“Lit Lit is a segment here on The Thrill in which I get someone lit (yup) and then that someone chooses a work of literature and gives me a summary and quick discussion of the themes of that work” (Raffa 2017). We’ve got Cream of Focaccia (a self-proclaimed “NNabovokov” expert and enthusiast) here to talk to us about Lolit(lit)a. Due to some technical difficulties, this Lit Lit is a little nontraditional.
Dear reader. I have a confession. Because I am a banana slug when it comes to technology, I somehow recorded OVER the entirety of my Lit Lit content in my conversation with Cream of Focaccia. If you’re listening, freaky space snake who eats deleted data in the cloud, when you excrete that 25~ minute interview, call me. I’ll bring my pooper scooper.
Everybody. Please roast me next time you see me for this clear display of incompetency and unprofessionalism. Seriously. Who DOES this.
Because Cream of Focaccia and I are very busy people with lots of Lits to Lit, we couldn’t find the time to get us both together for a re-do. Cream of Focaccia was so gracious, however, to get lit on their own time and just free associate in email form vaguely guided by my questions from the previous encounter. The questions I asked were (I wrote them down!) 1) what’s this book’s, like, plot, 2) what role does point of view play?, 3) what conflicts do you experience as a contemporary reader?, 4) does Humbert, ultimately, realize anything about himself, morality, or love? See if you can spot these questions in the response or don’t it’s not that important thanks
Below is the email:
Hey I’m lit lets goPer our conversation, Lolita seems to me to be about a hyper-sophisticated vaguely European sociopath named Humbert Humbert. In the beginning of the book we read a foreward by a “doctor” named John Ray Jr. who is evaluating a manuscript/diary of a mans named H.H. (we later determine is Humbert Humebt) who dies of some kind of heart-related crisis while awaiting a murder trial. This account frames the narrative so just keep that in mind I guess? Anyway our HH is born at a seaside resort owned nby his widowed father on the French Riveria and his mom dies when he is young when she is struck by lightening on a family picnic. He falls in love with a ten-year-old girl when he is about the same age, but he is never able to have sex with her and he asks you to consider this a major tragedy and then she DIES in a continental influenza epidemic, which actually is a tragedy but he (the nattor, HH) asks you to consider this a tragedy because he won’t geet to have sex w her; anyway, his father dies and as a young man he lives a peripetetic lifestyle including going to the Arctic and living in Pari,s, where he has sex with undersahe prostitues OH I forGOrget to explina that bec he ccanot have sex with his childhoos crush bc sh dis of the flu, he is now obsessed with having sex with 9-13 year old girls THIS IS SO IMPORTANT THIS IS LIKE HIS WHOLE NARRATIVE ARC, then he (in Paris0 marries th daughter of a Polish doctor, he beaats her & she chats on him, he decdes to go to Amrican because somoen there he is loosely affiliated with offrs to endorse him on a trip over so he can teach at a university or suomething, he decides to go because he learns that this family (called the McCoo family) has a young daughter, and he imagines that he’ll want to fcuck this daughter, anyway he goes to American, but at last minute the folks tll him their hosue burned down so they cannot take him in, and instead a neighbor Mrs. charlotte HAze has agreed to put him up. He is super bummed that he evidentlu won’t get to fuck the McCoo girl, so he’s bummbed when he goes to the Haze house, and especially bummed wihen he Meets Charlott Haxe, who is widowed, emblematic of the kind of predatory adult famelae sexualty he has spent his narrativ disparagaing so much. she shows him aroud hte hosue and h is DISGUSTD by the way she pretends to be so sophisticated, he keeps thinking how he can get out, and then she reveals to him her prepubsecent duaghter DOLORES, whom he calles the titular LOLITA, and he’s immediately horny for her, and decides to stay on her behalf. he tries to get in good with her, there is one bit where she sits in his lap because she is evidently trying to negotiate her own burgeoning sexuality and desirability to th male gaze, and meanwhil CHarlotte Haze her mothr is shit-talking D0olreas all the time, then she reveals her plot to send Dolores off to summer camp and then boarding school, at which point HH is thinking about how to keep DOlors at home. she goes to camp and he disocgerves that Dolores has a lil curhs on him, and he also discovers a letter from Charlotte xplaining that she too loves him, and long story short he marries Dolores in order to stay lcloser to DOlores, then one day Charlotte finds HH’s diary exlaiingn how much he is attracted to Dolores and kicks him out, she’s running around the street of this respectable American New ENgland neighborhood screeamin about how her husband is a pedophile and she gets hit by a car and DIES!!!
