Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial and disturbing novel “Lolita” shows how to accurately portray an unreliable narrator and holds an unjustified reputation of being a romantic novel.
While Nabokov’s novel is a hard read for anyone with morals, it is great to read for understanding how an abuser works. The novel is written extremely well, especially with the aspect of an unreliable narrator. It is not a book that everyone will be able to read, it is difficult and upsetting, but if it wasn’t, it would not be doing its job properly. The plot centers around pedophilia and sexual assault, topics that are extremely sensitive and this novel treats them as realisticaly as they deserves to be.
An important thing to mention about “Lolita” is that it is in no way a romantic or erotic novel, but more like a psychological thriller. “Lolita” is a story about a pedophile under the alias Humbert Humbert who is infatuated with girls ages nine to 14 who he calls “nymphets.” His obsession starts with the death of his childhood love Annabel. Annabel died from typhus while she and Humbert were both children and before they could have sex. Humbert is clearly an evil person and it is mentioned so in the book’s forward.
Nabokov wrote, “No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness.”
The forward describes Humbert rightfully as an evil person who is in jail for murder before showing his memoir, which is a plea to a jury.
The plot centers around Humbert’s infatuation with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze, who he gives the pet-name of Lolita, objectifying her throughout the novel. Humbert marries Dolores’ mother Charlotte in order to get closer to her. He constantly portrays Dolores as a temptress. This common victim blaming is ever present in manipulative abusers and it is great to show the world how these morally bankrupt degenerates actually work.
The book is portrayed as a memoir written by Humbert in jail for murder. The reader is the jury and Humbert knows this. Humbert portrays himself to be the victim in all of this. He constantly manipulates the reader with charm and states how he is not really bad, even lying about the murder he committed.
Nabokov wrote, “We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never kill.”
Humbert tries to get the reader to believe that he is not doing anything wrong by showing constant tactics to manipulate the reader. He lies about not being a murderer and downplays raping Dolores while also uses charming names like “well read reader” to make the reader think that he is on their side. He even tries to convince the reader that Dolores is the one who is abusing him. The whole point of the book is that people can be manipulated even if they do not believe they can. Many readers fell for the evil traps that Humbert set, treating the book as a romance novel when that could not be farther from the truth.
Dolores is shown to be in pain throughout the novel and obviously is miserable because of Humbert. Humbert acts heroic, but his clear attempts at manipulation are thwarted by glimpses that show his true evil. It is clearly shown that after the death of her mother, Dolores is trapped with her step father Humbert.
Nabokov wrote, “At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.”
This is probably the most chilling passage in the novel, it genuinely gives me a sense of dread to read. It is clear that Dolores has nowhere to run and is trapped with her rapist.
Part of the problem with people’s view of the book comes from the poor film adaptation in 1962 by Stanley Kubrick which gets rid of the nuance and does not portray Humbert in too terrible a light.
This book is a challenging, but fantastic read to see just how evil monsters work at trying to convince you that they are virtuous. Humbert might have fooled a lot of people in the past, but the time is changing and people can now see him for what he really is, a disgusting abuser.
Do not let the bad reputation that the book has received sway you from avoiding it. This book is an extremely important piece of literature that needs to be read carefully to see just how society can let awful people off lightly. I strongly recommend this book if the upsetting nature is not too much for you.
Nico Brazill can be contacted at