So, Who's The Girl, Mister?


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So, Who's The Girl, Mister?

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Editat: feb. 10, 2008, 2:28pm

The inspiration for this fanciful post comes from the intriguing question and the several excerpts that are included from The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, from Véra by Stacy Shiff, and from The American Years by Brian Boyd.

So, who’s the girl, Mister?

It is the eternally interesting question! It never goes away! It first surfaces on the porch at The Enchanted Hunters hotel.

Mysterious voice: “Where the devil did you get her?”

Humbert: “I beg your pardon?”

Voice: “I said: the weather is getting better”

Humbert: “Seems so.”

Voice: “Who’s the lassie?”

Humbert: “My daughter.”

Voice: “You lie --- she’s not”

Humbert: “I beg your pardon?”

Voice: “I said July was hot. Where’s her mother?”

Humbert: “Dead.”

The mists swirl and the scene slowly changes in our imagination to a courtroom,

Magistrate: (reading from a sheet) Is this her?

stature: 57 inches

weight: 78 pounds

hair: chestnut

eyes: pale-gray

figure: linear

chest girth: 27 inches

waist girth: 23 inches

hip girth: 29 inches

thigh girth: 17 inches

calf girth: 11 inches

neck girth: 11 inches

upper arm girth: 8 inches

IQ: 121

Appendix: present

Humbert: Yes, Your Honor. That is Lolita. (p.126)

Magistrate: So, who’s the girl? Where did you pick her up?

Humbert: She’s my stepdaughter, Your Honor. The daughter of Charlotte Haze.

Again our imagination blurs and we are at a reception. (Vera p.229)

Admirers: “we had not exactly expected the author to show up with his distinguished looking wife of thirty-three years.”

Vera: /smiling, unflappable/ “Yes, that is exactly why I am here.”

The stage turns yet again and through the mists we see emerging a visit with a biographer. (Boyd p211)

Reader: Who was Lolita? Who was the real-life Lolita?

Boyd: “He took one arm from a little girl who used to come to see Dmitri, one kneecap of another. He visited the school principal on the pretext of placing his little daughter. He had none! He searched out recent studies on physical and psychological development of American schoolgirls…”

Still inquisitive, the reader turns to an even more reliable source (Vera p.214)

Reader: Where did he find Lolita? Who was she in real life? Someone he knew?

Vera: “he sat on the Ithaca buses with notepad and listened carefully. He had also haunted playgrounds until his doing so had become awkward. There were otherwise no other little girls in his life” (p214)

Reader: No one else?

Vera: “some of our friends came to understand his earlier interest in their prepubescent daughter, whom Vladimir had taken to interviewing extensively…” (p205)

The stage turns a final time, and as the clouds part we imagine an unexpected meeting with the author himself, with the tables turned.

Author: So, now, You tell me! Who is Lolita to you? How do you see Lolita?

Reader: Well, might she really be a daughter of Galatea? The latest in the long line of daughters created in the same way, full-grown from an artist’s imagination? Smudged up a bit, but brought to life from the mythically beautiful ivory statue created by the sculptor Pygmalion? The sculptor who fell in love with his creation and prayed to Venus that his statue might live? And he with her? A sculptor who appears transformed totally downward in the modern version of your story to a degenerately lustful man. Whose wish for a nymphet of his imagination to live is nevertheless granted? But granted in a young girl whose love he can never have?

Author: Bosh! Nonsense! That is NOT how I created her! /showing considerable impatience with the visitor, now more like an intruder/

Reader: You say! But now she belongs to us, and for all time, in that immortality you wished for her. And now we will imagine how we see her, and bring her to life in our own imaginations.

Author: /silently fixes the intruder with a very hard stare, says nothing for a long time, then sighs resignedly./ And just how do you see her?

Reader: I see her as having a little bit in her of all girls growing up into womanhood. A little bit of each of our own twelve-year olds. And when we look at our own twelve-year olds, we each see just some bit of Lolita in them too. Lolita is partly our creation also, changing ever before our eyes, just as our own twelve-year olds change day-to-day before our eyes. She might have grown up to hum “I am a natural woman,” along with Carole King, and then to sing out loud “I am woman! Hear me roar!” along with Helen Reddy. She might have become the perfect "She”. She had a look in her eyes, a restlessness in her spirit. She might have become anything, just anything she wanted to be! And one day she shall be.

Author: /Now, perhaps smiling faintly just a bit, he turns to you./ And the rest of you? How do you see her?

feb. 10, 2008, 2:30pm

Am I alone in thinking that Lolita is the least interesting of Nabokov's women?

Telling, I think that an American audience latched on to her.

feb. 10, 2008, 2:44pm

I think she is fascinating, much more than interesting. In my multiple re-readings of Lolita, different facets of her emerged each time, hidden under Nabokov's multiple layerings in the book. Answering the question of whether she is angel or vixen, or worse, is not so easy under careful scrutiny. Just as whether Humbert is charming or abhorrent is not so easy to answer unambiguously. Looked at carefully, I think one can see that Nabokov very ingeniously wove both opposing aspects of both their personalities into the story.
And, for liking Lolita and Lolita, I guess I am both American and unapologetic.
In fact, I do wholeheartedly believe my final remarks in the paean to her.

feb. 10, 2008, 2:49pm

The only other woman I can speak about is Ada, but there's no comparison there. Lolita's not special to anyone but Humbert, a little sexy maybe, but not special. The book is not about Lolita, but about Humbert. I certainly don't think she represented feminist principles, i.e, "hear me roar." She was not going to grow up to be anything she wanted to be. It appears her destiny was to be used by men.

