Dear Matt,

Good question, though I wouldn't put it the same way. The first time reader of course doesn't realize there is a narrator other than the author, and so is surprised when he turns up. But upon re-reading, you know that there is this character and look for information in the text about him, which you find. I find this narrator believable mostly because he has more pity for Pnin than for himself, about whom he is brutally honest. 

That isn't quite correct though, is it. He has no pity for the character Pnin  within the novel, but he certainly causes the reader to feel pity for Pnin, both as a victim of his circumstances and in the end, of the narrator. There is a wonderful study of Pnin by Galya Dimint, in which Nabokov plays the roll of the narrator-vilain in real life.

You may have won the prize - come up with a believable narrator! many thanks from

From: "Roth, Matthew" <mroth@MESSIAH.EDU>
Sent: Monday, November 4, 2013 8:27 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] the Real Question regarding Humbert's Innocence

Anthony stated, “One assumes the narrative is reliable until proven otherwise. If one starts by assuming total unreliability, then anything may mean anything, and one may attribute any meaning whatever without any discipline for checking one's attribution.”
This is perfectly sensible, and in the case of Lolita I tend towards the traditional reading as affirmed by Boyd in “Even Homais Nods.”  BUT, it seems worth asking how the statement above operates in the case of Pnin. Once the narrator shows up as a fellow resident of Pnin’s reality, his version of Pnin’s life becomes radically destabilized, and we have, as far as I can tell, no way of checking the narrative’s reliability. Yet my sense is that the narrative doesn’t really lose much in terms of its “artistic and moral tension.” Why not?
Matt Roth
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Anthony Stadlen
Sent: Sunday, November 03, 2013 6:44 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] the Real Question regarding Humbert's Innocence
Dear Carolyn, Jansy and the List,
I am glad that Carolyn recognises the validity of my assertion that Judaism does not have Original Sin, which is an invention of Paul and Augustine.
I have certainly raised the question of Humbert's unreliable narration, for example with his miscalculation of 56 days when it should be 52 near the end of the book, and with his placing of the sound of children's voices on the hillside (no doubt a "true" episode in itself) as a ploy (as Brian Boyd has also pointed out). But just as with, say, "Signs and Symbols" or Despair or Pale Fire, so with Lolita the good re-reader is going to have to reach some kind of working hypothesis as to which parts of the curate's egg of the narration are more or less reliable and which are not. And there has to be some kind of logic to this. Otherwise anything goes, and it all stops being interesting, because it has lost the artistic and moral tension between reliable and unreliable. Surely, the justification for imputing unreliability is that the story becomes vague, shifting and contradictory -- exactly the same logic as with a witness in court. One assumes the narrative is reliable until proven otherwise. If one starts by assuming total unreliability, then anything may mean anything, and one may attribute any meaning whatever without any discipline for checking one's attribution.
Anthony Stadlen
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In a message dated 03/11/2013 22:37:41 GMT Standard Time, chaiselongue@ATT.NET writes:
Dear Jansy and the List,
The concept of original sin post-dates Judaism. We are currently reading Genesis (another pair of murderous twins have just been born) and it seems to me that disobedience only (i.e. not hubris) is closer to what Adam and Eve did and for which they were punished with mortality. 
In regards to Humbert's guilt or innocence, I personally lean toward innocence partly because there has been no trial, and except in Wonderland, the trial usually precedes the verdict. But what I think is the most important question raised has so far not been addressed by the List, to wit, is Humbert a reliable narrator, which those who condemn him must accept at least to some degree, and if so, can someone please give me another example from Nabokov's oeuvre?
That is the real question.
p.s. I am a very lackadaisical Nabokovian and have not read most of the novels, so this is a serious, not a rhetorical, question.

From: Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>
Sent: Sunday, November 3, 2013 3:03 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] An Exchange on Humbert's Innocence
A. Stadlen's arguments about HH and Humpty Dumpty humoristically indicate that  "Humbert's fall, like Humpty's, like Finnegan's, is the Fall of Mankind. But the Fall is a Christian notion. Judaism does not have Original Sin [    ] "Lolita" may have no moral in tow, but this is because it itself is the pilot not the piloted, being moral through and through, the paradigmatic moral and negative-theological discourse of our age. Disprove that! It's a possible hypothesis.." However, part of his assertions seem to mingle informations derived from common-sense reality and established dogmas, with those that are purely fictional (a very Nabokovian trait) - like the philosophical implications related to "the Fall." (I always thought that biblical Adam's and Eve's disobedience and hybris, later imaged in Lucifer's fall, were related to the theory of the Original Sin and were still valid for Christians and for Jews.) 
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to bring up an instance from "Pale Fire" (CK's note to line 549) in which we find Shade and Nabokov discussing sin, in the context of "obsolete terminology." 
shade: All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of them, Pride, Lust and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.
kinbote: Is it fair to base objections upon obsolete terminology?
shade: All religions are based upon obsolete terminology.
kinbote: What we term Original Sin can never grow obsolete.
shade: I know nothing about that. In fact when I was small I thought it meant Cain killing Abel. Personally, I am with the old snuff-takers: L’homme est né bon.
kinbote: Yet disobeying the Divine Will is a fundamental definition of Sin.
shade: I cannot disobey something which I do not know and the reality of which I have the right to deny.
kinbote: Tut-tut. Do you also deny that there are sins?
shade: I can name only two: murder, and the deliberate infliction of pain.
Nowadays words like "honor" and "dignity" like "sin" seem to be losing their former impact. Would they be obsolete, too, in John Shade's eyes? (V.Nabokov, elsewhere,* mentions "a norm," not sin or morality).
I agree with A.Stadlen's and J.Aisenberg's ideas, following J.A's quotes from "Lolita,"about HH having made up the information concerning the paternity of Lolita. (there are many other discrepancies in the plot related to it).  
* For Nabokov “a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss” (Lolita, Afterword, page 314), described as "a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness) is the norm
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