Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001200, Tue, 6 Aug 1996 09:58:18 -0700

Re: Lolita, morality, etc. (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Vitaly Kupisk <104361.1700@CompuServe.COM>

I am glad that this forum is becoming more active with people who "like good
books" like that student in Nabokov's class.

Forgive the unresearched reply: the only thing that comes to mind regarding
"Lolita" vs. porn is Nabokov's postscript to Lolita, where he remarks (I
paraphrase) that "Lolita" would disappoint as pornography: in pornography action
builds and builds (in de Sade's play they eventually invite the gardener to
join) while in "Lolita" after the iniltial build-up the story takes a rather
different course.

I doubt he set out to parody pornography in "Lolita". Maybe in "Ada"...

As for the morality (or ethics, in this context I don't see the difference) of
the novel I cannot recommend highly enough the essay on "Lolita" within Brian
Boyd's superb biography, and his, similar in spirit, analysis of "Ada" in a
separate book. To paraphrase briefly: the structures of Humbert's narrative --
its style, imagery, details of circumstance -- reveal a) his manipulativeness in
trying to present himself, his actions, and people around him in a certain
light, important to preserve his self-centered view, and b) the things he does
not consciously see, but is aware of on some level, e.g. that Lolita is a
bright, sensitive, and strong girl whom he horribly destroys as surely as he
destroys Quilty. All that is IN the novel, not some critic (or even the author
someplace else) telling you how you should feel. In that sense, it is a
morality lesson of the highest kind, that lets you first accept and excuse
something so seductive (great style, great passion) and then, through attentive
work, see the horror of not being able to step otside the cage of one's own
drive, not capable to imagine what others feel (at least, not until it's too
late and too little). Again, that's in the novel, and to miss these things is
to miss out on some fantastic thrills that shake (in my case, at least) my whole

To share something that brought a smile to my face the other day:

I have an old LP of VN reading some of his poetry and the scene of Quilty's
murder, with the last line of a "pink bubble with juvenile connotations grew on
his lips and vanished" (I hope I've got it right) rolling with his baritone and
classic English pronunciation. And last night I was rereading "Speak, Memory"
and in the last chapter he describes his feelings while Vera is waiting for baby
Dmitry's after-meal burp and, finally, its little bubble comes on the baby's

I'll pass on the chance to discuss here this confluence of childhood and murder
in Humbert's perfect nightmare, especially since I believe Prof. Boyd did it

Oh yeah, did Boyd ever finish that book on Shakespeare that the biography's
blurb mentions?

Vitaly Kupisk
Berkeley, California