so HH goes to pick Dolores up from camp and tells her her mother’s been in an accident and takes her to a hotel and tells her they’ll viist the mother the next day, and then he prepares a barbituate to drug and have sex with Dolores that night but he chickens out and meets a suspicous man named Clare QUilty (this becomes important later) and then he goes back to the hotl room where he and DOlores are SLEEPING IN THE SAMR BED and he can’t bring himself to iniitiate sex and the next morning SHE “sedureces” him and they have sex and then she feels unsweasy about it lie maybe he took advntage of her and then he tells her her mother is dead so she doesn’t have anywhere else to go. the next part of the book is them going on a road trip and seeing so much of the country of America and having sex in all these motels, like he cultivates her to be his little sex object and then they land in Beardsley, a little academic new enlgnad town because he’s arranged for some kind of sinecure there and she can go to school at a prestigious local girls school, but then things gget suspicious because she’s a young teen now with friends and other social interests, and he becomes especially controlling and worries that she will tell people about him raping her all these years, and she is acting in a play with a ~mysterious~ director named Clare Quilty (I’m not there yet!!!) and shee tries to run away but he catches her and then they go on another road trip, on this trip she gets sick and goes to a hospital and escapes from him from there. he spends the next 5 years chasing her down, and figures out that Clare QUilty awa the one who helped her escape!!! bc in different hotels across the country he signs different anagrams of his Own (clrea Quilty) and also HH (humbert Humbert’s) nae in the guest book X:( then one day DOlores rights HH a note asking for money, so he goes to see her in a Bad Part ofTown in this New ENgland industrial area, where he thinks she has gone with the person who stole her from him. it turns out she is married to a harmless man named DIck Schiller (lol) and pregnant and she needs momey to support her pregnancy. she reveals that it was Clare Quilty that kidnapped her, and that she was also habving a vry sad secual relationship with him, also an adult man, while she was in high school and living with HH. she makes some acknowledgement that HH was abusing her all those years, and yet their parting is tender. he resolves to go to Clare Quilty’s house and kill him on Dolore’s’s behlaf, and he does so, confronting this also very grotesque man who si totally drunk with a fat belly and his dick literally just out, and HH shoots him dead!! on behalf of dolorees, whom he calls lolita, idk if I mntioned that? Like Dolores is the titular Lolita? anyway he kills Quilty, and then he’s arresteed and taken to jail where he dies of a heart attack of some sort when he’s awaiting trial for QUilty’s murder, and then at the end of the book it’s revealed that Dolores dies in Childbirht on crhistimnas Day. BUT ANYWAY before he kills quilty he stops at a highway overpass and heres the sound of american chilren playing on a playground, and he releases that THIS IS AMERICAN CHIDLHOOD, A RARE AND PRECIOUS THING
WHICH HE TOOK FROM LOLITA/DOLORES so it crucially shows som kind of accpuntablity for the vuolences he has perpectuatedHH is considered an emblematic example of an unreliable nattor, but I’m not sure that any subjective/first person narrator can be an ything BUT unreliable. anyway he reminds you periodically throughout the text that this is a retrospective narration, making all kinds of conventional (although tI suppos it wasn’t conventional at the time, NNabovokov kind of wrote the book on unreliable narraotrs) allowances for the reader to catch up with him. th main problem of his naration is that he makes his own sensual interaction with Dolores really sensual to the reader, so when he talks about her brown downy limbs and her pert attitude and her kind of warm, bready, wholeseome smell you become attracted to it too even though you know that that’s so invasive and BAD!!! but still you want to resist the urge to pathologize him and really isolate him as a narrator, bcause he says such lovely things! HH is a real fuckeras a modern audience, especially in contemporary scoial climate, it’s harder and harder to justify non-critical readings of Lolita, but I thin k that ultimately it remains a fertile ground for incredibly nuanced and forceful analysis of gender, paternity, agency, sexuality, violence, sexual violenc, and the negotiation of the self in a traumatized postwar worldHH knows that he’s bad but he delights in his badness and asks that you do so to, which emphasizes the WILD stuff that Nabokov is doing with accountability, complicity, and duplicityLong story short, I loe this noel, things it’s an astounding feat of modernsity literature, ap9logize contstantly to myself and others for my devotionat one point I leapt up and retrieved the boko from my shelf :)