ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

It astounds me that people misread Lolita so badly.

Updated on August 17, 2013
This is one of the preliminary sketches for my Lolita-themed tattoo, drawn by Avelino de Avila, a San Francisco tattoo artist, and designed by yours truly.
This is one of the preliminary sketches for my Lolita-themed tattoo, drawn by Avelino de Avila, a San Francisco tattoo artist, and designed by yours truly. | Source

It also astounds me that people so frequently mistake Humbert Humbert for an author’s proxy. Maybe these people all skipped the foreword, not understanding that it was a part of the novel. A very important part of the novel, in my estimation! You see, in that very foreword, Nabokov provides us with a better candidate for author’s proxy, and his instructions for reading the book—the former is decidedly not H. H., and the latter is not what H. H. asserts throughout the story.

Lolita's foreword is key when it comes to understanding the novel.

The foreword is signed, “John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.” In the first paragraph, Dr. Ray explains that his cousin, Humbert Humbert’s lawyer, chose him to edit the manuscript that makes up the bulk of Lolita. We (the readers) can infer from the rest of the foreword that Dr. Ray is a psychologist or psychiatrist of some sort, or possibly a scholar of the liberal arts in a related field. He is an expert and an author.

In terms of topics, the foreword is laid out thus:

Paragraph #1: Explanation of how Dr. Ray came to be editing H. H.’s manuscript.

Paragraphs #2-3: Explanation of the character’s hidden “true” identities, and a rundown of where they are now. This paragraph concludes with a notable comment on those of the characters who have passed away: “The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk.”

Paragraphs #4-5: Defense of the publication of the manuscript, despite its arguably immoral nature. The fifth paragraph is perhaps the most important in this foreword, and thus I include it in full:

“This commentator may be excused for repeating what he has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that ‘offensive’ is frequently but a synonym for ‘unusual’; and a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as more or less of a shocking surprise. I have no intention to glorify “H.H.” No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capricious. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author!” [Bold added by me, for emphasis.]

Paragraph #6: Conclusion, including this urging: “[S]till more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac—these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. ‘Lolita’ should make all of us—parents, social workers, educators—apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.” [Once again, bold added for emphasis.]

I love Photoshop filters. Don't judge me.
I love Photoshop filters. Don't judge me.

The author's proxy. . .

Before I briefly address the content of this foreword, I must explain why I think its ostensible author would be better regarded as Nabokov’s voice than would be Humbert Humbert. My rationale is simple: John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., speaks for and about H. H. in the way that H. H. speaks for and about the object of the book, Dolly Haze. Therefore, in terms of power, Dr. Ray supersedes Mr. Humbert. For another thing, Dr. Ray is more educated that H. H., who has no doctorate, and whose prized identity depends on his self-perception as an intellectual and a scholar. In other words, according to Humbert Humbert’s own rubric, John Ray wins. (H. H., if he were real and alive and somehow reading this, might scoff at that assertion, but on the inside he’d be quivering.) Perhaps most convincing is that in Nabokov’s own afterword for the book, he opens with this: “After doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, […] any comments coming straight from me may strike one—may strike me, in fact—as an impersonation of Vladimir Nabokov talking about his own book.” You may interpret that as you will.

Humbert Humbert knows that he stinks--so should you!

But whether or not we accept that Dr. Ray represents Nabokov’s opinions, we must acknowledge that he is the closest thing to “the voice of reason” that can be found in the book. In his foreword, Dr. Ray tells us these important, basic things about the story: Humbert Humbert is a decidedly bad dude, and his view of things is unreliable. Lolita ought to be read with future improvement of the human race in mind as a goal. And yet, even with these messages laid out so plainly, people misread Lolita. Perhaps it is a testimony to the potency of Humbert Humbert’s lyrical magic. But even if I were to grant you that, H. H. himself admits, near the end of the book (and at various points throughout), that he is a scoundrel and a villain! This passage strikes me as utterly crucial:

“Reader! [I heard nothing but] the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic—one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets. I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.” [Bold added for emphasis.]

Basically, even Humbert Humbert knows that he’s a disgusting child abuser who has ruined a young woman’s life! How is it that there are genuine, actual people who don’t realize this? It is terrifying to me, that there are people who read Lolita and take away from it, “Ah, what a romance!” or, “Man, that Dolly is a nasty child.”

And it is irritating to me that there are people who assume, without having actually read that book, “Oh, that Vladimir Nabokov sounds gross. Didn’t he write an elaborate fantasy about having a child bride?” No. He wrote about a fictional character’s equivalent fantasy, and he made it clear that said character is a vile person.


Some bonus filtered bows:

They're even more fun when they barely resemble the original, right?

Anyway, fun with images aside, let me know what you thought of my essay in the comments. Thanks for reading!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)