Reading “Lolita” in 2013 (Nabokov)

Book Covers1

… my reading list has now introduced me to Nabokov. Of course I’ve been familiar with the term “Lolita” for years, as a word for a young girl who sexually arouses older men, but I’d never read the book that coined the phrase. I’m on page 52 and here are some observations:

The use of the word “analyze” — Humbert Humbert keeps bringing it up. He analyzes (or tries to analyze) himself, he points out what should be analyzed, looking at himself as a sort of case story. He is, in some way, detached, reporting without scruples or embarrassment not only on his actions but on his thoughts, desires, and urges.

To him, this is a sort of research project — he even cites his sources and points out where his facts can be checked (like the weather data for a specific day, for example). He has done a lot of research into, well, the world of young girls. He quotes a magazine for girls which describes menarche in childish terms, but he also uses scientific data (average age of onset, etc) which was likely not found in the magazine. His deep familiarity with the bodily development of the very early stages of adolescence is disturbing, — I guess it would be less so if he had a daughter, or was a pediatrician, but still. He even rattles off a list of instances (biblical and cultural) where sexual relations with young girls are not an offense.

Another thing is the persistent zoomorphism: people being described / referred to as animals rather than persons / human beings. This is particularly noticeable (at least in the first 52 pages, as far as I’ve come today) when he speaks of women. They are not full persons to him, which, in light of his violent, misogynistic fantasies about killing his wife (whom he never loved) for taking a lover, is not surprising.

Speaking of Nefertiti’s children he explains “that royal couple had a litter of six” (19) and three lines later describes these children as having “soft brown puppybodies. But the zoomorphism goes further; he includes himself. When speaking of humans as animals, he clearly believes in a simple, two-class system of animals: Predator and prey. Lolita, the pre-teen daughter of his landlady, is the prey he plays with (42).

The idea of two female sexes (18) — this touches on the heart of his “research”: to him (and, he claims, a number of other men) there are ordinary girls, and there are “nymphlets.” He describes the latter group as a different species, as demons who may or may not be aware of their effect on the men who can distinguish them from the other children. They only exist, he says, in the space between age nine and fourteen (16) in some sort of timeless world of their own. He takes his sickening pseudo-scientific approach to his sexual desires seriously and also seems to plead mitigating circumstances — he argues that his fixation on young girls was caused by the death of his boyhood lover before they (he) could act out their (his) desires.

Over all, this man is an unpleasant fellow who is full of himself (he describes repeatedly how “handsome” he was and still is) and displays anti-social tendencies, such as complete indifference to the wellbeing or feelings of others. All he cares about is to limit his own suffering and maximize his pleasure in any way he can without being caught. Being apprehended and imprisoned is an inconvenience to him, but he does not have ethical reservations regarding his actions. He describes himself as “oppressed” by the taboos and morals of the society around him. The pedophile portrays himself as the victim of an uptight, frigid society. Nice one. Not.

Now, while I’m at it, how did the term “Lolita” come to be associated with this (see below)?

Japanese "Lolita" Style (image from

Japanese “Lolita” Style (image from — More info at Wikipedia

You may also have wondered why I added 2013 to the title of this post. Lolita was first published in the 1950s. Sixty years later, I look around and can’t help but see the sexualization of children, from the pageant circuit (or circus, you might say) via tv, movies and magazines to toys and even just every-day clothing.


Yes that’s a child. From the French Vogue — click the image to read what sociologists say about this.


Push-up bras for little girls — WTF?! (click the image to read more)

These are not Lolitas. They’re children being objectified and used to encourage viewing young girls as sexually mature. Which they are not. The girl above has no idea what message her “come hither” look sends. Please wipe that mascara off her face, give her milk and cookies, and let her go play outside in a t-shirt and shorts. Thank you.

About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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