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.
No, it was statutory rape, because a 12 year old in our society is not capable of consenting to sex or really understanding what is happening. But the damage to a 12 year old is not the same.
A 12 or 13 year old girl seduced and statutorily raped by her soccer coach will, with time and effort probably recover emotionally and at least has the possibility of forming normal relationships in the future.
A 12 or 13 year old boy raped by his soccer coach will probably suffer more emotional damage and take longer to recover, due to the homosexual nature of the rape, they may recover and have a normal life, but it will be harder.
A 7 or 8 year boy or girl old raped by their soccer coach may never fully recover, and will have a lot more psychological damage and will never have a truly normal life. That’s why it is worse.
A 4 year old raped by an adult will be probably be severely damaged for the rest of their life.
The younger a person is when abused, the greater the damage. That is why the distinction between before and after puberty is important.
I was not aware of that, puberty hit me when I was twelve. If she was prepubescent, then it becomes pedophilia and Humbert becomes a much worse villain.
As I said, I’ve not read the book and never will.
|District of Columbia||12||16||16|
Yes, that’s pretty much the point of the book. Humbert hears the laughter of the children and realizes his sad feelings are not those of missing Lolita, but those of realizing he has stolen her childhood.
But the reader is roped in with the sex aspect. One can only hope most readers walk away with some new understanding.
Unbelievably creepy. Growing up in a dirty factory town, in that situation you are exposed to so many things at such a young age. The pressure to ‘be in the game’ was crushing. I knew so many girls that were way too advanced beyond their years, and man did most of them pay the price later in life in one way or another. Everybody just grew up way too fast.
To actually be promoting and encouraging that is just sick. Nothing good can come from hypersexualizing young teens. This is just pure trailer park morals being pushed on all of us, and I can tell you from being in the middle of that all it does is damage and break people down for life.
Visit any mall and you will see young girls dressed like street walkers. Not that this is an excuse for pedophilia, but you have to blame parents for letting their daughters dress and act like this and put them at risk for sexual exploitation.
I read the story too - it’s a very well written story.
It’s also very graphic; it isn’t graphic in detail, but the imagination of HumbertX2 is shocking in all of it’s masculine obsessiveness.
I did chuckle when HumbertX2 tried to excuse his obsession by stating that Edgar Allen Poe had his Virginia, so he could have his own vixen as well.
Or any public High School. Worse, is any dance function at the school.
Does that makes it better in your world? Funny how creepy people like to find loop holes.
I am stunned that it was considered appropriate literature for high school! Would you mind saying what year that was?
You’re right about the schools - - they love to show off and have horrible language.
Back in history early teens were getting married and had more responsibility. Society treats them as children. Perhaps the legal age should be lowered - including convicting them of crimes as adults. Maybe that will wake them up.
Distinctions between degrees of evil are not irrelevant.
Rape of an adult female - very evil.
Rape of an underage but post-pubescent female - even more evil.
Rape of a pre-pubescent child - most evil of all.
Why people take the common-sense observation that C is worse than A or B to imply that A or B therefore not so bad as all that is beyond me.
Here’s an example you might be able to comprehend.
It’s worse to murder two people than one person. That doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s ok to murder one person.
Lolita is a classic and great Americana. I suppose ‘Creepy people’ would also include William F Buckley who was a good friend of Nabokov’s.
It was about the collision between European Intellectualism with American pop culture, Modernism and poster-modernism and the ability of creative art to attempt to expiate the horrific acts. It has substance to store.
The book is about the rape of a girl. Glad you find it a classic.
Crime and Punishment is about the brutal murder of an old woman and her sister. Is that a classic? How about Macbeth where a child is murdered (among many others). Your argument is absurd on its face.
Of course what happened to your grandmother wasn't child abuse and your grandfather wasn't a child rapist or a pedophile. They were legally and honorably married. They lived in a different time and place. Nearly a hundred years ago people didn't live as long as they do today, education didn't go on as long, so people entered into adult life and work at earlier ages. Presumably your grandmother happily consented and your grandparents were in love (and if I know much about young people, your grandmother was probably at least as mature emotionally as your grandfather at the time). That's a lot different than the deep evil of a grown man holding his child stepdaughter an anguished prisoner so he can seduce and then rape her at his leisure.
Why wouldn’t it be? It’s an American classic and not explicit at all.
Sure agree with you on that. watched it once and said I’ll bet the audience is 99% pedophiles...should be taken off the TV. And the parents are just sick and perverted also
Most people have only seen the movies. I also read the book and was quite disgusted.
I look at that picture and all I can think about is sex slavery. Eastern European and American teenagers locked in dark rooms forced to service men.
Is the 1880 age of consent in Delaware 7 or 17? I thought the 10’s were bad enough, but gross, eww WTF.
My great-grandmother married at eleven.
Good grief. What a warped mind it must have been which conceived of such an ad.
Disgusted by what? The book has no sex scenes!
There is no sex in the book? It is all about a friendly relationship, not about having sex with her?
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