Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lolita: Parenting Guide

By Hesta

Vladimir Nabokov’s morality tale, Lolita, is both a novel and a parenting guide for new fathers. The writing style, spartan and bare, leaves no ambiguity regarding the ethics of the characters’ actions—there are no gray areas. Humbert Humbert—named so because he was too dim-witted to remember a surname different from his first name—narrates the quaint and innocent story of a father and his adopted daughter, Dolores. Humbert tried to adopt Dolores by marrying her mother, but the adoption was not finalized before the mother died of natural causes. The novel is often taught in literature courses as a critique of the American adoption system because, as in Lolita, a pure and doting potential father can be barred from adoption solely on a technicality.

You may be wondering, “Why did Nabokov title the book Lolita?” “Lolita” is actually Dolores’ stage name, for Humbert, unemployed and unintelligent, whisked Dolores away after her mother’s death, to audition for various touring state productions. Since the adoption agents were hot on his tail, he was forced to come fabricate a pseudonym for Dolly. Humbert owned a cat named Lolita in his childhood, and being an uncreative man, selected the departed feline’s name for his daughter. Dolores, a supremely talented child, becomes a smash Broadway hit. In fact, the musical Hello Dolly! is, for this reason, named after the character, Dolly, in Lolita. Eventually, Dolly signs a contract with Clare Quilty, a respected Hollywood producer, to star in several of his highbrow films. The book ends on a high note as Dolly is catapulted to fame on the silver screen. Humbert Humbert takes on small roles in her films and becomes a fairly well-known character actor. Thus, Lolita represents a high-point in American social optimism. The message is: if you live a pure and good life, you will find success.

Nabokov, a Christian minister, aimed to please when he penned Lolita. Leftist critics accused him of pandering to the Christian right because there is absolutely nothing in the book that can be construed as obscene or inappropriate. Thus, while many works by Nabokov’s contemporaries were being banned and censored, the chaste Lolita was instantly embraced by American and European families alike. Nabokov, in his own church, began delivering homilies from Lolita instead of from the Bible. Thousands of American churches followed suit, and that is why many churches today display a copy of Lolita in each pew, alongside copies of hymnals and the New Testament.

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