Lolita’s plot summary: Humbert Humbert (H.H.), a middle-aged literature professor, is enticed by Dolores “Lolita” Haze, a twelve-year-old nymphet. Humbert strategically marries Lolita’s mother and after the mother dies, Humbert takes his nymphet on a road trip where they begin a sexual affair, but Lolita’s secret sexual affair with Quilty, a playwright and fellow nympholept, ends badly for Humbert and Quilty.
In a Rookie magazine article for teens, “Older Men: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Them, and Weren’t at All Afraid to Ask.”, Amy Rose Spiegel misleadingly wrote that Lolita, a novel that Spiegel “romanticized” as a nymphet, was a “[...] story about an adult man kidnapping, molesting, and raping an adolescent girl”. However, novelist Robertson Davies' assessment of the book as “[...] not [about] the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but [about] the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child” is more accurate.
1. Nabokov stated in a 1967 Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature (vol. III, no. 2) interview with Alfred Appel that of all his novels, he held the greatest affection for Lolita and, unsurprisingly, the nympholepsy motif appears almost immediately.
The beginning of the third sentence: “Lo-lee-ta […]” gives the readers their first allusion to nympholepsy. (9) Alfred Appel Jr, wrote in the notes to The Annotated Lolita: “[…] the middle syllable alludes to [Poe’s] “Annabel Lee” (1949) […]” (328)
Interestingly, Poe is alluded to over twenty times in the novel. And that the apparent connections between Humbert and Poe are their “child brides”. (330) Nabokov elaborates on page forty-three: “Virginia was not quite fourteen when Harry Edgar possessed her. He gave her lessons in algebra. Je m’imagine cela. They spent their honeymoon at Petersburg, Fla.”
|Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm|
Appel noted that Poe was twenty-seven when he married, à la Jerry Lee Lewis, Virginia Clemm, his thirteen-year-old cousin. (357)
2. H.H. lists some historical points to support nympholepsy. He begins by giving a brief history of the age of consent laws:
“Let me remind my reader that in England, with the passage of the Children and Young Person Act in 1933, the term “girl-child” is defined as “a girl who is over eight but under fourteen years” (after that, from fourteen to seventeen, the statutory definition is “young person”). In Massachusetts, U.S., on the other hand, a “wayward child” is, technically, one “between seven and seventeen years of age” (who, moreover, habitually associates with vicious or immoral persons).” (19)
Appel noted that “the Act actually reads: “‘Child’ means a person under the age of fourteen years […] ‘Young Person’ means a person who has attained the age of fourteen years and is under the age of seventeen years” (341)
3. H.H. wrote that: “Hugh Broughton [an English theologian] […] proved that Rahab was a harlot at ten years of age.” (19)
Appel noted that the allusion is to Broughton’s A Consent on Scripture (1588) in which he wrote that Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute in the "Book of Joshua" (2:1-21), was a nymphet.
Consequently, H.H. couldn’t understand why a sixteen-year-old nymphet is legal (in some states e.g., New Jersey), but a twelve-year-old is illegal. “[…] I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve.” (18)
4. H.H. describes some pictures. One of nymphets singing, which may be a reference to two stanzas from Virgil's Eclogues that reads:
“Who could the Nymphets sing? Who strew the ground \ With blooming plants, or mantle o'er the springs”.
