A Brief Biography of Vladimir Nabokov
An extremely brief summary of Nabokov's life and the emergence of Lolita
An Interview With Vladimir Nabokov
A brief posthumous interview conducted by August C. Bourré, on November 26th, 2002.
Morality as an Aesthetic Choice
A short exploration of Humbert Humbert's attraction to Dolores Haze as the result of an aesthetic sensibility rather than connected with Western society's moral norms.
Personal Responses to Lolita
A collection of personal responses to Nabokov's novel (although there is only one at present).
Designing Lolita
This essay describes the process of building a website which is scholarly, creative, and respectful of not only Nabokov's book, but also my own aesthetic sensibilities.

Morality as an Aesthetic Choice

Humbert Humbert's attraction to Dolores Haze and other nymphets is not a moral choice on his part. It is an aesthetic choice. Until Dolores, Humbert had not yet acted on his pedophilia. His interest in young girls was aesthetic rather than strictly physical (which is not to say that it was completely divorced from his physical desires; it wasn't—it simply was not exclusively ruled by them), and is heavily influenced by what has been his only sexual encounter of an significance (that this is perhaps the result of a weak, or otherwise unusually aberrant psyche may be the subject of another essay, but is beyond the scope of this one). His explanation of his choice is worth quoting at length:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets".

[...] the number of true nymphets is strikingly inferior to that of provisionally plain, or just nice, or "cute," or even "sweet" and "attractive," ordinary girls, plumpish, formless, cold-skinned, essentially human little girls, with tummies and pigtails, who may or may not turn into adults of great beauty (look at the ugly dumplings in black stockings and white hats that are metamorphosed into stunning scars of the screen). A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine [...], in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs—the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate—the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power. (Nabokov, p. 16-17)

Note, also, that it is not all young girls (nor young people) whom he is attracted to. It is "nymphets" (Nabokov, p. 16), a specific sort of young girl whose "true nature [...] is not human" (Nabokov, p. 16). Humbert isn't even thinking of her as a "girl" per se, but rather as a manifestation of his particular aesthetic ideals. In fact, the only moral statement he makes at all is only an allusion ("despair and shame and tears of tenderness" (Nabokov p. 17)).

There are other ways that Nabokov distances Humbert from Dolores (and indeed, from all nymphets). He refers to nymphets as "maidens" (Nabokov p. 16), and to the men who are attracted to them as "bewitched travelers" (Nabokov p. 16). By bringing fairy-tale language into play, Humbert (read: Nabokov) is distancing himself from the reality of the fact that his attraction is socially unacceptable (Won't someone please think of the children!).

Of course now I've brought up the issue of what is and what is not accepted by society. For the contemporary reader of Lolita this should probably bring to mind issues of the commodification and fetishization of young girls in contemporary media (although with the exception the current Christina Aguilera video, called "Dirrty" or some such, and of course the hype surrounding the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, I can't think of any specific examples—the careful reader will realize that I have absolutely no evidence to back any of these observations up, except my own imperfect memory). This commodification is, quite frankly, beyond the scope of this essay, which was meant to be short, straightforward, and basically involve nothing but this one particular passage in Lolita. So maybe we'll talk about the other stuff in a later essay.

by: August C. Bourré



Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. 1955. New York: Vintage International, 1997. 2nd Edition.