I read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov for the first time this summer. Shortly after, I watched the 1962 film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick with the screenplay written by Nabokov. Not surprisingly, reading Lolita and watching Stanley Kubrick’s take of the novel left me with different impressions of the convoluted tale.
In both versions, the story is narrated by a middle-aged Humbert Humbert, an European intellectual who moved to America and became embroiled in a sordid affair with his prepubescent step-daughter, Dolores “Lolita” Haze. But just how reliable is Humbert and how accurate are his memories?
Lolita is famous for its controversial subject matter: Paedophilia. As I followed Humbert along on his bumbling journey in America, his culpability became unclear to me. Could Lolita be the one with the truly corrupted mind and heart?
Watching the film, which I enjoyed tremendously, I felt like a silent bystander and witness to an absurd, tragic yet comedic love story. The good-looking Humbert, played by James Mason, seemed to have been played like a pawn by Sue Lyon’s Lolita, a comely girl-woman who alternates between being outrageous and coy.
The book, however, is more nuanced in its storytelling. Immersed in the inner world of Humbert, surrounded by his observations, thoughts and emotions, there was little to distract me from his twisted yet naive mind. As the story progressed, I felt impatient with and a little sorry for Humbert who seemed like a crazed, whiny and forlorn romantic looking for love and acceptance.
I may have to re-read Lolita to better understand this work that has been widely regarded to be one of the literary classics in contemporary English literature.
Nabokov wrote Lolita in English instead of his native Russian. The prose is playful and sardonic, laying out the serious, unsettling and erotic workings of Humbert’s mind.
To give an example, I randomly opened the book and this was what caught my eye between the pages:
She entered my world, umber and black Cumberland, with rash curiosity; she surveyed it with a shrug of amused distaste; and it seemed to me now that she was ready to turn away from it with something akin to plain repulsion. Never did she vibrate under my touch, and a strident “what d’you think you are doing?” was all I got for my pains. To the wonderland I had to offer, my fool preferred the corniest movies, the most cloying fudge. To think that between a Hamburger and a Humburger, she would – invariably, with icy precision – plump for the former. There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child.
Quite brilliant, don’t you agree?
Have you read and/or watched Lolita? What did you think of the book, film or both of them?