And a wall painting of “pre-nubile” nude Neferneferure and Neferneferuaten – two daughters of King Akhnaten and Queen Nefertiti and ten-year-old brides straddling fascinum (i.e., ivory dildos):
“Here is Virgil who could the nymphet sing in single tone […] Here are two of King Akhnaten’s and Queen Nefertiti’s pre-nubile Nile daughters (that royal couple had a litter of six), wearing nothing but many necklaces of bright beads, relaxed on cushions, intact after three thousand years, with their soft brown puppybodies, cropped hair and long ebony eyes. Here are some brides of ten compelled to seat themselves on the fascinum, the virile ivory in the temples of classical scholarship.” (19)
Neferneferure and Neferneferuaten & Fascinum
5. H.H. related that: “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” (19)
Appel confirms that this is true and that Nabokov’s reference was Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex. (342)
6. According to Appel (342), Petrach was twenty-three when he: “fell madly in love with his Laureen, she was a fair-haired nymphet of twelve running in the wind, in the pollen and dust, a flower in flight, in the beautiful plain as descried from the hills of Vaucluse.” (19)
7. H.H. wrote that a judge would consider his initial reaction to seeing Lolita as: “mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert.” (40)
Appel noted from Nabokov that fruit vert (French for green fruit) is: “French (dated) slang for “‘unripe’ females attractive to ripe gentlemen” (356)
8. Here’s another allusion to Poe and Virginia:
“The median age of pubescence for girls has been found to be thirteen years and nine months in New York and Chicago. The age varies for individuals from ten, or earlier, to seventeen. Virginia was not quite fourteen when Harry Edgar possessed her. He gave her lessons in algebra. Je m’imagine cela. [French: I can imagine that.] They spent their honeymoon at Petersburg, Fla. “Monsieur Poe-poe,” as that boy in one of Monsieur Humbert Humbert’s classes in Paris called the poet-poet.” (43)
In addition to the French translation, Appel noted that “Monsieur Poe-poe” is an allusion to “popo”, which is French argot for posterior. (358)
9. “My pillow smelled of her hair. I moved toward by glimmering darling, stopping and retreating every time I thought she stirred or was about to stir. A breeze of wonderland had begun to affect my thought […]”
Appel noted the following about “A breeze from wonderland”:
There are several references to Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles L. Dodgson (1832-1898), English writer, mathematician, and nympholept […]
“I always call him Lewis Carroll Carroll,” said Nabokov, “because he was the first Humbert Humbert.”
|Alice Liddell as "The Beggar Maid"|
Again, Appel referenced Nabokov’s Wisconsin Studies interview where Nabokov stated in reference to Carroll\Dodgson: “He got away with it, as so many other Victorians got away with pederasty and nympholepsy. His were scrawny little nymphets, bedraggled and half-undressed, or rather semi-undraped, as if participating in some dusty and dreadful charade.” (381-382)
In another reference to Carroll’s book, H.H. wrote: “[…] I used to recollect, with anguished amusement, the times in my trustful, pre-dolorian past when I would be misled by a jewel-bright window opposite wherein my lurking eye, the ever alert periscope of my shameful vice, would make out from afar a half-naked nymphet stilled in the act of combing her Alice-in-Wonderland hair.” (264)
10. H.H. described himself: “I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on the sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a little girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad shoulder. Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush.” (43)
The “crooner or actor chap” is an allusion to Clare Quilty (358) and H.H. made a revealing point that a nymphet can have a “crush” on a middle-aged man.
For example, I related in The Allure of Nymphets that according to Guralnick and Jorgensen’s Elvis: Day by Day, twenty-four-year-old Elvis met fourteen-year-old Priscilla on September 13, 1959. Everything Elvis by Helen Clutton related that Elvis met the nymphet at a party at his home in Germany while he was in the military. Interestingly, Suzanne Finstad related in Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley that fourteen-year-old Priscilla had sex with Curry Grant, a twenty-seven-year-old friend of Elvis, in exchange for being introduced to the singer. Hence, Priscilla (allegedly) initiated the age-gap relationship.
Thus, H.H.’s statements that: “[…] the Haze woman […] was more afraid of Lo’s deriving some pleasure from me than of me enjoying the Lo.” (56) and that “[…] it was she [referring to Lo] who seduced me” (132) were accurate.
