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Why Lolita Is NOT Romantic

Don't fall for the unreliable narrator.

By Katherine WilliamsPublished 7 years ago 5 min read
Photo from Penguin Random House

Okay, I’m not going to lie: when I first read Lolita, my heart was flooded by the overwhelming desire of romance. Humbert makes me swoon. A lot.

You see, in the novel, Humbert often talks about how much he loves Lolita. It is very easy to depict his passion and magnetic pull towards her, and boy does he seem to never stop talking about it! But why would you want him to? Trust me on this one, his words are insanely beautiful and poetic. I mean, what woman doesn’t want to hear a man say that she is the “light of his life” and “the fire of his lions?” I know when I imagine Humbert saying that about me I can feel my heart slowly melt into a puddle! Basically, while reading the novel for the first time, I would always think that Humbert was perfect and flawless in every way possible. To me Lolita was just a selfish little whiny brat who didn’t deserve Humbert’s tender, unconditional love.

Even after I finished reading the book, my hatred for Lolita as well as my lingering love for Humbert didn’t seem to falter. I immediately watched the 1997 film which intensified my obsession even more. Imagining my already beautiful/flawless Humbert as physically looking like Jeremy Irons (WHO IS TOO GORGEOUS FOR MANKIND) made me feel over cloud nine, which I didn’t believe could happen to me. But despite my belief, falling in love with a fictional character was in fact possible. For a about a week I didn’t feel like I was thinking straight because BAM, I was struck by Cupid’s arrow which was filled with Humbert’s intoxicating “love.” It seemed like I would never recover from this feeling, and in return would mentally reside in the “honeymoon” phase of love forever.

But then about three weeks later I reread the book again, because when I’m obsessed with a book I tend to read it over and over again. (Is that just me? Or does everyone do that?)

There was a point in my reading where I had a strange, unwanted epiphany. I was starting to see past Humbert’s charm and was smacked by the horrors of his impulsive actions. Wait, I thought, am I romanticizing the crap out of some lustful confessions of a middle age pervert? No way! Humbert doesn’t do many bad things… He is a good guy at heart, right? It’s undeniable that his love for Lolita is perfect! He will do anything for her! And by anything, I mean marry Charlotte Haze (Lolita’s mom, a woman that he despises) only to get to closer to precious Lolita. Oh, and then after he marries her he unintentionally drives Mrs. Haze to her fateful death. (Get it? DRIVES? Spoiler: She was hit by a car.)

Pshhhh, I can overlook that one tiny little mistake. Humbert’s pure intentions towards Lolita make up for that! He treated her like a princess! I mean he only raped and stole her innocence away from her at a young age. Then after he basically held her hostage away from humanity so that she wouldn’t be able to run away from him…

Oh no…. This is becoming an unfortunate pattern… Wait a minute… It took me awhile to deeply reflect on those facts, but soon after I realized the TRUE sense of beauty and disaster highlighted in Lolita. I know now that this book is NOT meant to be conventionally romantic, as I was convinced it was before. In fact, it is supposed to be seen as the complete opposite: tragic, controversial and manipulative. It is supposed to twist your thoughts and make you question your common senses—and that is what exactly what happened to little old me. I was blinded by Humbert’s suave seduction and was unable to count his faults.

For starters, I obviously wasn’t fully seeing Humbert for the person he truly is—a domineering pedophiliac. It still kind of pains me to say this, but I know it is true now: Humbert is not perfect. He is very far from it. He is unreliable, manipulative, and completely self-deluded. His thought processes are uncontrollable and inconsiderate—most of the time, he’s not even thinking about Lolita’s emotions when it comes to their relationship. He doesn’t even seem to consider the fact that Lolita might not love him at all (which, she doesn’t, she only has crush.) I honestly don’t even believe he cares about all of those important details, which is really sad. He only truly cares about what he gets from her. What he is feeling is lust, even though he convinces you that it is 100% true love. In context it is so easy to sympathize with Humbert and merely glance at his mistakes. But you have to realize that he makes a lot of bad, unhealthy, even life damaging decisions. I think people who are quick to defend him (including me) need to reflect on these facts when trying forget his faults. His malicious actions deserve no excuses.

Secondly, I wasn’t looking into the plot of the story for what it truly is—a tragedy. A part of the tragedy here is that Humbert is sick, gets no help and ends up becoming permanently unhappy because of this. He is basically possessed while trying to keep Lolita in his arms forever, which is frankly terrifying and uncomfortable to think about. I believe the worst part about this tragedy is that a child’s innocence was automatically stripped away from her. Before, as if I was mirroring Humbert’s actions, I never even considered Lolita’s part in all of this stuff. Holy cow, her life is just so sad! It’s not even her fault, either—it is mostly because of Humbert. She didn’t even get to be a kid. The only big events she faced as child were traumatic (her mom dying, Humbert taking control of her) and then she got pregnant at 17. Instead of being a typical carefree teenager, she was unsuitably transported to events that really only adults should be worrying about. Her time to grow up was set too fast, and too early. I feel that the worst part is she practically had no voice in the midst of all of the chaos. (How unfair is that? And how unfortunate! Wow, this book is depressing—why did I think it was a love story before?) I think people who are quick to defend this “love” story (including me) must take in these factors, as well.

Frankly, I could go on about this for days, but the point here is that the story of Lolita is NOT romantic at all. Even though Humbert still makes me want to sing show tunes at the top of my lungs, I know that the guy is no saint. I also now know that Lolita didn’t deserve any of the trauma that was handed to her. She may seem unlikable to me at times, but she really does have a very good excuse for it. Ultimately, Lolita is a beautifully written tragedy that tugs at the heart strings, which I use to glorify for all of the wrong reasons. Bravo, Vladimir Nabokov.


About the Creator

Katherine Williams

23 year old from Maine. Owner of Disney fanatic. Cat lady. Avid reader and writer.

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