Monday, June 21, 2010

Lolita is Such a Lovely Name

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
1955, 1997
Weight: 10 oz.
Method of Disposal: What do you think I should do with it?
I was recently chatting with my mom, and she mentioned that she had just finished reading Lolita. She has spoken of her admiration for Nabokov for as long as I can remember but, apparently, without ever having read his most popular work. She was horrified to discover that a young girl is raped by an adult man in the story. I was stunned. Do we live in different worlds? Lolita has infiltrated regular society. The novel has been made into a movie twice, stirring up controversy each time. The word “nymphet” has been written into some dictionaries and is a term included in many people’s vocabularies. “Lolita” has become directly associated with the sexualization of teenage girls. It is used in news articles, scholarly journals, and in pornography. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the world pre-Lolita. After I hung up the phone I turned to a friend of mine to express my surprise at my mother’s surprise, and the friend stared at me blankly. She asked me what the novel was about. O.k. So, I was wrong about everyone having read and/or seen Lolita.
Why is it that I was so shocked to hear that two people I know were not inundated with Lolita-inspired text ? Have I been exposed to more instances where the name “Lolita” would be used a descriptor? Probably. I graduated with a double major in Women’s Studies and English literature/Creative Writing. Lolita came up from time to time.
I laughed with my mother, and told her that it was good that she had not known what the novel was about when I was 13 or else she would not have let me read it. She said, “damn right, I wouldn’t have.” Oh well. I did read it then and I have read it since and, despite myself, I like it. I do not see Lolita as a conniving seductress, and I do not find it to be “wildly funny” as Time claimed, but I am glad that I read it. I will always remember it. As, almost everyone knows (being a little more careful about wide sweeping claims now), Nabokov has a way with language. He was proud of his novel. He is also accurate in claiming that he made Lolita an obsolete name for a little girl—which, in my opinion, is somewhat unfortunate as it is a beautiful name. Child Protective Services would probably be ready to ask you some questions before you even left the hospital if you suggested that one to the doctor.
My copy of Lolita has seen some hard times. It has been trapped underneath the junk a teenager collects in a room where objects have been strewn with careless abandon, it has been bent in boxes where it was poorly packed for multiple moves, and it was in a tangle with a dog. It has stood strong though. It looks worn, but the binding is firm. It is completely readable, and it is time for it to go on its way to someone else. Any suggestions on how I should disband this one?
NOTE: I am glad to report that I got a phone call from a friend within minutes of posting this. She asked me not to get rid of Lolita. I asked her if she wanted it. She said no, she has two copies already. But everyone should have a copy. Still, Lolita has to go.

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