14 February 2012

In the princedom by the sea

Every prose is a narrative, and good prose will make you search for the narrator.
The images above are of Humbert Humbert, not only a literary character from, but also the narrator of, Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita'. The first image was created using law enforcement composite sketch software and descriptions of literary characters. Go here, if you are interested in following this project. The second image is of James Mason, who portrayed Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film

Humbert Humbert was always more real to me than Nabokov. To this day, I have no idea what Nabokov looked like. But I'd instantly recognize the 'boyishly manly' Humbert Humbert and his 'gloomy good looks'. "I was and still am, despite mes malheurs," Humbert Humbert explains, "an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor." 

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."

Thus begins Humbert Humbert's narrative. He readily attests that he is one of the "unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control their urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet." Dolores, his landlady's daughter of twelve, is one of such chosen creatures, one of such maidens between the age of nine and fourteen... not human, but nymphic, one of such feline and slender beings who causes bubbles of hot poison in his loins and super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in his subtle spine.
Who is a better match: the law enforcement sketch or James Mason? The sketch is more literal. It is limited to the descriptions of the physique. James Mason is far closer in depicting the kind of man who would describe himself the way he did.   

Humbert Humbert repulses and fascinates us. His dark humour and intelligence unnerve us, because we feel we should dislike everything about Humbert Humbert. We don't understand his love, but we recognize it as love nonetheless. 
"I knew that I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; 
but I also knew she would not forever be Lolita." 

Not only is this eternal love all wrong, it is also impossible. Lolita has to grow up, and we know that Humbert Humbert only lusts for nymphets. 
"...and when by the means of pitiful ardent, naively lascivious caresses, she of the noble nipple and massive thighs prepared me for the performance of my nightly duty," he wrote about his having sex with Dolores' mother, "it was still a nymphet’s scent that in despair I tried to pick up, as I bayed through the undergrowth of dark decaying forests…”

The end was always near and it never had any alternatives.

 "Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!"