For example, before Lo left for Camp Q, H.H. shared that: “My Lolita, who was half in and about to slam the car door […] looked up-and dashed back into the house […] and then she was in my arms, her innocent mouth melting under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws, my palpitating darling.” (66)
After H.H. picked up Lo from camp he asked, “Why do you think I have ceased caring for you, Lo?” She responded, “Well, you haven’t kissed me yet, have you?” (112) And before they had sex for the first time, “Okay,” said Lolita, “here is where we start?” (133)
11. Before Lolita rested her legs on Hubert’s lap, she showed him a picture in a magazine: “[…] a surrealist painter relaxing, supine, on a beach, and near him, likewise supine, a plaster replica of the Venus di Milo, half-buried in sand. Picture of the Week, said the legend. (58)
Maurice Couturier wrote in Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire: “The whole scene, rather the photo itself, may point towards another painting, L’Impromptu de Versailles, painted by Magritte in 1933 to illustrate a book entitled Violette Nozière: it shows a grown-up man sitting on a chair and holding a young girl on his knees whom he strokes under her dress; facing him, there is another man with a solemn face, a top hat, holding a leather briefcase under his arm who looks like a syncretic representation of Freud and the painter.” (270)
|Magritte's L’Impromptu de Versailles (1933)|
Violette Nozière is about eighteen-year-old Violette Nozière who poisoned her parents, because her father had been allegedly molesting her since she was twelve. The 1978 film adaptation of the 1933 true-crime portrayed Nozière as a teleiophile who had a number of affairs with older men.
12. “Then, with all possible caution, on mental tiptoe so to speak, I conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate. By God, I could make myself bring her that economically halved grapefruit, that sugarless breakfast.” (70)
Appel noted that Charlotte is a reference to Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) where, to his detriment, Werther falls in love with Charlotte, a young girl, who is engaged to Albert – a man eleven years her senior.
13. H.H. exclaimed: “We [i.e., nympholepts] are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do.” (88)
Appel didn’t note an allusion, but this reminded me of a post on the Daily Mail where it was reported on 24 March 2015 that [at least] fifty-four Colombian nymphets were raped between 2003 and 2007 in the town of Melgar by American troops and contractors. (Some of the rapes were boldly filmed and sold.) In particular, in August of 2007, US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz [allegedly] drugged and raped a twelve-year-old Colombian maiden. Colombian prosecutors issued arrest warrants for Coen and Ruiz but, per the Daily Mail, they weren't detained due to diplomatic immunity.
14. H.H. related, correctly, that the “old link between the adult world and the child world has been [recently and] completely severed” (124):
“We are not surrounded in our enlightened era by little slave flowers that can be casually plucked between business and bath as they used to be in the days of the Romans; and we do not, as dignified Orientals did in still more luxurious times, use tiny entertainer’s fore and aft between the mutton and the rose sherbet. The whole point is that the old link between the adult world and the child world has been completely severed nowadays by new customs and new laws. Despite my having dabbled in psychiatry and social work, I really knew very little about children.” (124)
I wrote in The Allure of Nymphets that Neil Postman related in The Disappearance of Childhood that as recent as two hundred years ago, the concept of childhood did not exist, there was no distinction between “children” and adults, and that the separation originated during the Renaissance when the printing press was invented. Additionally, celebrating a child's birthday or even paying attention to birth dates is a relatively recent custom.
Postman purported that the disappearance of literacy, education, and shame that occurred during the Dark and Middle ages in Europe lead to the disappearance of childhood with the loss of literacy being attributed to three factors: the difficult to read elaborate and disguised letters of the alphabet, the scarcity of papyrus and parchment, and the desire of the Roman Church to use illiteracy as a form of control.
With no literacy in the Middle Ages, what we consider today to be childhood ended at age seven, which was when most humans had a command over speech and was considered an adult. There were schools in the Middle Ages, but instead of teaching reading and writing the students underwent “on-the-job-training” in classrooms with other students whose ages ranged from ten to adults of all ages. Even at ten-years-old, the students lived away from their parents in what could be described as dorms. Consequently, since there was no social distinction between “children” and adults, the “children” were exposed to everything.
However, the invention of the printing press initiated the distinction between children and adults and the bridge from childhood to adulthood was only crossed by learning how to read. As a result, a new form of schooling was required. Children were no longer placed in mix-aged classrooms to learn a trade. Children were placed in classes with other children close to their own ages and taught a curriculum that emphasized literacy. Sound familiar?
