Reading Lolita In America: Where Victim Becomes Vixen

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There's a new interview on Nerve with Graham Vickers, the author of Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again, in which the author explores the way the icon has entered the culture - and how thoroughly that perception distorts Nabokov's actual novel. Nowadays, a Lolita is any underage temptress - "from Amy Fisher to Hard Candy" - whereas the character is very much a creation of adult male fantasy. Weirdly, as our culture's obsession with pedophilia grows, the character of Lolita has become more of a vixen and less of a victim."Lolita" is one of those terms that has entered the culture without having much to do with the character who inspired it. Whereas Nabokov's character is essentially just a kid - albeit a precocious and disturbed one - who's explicitly a canvas for the projection of Humbert's fantasies. As Vickers puts it, "She almost doesn't exist as a person to him." When we talk about a "Lolita" nowadays, it's usually in the context of a little Jezebel who manipulates men; it's a sexually-charged term for sure. How can we have taken such an ambiguous character and invested her with such a simplistic - not to say misleading - meaning? And why does this poor child get all the press? Why hasn't Humbert-Humbert entered the culture as a prototypical pedophile in the same way? Sure, he's less "sexy", but shouldn't that kind of be the point? We're talking, after all, about pedophilia, which is supposed to be the most feared subject of our times. In a way, the wholesale acceptance of the term "Lolita," the insistence on viewing her as a sexy temptress in the face of Nabokov's beautifully-crafted ambiguity, is a handy (if simplistic) mirror for the weird duality with which we view young girls as a whole. As Vickers says, it feels like awareness of the generality of "pedophilia" is all around us - an openness to childhood abuses, public registries and the risks to which children are subject every day. And yet, young girls are increasingly sexualized and the line between childhood and womanhood has never been more blurry. Vickers makes the point that most of the people who toss around the term "Lolita" are probably more familiar with one of the movie adaptations than the actual novel. Ironically, in their unwillingness to ever cast a really young girl in the role (both Sue Lyon and Dominique Swain were 15, as opposed to the novel's 12), the films are serving to blur the creepiness of the situation and so the picture these people see is probably less shocking. Vickers is sorry about this cultural blindness, as it's a total disservice to Nabokov. But the thing is, the novel, in its true form, is probably also one of the best primers anyone could have on the horrors and the humanity of pedophilia, and it's kind of sad that, society-wise, we're so invested in oversimplifying. Girls, Girls, Girls [Nerve]



I'm kind of stunned. Despite two years of high school AP English and four years of getting a Literature BA... I've never once read Lolita.

I should get on this, yes/no?