Column: “Lolita” is easily misunderstood

Helena Edwards, Opinions Writer

At 16 years old, “Lolita” was my favorite novel and it is still in my top 10 favorite books. I even nicknamed my car after the main character, Lolita, as Lola. 

The story, which was published in 1955, has a truly unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert. 

Humbert is an academic who stays with the Haze family, which is comprised of just a mother and a daughter. He fakes a romance with the mother in order to stay close to the daughter, Dolores Haze. Dolores gets the nickname of Lolita from him. After the mother finds out his feelings for her daughter by reading his diary, she is killed in a car crash. Humbert then takes the opportunity to steal Lolita away from the home and they road trip across the country. 

Without getting into the entirety of the plot I prefer to focus more on the way that Humbert describes Lolita. He describes her in such a beautiful way that distracts from the fact that she’s a young child. It sounds like he’s in love, but it’s not, its obsession. 

This book challenges our thinking since there is no established good or bad in the novel. It is up to us to differentiate and expand on the evils of this book disguised by flowerful writing. 

The novel reads as an expert manipulator convincing an audience that he is not at fault. Multiple times he speaks as if to a jury in his phrasing: “We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet.” He refuses to consider himself a criminal except in cases to garner sympathy and instead refers to himself as a poet. 

Humbert talks to a metaphorical jury in the same way Ted Bundy acted as lawyer in one of his trials for his own crimes, trying to prove an imagined innocence. Both the fictional and nonfictional men believed they were in the right for what they had done.  

There’s a difference between looking at this novel in an academic sense and looking at it from societal perspective. You can look at themes and prose, but there is also another way to look at it from how it relates to society, particularly through film adaptations and effects they may have had on society. 

The first movie adaptation was during 1962 from Stanley Kubrick. The second was in 1997 by Adrian Lyne and the only version I have seen. 

The movies have inspired an entire fashion surrounding nymphet style, drawing from innocence that gets a lot of flak for potentially romanticizing the novel. Lana Del Rey’s music hasn’t helped with this with her music often being paired with this fashion, especially with her song literally titled “Lolita,” among other hits that fantasize about being with older men in toxic relationships. 

There is also an issue of recreating a film when it’s from the man’s point of view, where Lolita is portrayed as a seducer. This is an issue with other films that portray young girls as asking for it, like the similar movie “American Beauty.” 

Not all film watchers are going to be critical when they’re watching a movie and will take it at face value. The hints that “this is bad” that are offered in the book aren’t in the movies. 

Overall, I think the only way that this novel can be made into another adaptation is if it is recreated as a horror film. It would be nice if it was switched up to be from the perspective of Lolita, showing her inner voice during this awful time in her life. 

Specifically, I would like a psychological horror and one that doesn’t show everything, like how the novel isn’t graphic. The ending fits with a horror, since Humbert rots in jail and dies of a heart attack while Dolores dies in childbirth as a teenager. It’s not a romantic love story, it’s a tragedy. 

Helena Edwards can be reached at [email protected]