us some clues despite our unreliable narrator. For their entire first year together on the road as they wade from town to town, Humbert recalls her bouts of crying and moodiness perfectly understandable emotions considering that she is being raped day and night. A woman in town even inquires to Humbert what cat has been scratching him given the the marks on his arms vigilant attempts by Lolita to get away from her attacker and guardian. He controls every aspect of her young life, consumed with the thought that she will leave him with the aid of too much allowance money or perhaps a boyfriend. He interrogates her constantly about her friends and eventually ransacks her bedroom revoking all her money. Lolita is often taunted with things she desires in exchange for sexual favors as Nabokov writes in one scene:
How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it until she had done her morning duty.
Lolita eventually does get away from her abusive stepfather by age 15, but the fact that she has been immortalized as this illicit literary vixen is not only deeply troublesome, its also a completely inaccurate reading of the book. And Marc Jacobs is not alone in his highly problematic misinterpretation of child rape and abuse as sexy. Some publications and publishing houses actually recognize the years of abuse as love.
Pedophile Says Slutty Two-Year-Old Girl Seduced Him, Calls Her Promiscuous How To Answer Awkward Sex-Scandal Questions, By Penn State Staff 10-Year-Old Girl Gives Birth In Mexico, Again Penn State Students Care More About Their Coach Than The Rape Of Children On the 50th anniversary edition of Lolita, which I purchased for the sake of writing this piece, there sits on the back cover a quote from Vanity Fair which reads:
The only convincing love story of our century.
The edition, which was published by Vintage International, recounts the story as Vladimir Nabokovs most famous and controversial novel but also as having something to say about love. The back cover concludes in its summary:
Most of all, it is a meditation on love love as outrage and hallucinations, madness and transformation.
Love holds no space in this novel, which details the repeated sexual violation of a child. Although Humbert desperately tries to convince the reader that he is in love with his stepdaughter, the scratches on his arms imply something else entirely. Because the lecherous Humbert has couched his pedophilia in romantic language, the young girl he repeatedly violated seems to have passed through into pop culture as a tween temptress rather than a rape victim.
Conflating love or sexiness with the rape of literatures most misunderstood child is dangerous in that it perpetuates the mythology that young girls are some how participating in their own violation. That they are instigating these attacks by encouraging and inciting the lust of men with their flirty demeanor and child-like innocence.
Let it be known that even Lolita, pop cultures first sexy little girl was not looking to seduce her stepfather. Lolita, like a lot of young girls, was raped.
Of course the writer is correct and I thought the same thing when I read that book.
I do remember one scene near the end when the main character is looking down at some small-town scene from a hilltop (or something like that) and he can hear laughter of children in the distance and he thinks to himself that he stole Lolita’s childhood.
I’ve never seen that perfume ad, but I wonder how it is any different than thousands of messages sent every day ‘sexploiting’ little girls.
The whole “Toddlers and Tiara’s” genre is way beyond creepy.
I thought Lolita was a truly nauseating and creepy book. I also had to read it in high school (I remember that same cover with the saddle shoes) and it completely appalled me that our teacher was gushing over it. In fact, it rather made me wonder about the teacher...
Child molesters always say it was the fault of the child, the child “made them do it,” etc. While Nabokov may have meant this to show the complete unreality and depravity of the self-justifying Humbert Humbert, it’s undeniable that many people got exactly the opposite message out of it and that it served to create that image of a sexualized child that now seems to be so dear to the hearts of everybody, ranging from advertisers to Penn State coaches.
Do you think ‘Crime and Punishment’ glorified murderers?
That show comes from the deepest pits of Hell.
I read it when I was nineteen, and it was pretty clear that it was molestation and rape to me.
As the mother of girls, this creeps me out.
I was unaware of that show until now. Ugh..
(Where’s the brain-bleach?)
One correction to the article. The term “pedophile” should be applied to those who sexually abuse prepubescent children. While what Humbert Humbert does is bad (based on descriptions I have read, I’m not ever going to read the book), Lolita is presumably past puberty and at least somewhat able to cope with and recover from what happens to her.
A pedophile who assaults a prepubescent child, however, is orders of magnitude worse. The psychological damage to the child is much worse and longer lasting. It could also lead to the victim themselves becoming a future pedophile, if I’m not mistaken. Which means that one act or series of acts of brutality have consequences that, unchecked could last generations.
The younger a person is when abused, the greater the damage. The distinction is important.
The book doesn’t describe any sex acts. It’s all implied.
In other words, it wasn't "rape" rape, eh Whoopie?
“Crime and Punishment” was perhaps the first of the novels that attempted to get “inside the head” of a criminal or madman, and I’m sure was a big influence on Dostoyevsky’s fellow-Russian, Nabokov. I think Dostoyevsky’s moral compass was a little more certain than Nabokov’s, however, and this does come through. Raskolnikov is “converted” by Sonya, does confess and goes to prison.
Humbert Humbert, on the other hand, does not; the most he acknowledges is that his actions with Lolita have been cruel, but he goes on with his self-justifying ways, tracks down and kills the man who “stole” Lolita from him, and never suffers any consequences.
It’s so unresolved that I can see why it was easy for people to take it as a glowing description of a sexualized child rather than a revolting peek into the mind of a child molester.
Doesn’t suffer consequences? He goes to prison (and dies there).
Lolita was prepubescent when Humpbert began raping her. Girls started puberty much later a half century ago. He was done with her as she finished puberty at 15.
She doesn’t look 12 (as described in the article) or 17 (her real age). She looks about 15 which is too young to be “seductive”.
While a 15 year old is theoretically capable handling the pressures and responsibilities of sex, pregnancy, child raising, etc. (indeed almost everyone alive probably has multiple cases of teens giving birth in their family tree) the odds are against it. Particularly in our society, where teens are still protected against the outside world by being kept in their families and schools until 18 instead of taking up work at 12, 13, or 14 as was often the case in the past.
It is irresponsible to take such photos of anyone under 18 for use in an advertisement in this day and age.
My grandmother was married at 15, my grandfather was 21 at the time (this was in 1920). She and my grandfather remained married for 64 years, until he died in 1984. Those who would call this child abuse and would call my grandfather a rapist or pedophile would be wrong. My grandma was a very kind and loving person, completely normal acting to all those who knew her, and didn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects associated with abuse or rape.
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