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.