Crowdsourcing Humbert’s Self-Conscious Narration

As part of our reading of this Lolita (and the overall themes of this course), we are exploring the un/reliability of the narrator/narrative, the conflation of fact/fiction, the revision of memories, the reconstruction of experience, the ways in which storytellers attempt to portray their own, individual, personal truths (which may not be the same as the objective truth). Lolita is a rich text for performing a close reading around these “self-conscious” moments in the narrative. Consider the following:

Though Humbert Humbert tells readers that he is “no poet … only a very conscientious recorder” (72), we cannot forget that he has in the past been housed in many “sanatoriums” and that he is currently writing his narrative from a restricted prison library, on trial for murder.  Is he “reliable” as a narrator?  Humbert claims to produce an accurate reconstruction, “courtesy of a photographic memory” (40), but he often mentions that parts of his story are “omitted” or “amended.”  In fact, when Charlotte discovers Humbert’s secret desires for Lolita, he frankly omits his intention to change his story/lie to escape the consequences [“Rewrite.  Let her read it again.  She will not recall details.  Change, forge” (96).]  Similarly, his constant use of foreshadowing seems contrived.

And, though it is easy to forget, readers must remember that Lolita is not only a beautiful and painful memoir but also a “confession,” written by a “demented diarist” who needs to go to a “competent psychopathologist” and whose tale could be a classic “case history” in “psychiatric circles” (5).  Before we are introduced to Humbert’s voice, we come upon a “Foreword” by his lawyer, and readers’ attention is constantly called to the fact that this narrative is very much a “defense” (of both his irrational and illegal love for Lolita as well as his murder of Quilty).  He addresses his audience frequently [“Gentlemen of the jury!” (69)] and references his “criminal craving” (23) and “satanic” handwriting.  Who is his audience and what is his purpose with this memoir (keep in mind that there may be multiple audiences and purposes)? How does his self-conscious narration affect our understanding of the story? Can we trust his memoir?

In preparation for Thursday’s class (10/10), everyone should post at least one comment as a reply to this post (though I encourage many more) that provides one place in the pages we have already read (through Part One, Section 22) where Humbert explicitly draws attention (in a meta-fiction way) to the fact that he is carefully/consciously constructing a narrative and controlling his reader’s reception of the text. Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions. Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs, you should feel free to draw on that material.

We’ll add to these comments with each new section of the book we read, until we have a class-generated archive of all of these instances in the text.

22 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Humbert’s Self-Conscious Narration

  1. “but I also had to invent, or to pad atrociously, a long series of mistresses for Charlotte’s morbid delectation” (#79) In this specific section HH is making up a past to simply satisfy Charlotte and her requests. This just makes me wonder if he alters part of his story for the “delectation” of the reader.

    “Again, whatever H.H murmured may be omitted, I think” (#96)
    Such an important part of the story when Mrs. Haze finds out what HH has been planning all along and he states that the words that were coming out of his mouth are “inessential” (#96) and he decides to keep out of this specific scene.

  2. “Fortunately, my story has reached a point where I can cease insulting poor Charlotte for the sake of retrospective verisimilitude.”(71) Verisimilitude is defined as the appearance of truth which means all the insults he has made towards Charlotte have been embellished for the reader to create a distorted image of her.

  3. “I have no illusions, however. My judges will regard all this as a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert.” (pg. 40). I believe Humbert Humbert is actually reliable in his story telling just based on the fact that he can explain specifically every detail in whatever went on. He states here that he has no illusions but his judges will still view him has a madman who craves nymphets. He describes the nymphets has green fruits which often means the fruits aren’t fully grown. This was pretty explicit but to me and using a fruit to personify nymphets was something well thought out and to it strengths his claim that this is reliable.

    “We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. 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.” (pg. 88). Humbert Humbert in a sense is justifying the actions of every sex offender in the world. He is defending them saying they are not killers but rather generally unhappy. This quote to me summed up the whole section because after all that took place with Valeria and even thinking about killing her and here he goes defending his actions. Its pretty clear this all took place and this book was an opportunity to confess and give his claim.

  4. Humbert Humbert feelings for Lolita are know when he says, “I adore her so horribly.”(62) He then tries to correct himself by saying “No: “horribly” is the wrong word. The elation with which the vision of new delights filled me was not horrible but pathetic.”(62). He tries to make the reader change their views on him by having pity on him. This becomes more apparent when he says, “Pathetic-because despite the insatiable fire of my venereal appetite, I intended, with the most fervent force and foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old child.”(63) This leaves the reader to think that even though Humbert has sexual desires for Lolita, he still wants to keep her innocence intact, and that would make him seem like the good guy.

  5. “What I present here is what I remember of the letter… verbatim (including that awful French). It was at least twice longer…”(68). Humbert claims he remembers Charlotte Haze’s letter word for word but chose to leave some things, as they were not as important to his story. This should be taken into consideration, in questioning Humbert’s truthfulness to the readers. Is he telling the reader the whole truth, sincerely omitting minor details, or is he remembering what he wants the reader to know in favor of his view point?

    There’s no point in deceiving if you wear the title of a deceiver.

    In addition to Mairovi’s comment in regards to the end of section 22, when Mrs. Humbert finds Humbert’s diary; in his defense, Humbert “easily” makes up a lie, an excuse. He states, “The notes you found were fragments of a novel. Your name and hers were put in by mere chance. Just because they came handy. Think it over. I shall bring you a drink”(96). I see this as a possible offset on Humbert’s trustworthiness in telling the whole story as it really is.