Just like Postman, Richard Farson’s research in Birthrights lead him to the conclusion that children were invented in the 16th century in Europe during the Reformation and Renaissance periods. That was when children were no longer thought of as little people but as fragile potential adults (i.e., children) who needed to be protected and educated. However, it still took another two-hundred years before “children” began to be separated by age in school.
Farson wrote that prior to the seventeenth century children were not considered innocent, were not segregated, and were not prevented from participating in adult conversations where salacious topics like sex were discussed. There were no children’s stories or books, and it was common for girls to get married at the age of thirteen. For example, Louis XIII was fourteen when he married thirteen-year-old Anne of Austria.
In New York State, anyone under eighteen-years-old must show an employment certificate before he or she may begin work, but prior to the 16th century, people began working, especially the poor, at the age of eight to help the family financially. Only seven percent of fourteen through seventeen-year-olds were enrolled in school while the other 93% worked – some of them worked more than twelve hours per day. And the hardships children endured during the European and North American Industrial Revolutions are well known.
New York magazine had an April 8, 2013 cover story on "Childhood in New York" and printed Jennifer Senior's article "Little Grown-ups and Their Progeny". Senior's report was consistent with the research that I related in The Allure of Nymphets about childhood being a relatively recent invention.
Senior related that up until the end of the WWII, children were expected to contribute to the family financially. Particular to New York City, newsboys were rampant, but delivering newspapers wasn’t their only source of income. They "blacked boots, scavenged for junk, and shuttled messages and goods.” But “child poverty, child abuse, and exploitative labor practices” lead to an effort by reformers and the government (e.g. Children’s Bureau) to protect children.
However, Steven Mintz, the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of Childhood in America, said, “They [reformers and the government] viewed kids smoking at 10 and 12 and having independent money and walking into bars as the worst thing in the world. It reminds you that "child" is a label, not a reality.
Clearly, prior to the end the WWII and before the American economy prospered, young people (i.e., children) were expected to behave as adults in terms of earning a living wage. And their adult behavior, in terms of vices, was condoned. One could even possess a ten-year-old prostitute in New York City.
However, as Postman related, things have [almost] gone full circle. Today, “children” behave more like adults. For example, they drink, smoke, take drugs, have sex, and are (virtual) teen strippers. The Internet has broken the barrier that the invention of the printing press once erected.
In “Porn Before Puberty?”, a 2012 ABC News feature, Winnifred Bonjean Alpart shared that when she was in eighth grade: "[…] boys mostly, were watching porn during school [...] during independent reading, they would do that." In addition, the feature related that nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and sixteen have viewed pornography on the Internet. However, high school and age of consent laws continue to keep (most) "children" and adults separated.
"Why You Truly Never Leave High School" was printed in the January 20, 2013 issue of New York magazine. The article is about how high school is a sadistic institution and how new research suggests that high school may be worst possible place for a vulnerable sixteen-year-old mind. Here's an excerpt:
Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just sixteen hours per week interacting with adults and sixty with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.
Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.”
Lastly on this topic, I related in The Allure of Nymphets from Mary E. Odem's Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 that until 1897 the age of consent in California and most states was ten. That's correct, ten-years-old. It was twelve in seven states and even more shocking, it was seven in Delaware. How did the ages get so low? Our early age of consent laws originated over the pond. How did the age of consent go from ten, in most states, to seventeen? Feminists are to blame thank.
Odem related that after the 19th century, young women started working outside of the house and consequently became more promiscuous. Feminists blamed the raunchy behavior of young women on "dirty old men," and successfully lobbied to have the age of consent raised. However, it backfired, and young women became even more licentious.
Consequently, feminists realized that issues like abuse, education, and poverty had more to do with the erratic behavior of nymphets than older men, but it was too late. The damage had already been done. The age of consent laws had been changed.
However, there were two unsuccessful attempts to lower the age of consent. There was an effort in 1889 in Kansas to lower the age to twelve. And in 1890, New Yorkers attempted to lower the age fourteen. Interestingly, the age of consent is still low in most of countries across the pond. For example, it's fourteen in Germany, it's fifteen in France, and it's thirteen in Spain.