What does it tell, enevada?

feb. 10, 2008, 2:59pm

Well, Reader's response is essentially Humbertian: Lolita is anything that I wish to make of her (feminist?! perfect she?! - not even close.)

I think the response is American in that it is a response to the promise of adolescence, of youth, of - well, not much else.

feb. 10, 2008, 3:18pm

Neat cut: "not much else."
I can hardly defend against that.

feb. 10, 2008, 4:12pm

I find the reader's response interesting in that it tells all of Lolita's possibilities, all she could have had, but didn't achieve.

And she would have roared. The manner of her refusal to go back with HH was testimony of that I felt. Her first steps to womanhood.

feb. 10, 2008, 4:16pm

Lolita was certainly special to Dick, I only wish we could have heard a little more of him, and his reactions to Lolita's death.

Great invocation of Lolita, and the bit about Vera is priceless! :lol:

feb. 10, 2008, 7:01pm

The way I read it, Cateline, is that Lo refused to go back with HH b/c she was onto him, his obsession was destructive and controlling. She used his lust to keep him somewhat under control until she could get away. She was dependent upon him for survival, especially after her mother died. Dick was not special either. He was merely another caretaker, and she paid the price for that as well. No one really knows Lolita, because she is viewed through the prism of HH's obsession. His obsession is what makes her special, not the other way around. She was just another young girl whose only currency was sex. She wasn't going to storm the world.

Editat: feb. 10, 2008, 9:46pm

She was onto him as you say citygirl, but being onto him and knowing what he was, was part of her maturation process as was the fairly gentle manner she exuded while doing so. In many ways Lolita was an unwritten on slate, she'd been manipulated and abused by HH and had not been allowed to develop in the normal manner. She had to reach within herself to find the maturity and gentleness that she used to deal with HH at the end.
Now granted Dick did not know her true relationship with HH, so therefore did not know much, or most of her formative years or formation of character if you will, but I certainly got the impression he was a special and very sweet man. He knew well enough there was a "past" that Lolita did not want to talk about and gave her the room she needed to maneuver.

You say her only currency was sex, and that is true in a way, but it was forced on her, to say that was all she consisted of is to steal even more than HH stole from her.

feb. 10, 2008, 10:13pm

I haven't joined this group, but plan to shortly. I hope I may be allowed to offer my thoughts, although I haven't read the novel in ages.

I see Lolita as a mirror image of Tadzio in Mann's "Death in Venice." No more or less innocent than any other child, with a child's infatuation with attention and flattery, at least until the abuse begins. And that is how I see Lolita, as an abused child (in the post-Nabokovian vernacular). As someone noted above, the novel is about Humbert - Lolita is the vehicle for his damnation. She had to grow up fast, as Nabokov may have felt was a characteristic feature of American childhood.

Isn't the novel loosely derived from an earlier, Russian, incarnation? I forget the title.

Editat: feb. 10, 2008, 10:32pm

I think Lolita was finding herself all through the novel. She started out affectionate with Uncle Quilty when he showed her friendliness before Humbert even arrived on the scene. She responded when Humbert showed interest and then broke free when she realized that his interest was not her best interest. She used Quilty to effect that escape, but then found out what Quilty wanted her for in his films and flat out refused and fled him, and then finally found a landing place with Dick. She was looking for love and fighting for her freedom throughout as I see it, and growing wiser and improving her situation in the process.

On the question of how much promise she ever exhibited, I can only wonder how much promise can actually be 'seen' by any of us in any prebuscent 12-yr old child. Yet it is from that cohort of children that the future Presidents, Premiers, Legislators, Judges, artists, authors, musicians, astronauts, scientists, actresses, physicians, lawyers, singers and mothers will come -- unlikely though any of it may seem when we see them larking around at home, or with their friends in the shopping mall.

feb. 11, 2008, 4:50am

Lolita's individual banality is the effective counterpoint that renders Humbert's effusions all the more grotesque.

And since she still has one foot in childhood, this makes the banality precious, and not something to be dismissed.

In Nabokov's interview with Bernard Pivot on the show "Apostrophes", he took Pivot to task for suggesting that Lolita was more cynical.

feb. 11, 2008, 6:35am

Ahhh, now that is something I'd have enjoyed watching. :D

feb. 11, 2008, 8:36am

I'm not so sure that Lolita was that banal.
I think one of the techniques Nabokov used in writing the book was to put the desires and attitudes of a teen-age boy into the frame of a grown man and, conversely, to put many of the atitudes and behaviors of a grown young woman into the frame of the prepubescent Lolita. She was a very effective tease at times and quite knowledgable for her age, just as he was immature in his lusting. And I think it is the disparity between chronological and emotional ages for both Lolita and Humbert that leads to much of the tension and interest (and sensation) in the novel. If Lolita and Humbert were each actually closer to their emotional age levels I think it would be a totally different story -- perhaps in fact even a conventional love story.

feb. 11, 2008, 12:19pm

Maybe I should've said "average" or "typical". And this undercuts Humbert's narcissistic pretensions that what he has (or hopes they will have) is exceptional...thus the rules don't apply.

His attempts to "elevate" her culturally fail, and in other respects he breaks her. Witness the tennis, etc.

feb. 11, 2008, 12:24pm

I don't think Lolita was actually about Lolita, it was about HH. She was spoiled and petulant, but she was also a victim. However, I don't think that she was very dynamic. Humbert descent was way more interesting.

feb. 11, 2008, 2:28pm

I thnk that if one simply views the story as an older man preying on a simple under-age girl, one misses entirely the complexity that Nabokov was at pains to build into the story.

feb. 11, 2008, 3:05pm

It really takes a couple of rereads plus side reading to finally "get" Nabokov on more levels. Note I say on more levels.....I doubt that many will ever get all the layering of Nabokov.