  6. “had Charlotte been Valeria, i would have known how to handle the situation; and “handle” is the word i want”(#83). Humbert Humbert could not control her like he control Valeria. Humbert tell the reader what he want them to know. During the reading Humbert give a lot of details on the part he want the reader to know. He want the reader to know that he will try to control later in the novel.

  7. “There is just a chance the “the vortex of the toilet” (where the letter did go) is my own matter-of-fact contribution” (69).
    This shows Humbert’s unreliablity of his story. He previously stated that he remembers Charlotte’s letter word for word, but he then says that he may have added in the part about flushing the letter down the toilet.
    It is possible that Humbert may have changed other parts of Charlotte’s letter.

  8. “Suddenly Gentlemen of the jury, I Felt a Dostoevskian grin dawning (through the very grimace that twisted my lips) like a distant and terrible sun”.(70) Humbert Humbert is expressing how much he enjoys telling how his story the way he wants us to hear it.

  9. “That journal of mine is no more; but i have considered it my artistic duty to preserve its intonations no matter how false and brutal they may seem to me now (71)”. He calls himself an “artist” because he has recreated this memoir in the style of his no longer existing journal and he has “toyed” with the idea of marrying Haze. For him, writing is a toy, a game in which he has control over others, and it is possible that Humbert has been altering history in his memoir as a capricious narrator, adjusting facts when it pleases him.

  10. I found this strange because of what came next “I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay;  I want them to examine its every detail and see for themselves how careful,  hit chaste, the whole wine-sweet event is if viewed with what my lawyer had called, in a private talk we had, “impartial sympathy.” So let us get started. I have a difficult job before me.”(57).. this whole scene seems weird for me, because he seems to be taking a gamble. He is asking us to observe what’s going on and that’s him getting pleasure through messing with Lolita. I’m not sure if he wants the reader to have a good or bad reaction in regards to what he is doing. (He has now gotten my attention,  and I’m addressing him as a bad guy, because thats what I had concluded).

  11. “But my tale is sufficiently incondite already” (p70) HH referring here when he is describing Charlotte and this thoughts on marrying her. He says he wish on telling us more about it but then says his story is already too badly arranged or too rough. If he doesn’t want to tell us more on his thoughts of how it would be marrying Charlotte because he finds his “tale” too badly arranged already or to rough then how come it isn’t hard for him to describe nymphets or Lolita other times in the book. Every time he refers to Lolita he describes her on passionate way and feels satisfy telling us scenes when he’s with her, so how do we know that every time he refers to her and these scenes is really true and he just telling us this because the thought of her just satisfy him and makes him feel happy writing about her.

  12. “Gentlemen of the jury! I cannot swear that certain motions pertaining to the business in hand-if I may coin an expression-had not drifted across my mind before.” He refers to the jury again, and he states how if he changes his expression, it wouldn’t be something new that never crossed his mind before.

  13. “I Leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and keep asking myself, was it then , in the glitter of that remote summer , that the rift in my life began…”(#13) This shows that through out HH writing of this memoir he is in fact ‘leafing’ around through his memories picking out what to him seems correct, it leaves us with a sense that which of the memories HH chooses to submit to his memoir is reliable. This particular part had me asking was it really Annabel that started the ‘madman’ or was he himself sexually molested before and is repressing memories….it just opens up for thousands of questions regarding his past.

  14. “Exhibit number two is a pocket diary bound in black imitation leather. Actually it was destroyed five years ago, I remember the thing so exactly because I wrote it really twice” (40). These diary accounts that he is retelling could not have real merit since they are repeated and could have been edited over time solely to garner attention.

  15. “Monday. Rainy morning. My white pajamas have a lilac design on the back. I am like one of those inflated pale spiders you see on old gardens. Sitting in the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or that strand. My web is spread all over the house as I listen from my chair where I sit like a wily wizard.” This is an interesting part because HH creates this situation where he becomes a predator and is hungry waiting for his pray to tangle to his web.

  16. “I am convinced however that in a certain magic and fateful way lolita began with annabel.” (14) Basically he find out that lolita has been a reflection to annabel. The story he had with annabel seems to come back but this time with lolita.

  17. I teel as if Humbert Humbert approach toward lolita is sneaky and he is willing to do anything to achieve his desire. “I did not plan to marry poor Charlotte in order to eliminate her in some vulgar, gruesome and dangerous manner such as killing her by placing five bichloride-of-mercury tablets in her preprandial sherry or anything like that; but a delicately allied, pharmacopoeial thought did tinkle in my sonorous and clouded brain(pg 70-71).” He can do anything even murder to get to Lolita.

  18. “As great authors than I have put it: “let readers imagine””on second thought, I may as well give those imaginations a kick in the pants.”(65)
    Humbert wants to not leave it to the imagination of the readers but to leave it to his facts.

  19. “I checked against the features of my dead bride. A little later, of course, she, this nouvelle, this Lolita, my Lolita, was to eclipse completely her prototype.” (39-40) Humbert Humbert is completely obsessed with Lolita that he can’t think of anything else but her.

  20. Pingback: Reminder: new ‘Lolita’ blog due W 10/16 (+ optional extra credit blog) | Introduction to Literature I: Fiction

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