15. The only thing a nympholept likes more than a nymphet are two nymphets. We learned that Lolita was “debauched” by a pre-teen lipstick lesbian:
At the hotel, H.H. suspected that Lo had been taught to kiss by a little [lipstick] lesbian:
“Her kiss, to my delirious embarrassment, had some rather comical refinements of flutter and probe which made me conclude she had been coached at an early age by a little lesbian. No Charlie boy could have taught her that.” (133)
H.H. confirmed his suspicions when Lo shared how she had been debauched:
“She told me the way she had been debauched […]. Her astounding tale started with an introductory mention of her tent-mate of the previous summer, at another camp, a “very select” one as she put it. That tent-mate (“quite a derelict character,” “half-crazy,” but a “swell kid”) instructed her in various manipulations. At first, loyal Lo refused to tell me her name […]”
“Well,” she said. “They are pretty bad, some of that school bunch, but not that bad. If you have to know, her name was Elizabeth Talbot, she goes now to a swanky private school, her father is an executive.”
“I recalled with a funny pang the frequency with which poor Charlotte used to introduce into party chat such elegant tidbits as “when my daughter was out hiking last year with the Talbot girl.”
I wanted to know if either mother learned of those sapphic diversions?
“Gosh no,” exhaled limp Lo mimicking dread and relief, pressing a falsely fluttering hand to her chest. (136)
16. H.H. wrote: “The reader knows what importance I attached to having a bevy of page girls, consolation prize nymphets, around my Lolita. For a while, I endeavored to interest my senses in Mona Dahl who was a good deal around […]” And H.H. learned via an “urgent and well-paid request really incredible details concerning an affair that Mona had had with a marine at the seaside.” (191)
While Lolita was out playing, H.H. entertained Mona who was coming to practice a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. Mona shared with a concerned H.H.: “Well, sir, the fact is Dolly is not much concerned with mere boys. Fact is, we are rivals. She and I have a crush on the Reverend Rigger.” (191)
Rigger was mention previously: “All this noise about boys gags me, “she had scrawled on the inside of a schoolbook, and underneath, in Mona’s hand […] there was a sly quip: “What about Rigger?”
And in The Taming of the Shrew, Bianca Minola, the modest young sister of Katherine, is courted by Gremio, a “greybeard” elderly suitor.
17. Lolita described to H.H. the “things” that Quilty wanted her to do: “Oh, weird, fancy things. I mean, he had two girls and two boys, and three or four men, and the idea was for all of us to tangle in the nude while an old woman took movie pictures.” After which, H.H. noted: (Sade’s Justine was twelve at the start.) (276)
Appel noted that “Sade’s Justine” is a reference to Justine, or, The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791) by the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) and that Justine was: “an extraordinarily resilient young girl who exists solely for the pleasures of an infinite succession of sadistic libertines. She undergoes and array of rapes, beatings, and tortures […]” (442)
And Quilty shared with H.H.: “[…] I am a playwright. I have written tragedies, comedies, fantasies. I have made private movies out of Justine and other eighteenth century sexcapades.” (298)
Justine wasn’t the only nymphet who was abused in Justine, or, The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791). There were others. Here’s an excerpt that will serve as a fitting example: “Hardly have we taken up our post when Rodin enters, leading a fourteen-year-old girl, blond and as pretty as Love; the poor creature is sobbing away, all too unhappily aware of what awaits her […]” (536)
18. For Lolita’s birthday, H.H. gifted her a bicycle and a copy of History of Modern American Painting. H.H. admitted that the way that Lolita mounted and straddled the bicycle: “[…] afforded me supreme pleasure; but my attempt to refine her pictorial taste was a failure; she wanted to know if the guy noon-napping on Doris Lee’s hay was the father of the pseudo-voluptuous hoyden in the foreground […]” (199)
Appel noted that the Doris Lee painting is a reference to “Noon”, which depicts a man asleep with his hat covering his face upon a haystack as a hoyden (i.e., a boisterous girl) and a man make love in the foreground. (403)
|Doris Lee's Noon|