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Nabokov’s, Lolita, and Pamuk’s, The Museum of Innocence: Remembrances of Desire Past

Updated on August 10, 2015

Careful Chronically of Desire

Nabokov’s, Lolita, a careful chronicling of lust by an adult man’s obsession with a middle-school girl, is understandably controversial. But undeniably, the earnestness and passion with which the troubled male character, Humbert Humbert speaks, brings us seductively into his world. So it is in Orhan Pamuk’s, The Museum of Innocence. Kemal, a man in his thirties from one of Istanbul’s wealthiest cities, falls in love with Fϋsun, an eighteen-year-old distant relative, while he is deeply involved and later engaged to Sibel. Though Fϋsun is technically legal, she is, like Lolita, forbidden fruit and years younger than the pining, main character.

Nabokov’s, “Lolita," and Pamuk’s, “The Museum of Innocence”: Remembrances of Desire Past


Similarities between "Lolita" and "The Museum of Innocence"

The similarities between Lolita and The Museum of Innocence have been noted beautifully by others, including Maureen Howard and Presca Ahn. Probably the most striking similarity between these two literary masterpieces is the male protagonists’ passionate musings over lost loves. But there are other resemblances as well.

Nabokov discusses his classic book, “Lolita” on CBC TV (1950s) – There are 2 parts

1- Dashing Male Protagonists

Both Humbert and Kemal have at their disposal, almost any woman they want; yet it is for women, which they can never totally have who they yearn and reflect upon with such intensity and pain. Nabokov’s and Pamuk’s choice of making their protagonists highly desired males is an interesting one. Most of us understand the undesirable male pining for the beloved, but the much desired male pining for a younger female less educated and from a lower class is a bit more complex.

For convoluted reasons, both Humbert and Kemal lose (at least temporarily) their loves to less appealing males than they. Fϋsun ends up marrying Feridun, a somewhat naïve screenwriter, and Lolita ends up marrying Dick, a young war veteran with a severe hearing loss. Interestingly, the fiercest rivals of Humbert and Kemal are not their beloveds’ husbands, but men who are closer to their equals; the rivalry between Humbert and Clare Quilty is a battle between literati, and the rivalry between Kemal and Turgay, a married businessman who fell in love with Fϋsun, is that between men of industry and business though Turgay had been a sometime-collaborator with Kemal. Both characters loathe those who resemble themselves. This fact is likely evidence that these protagonists secretly loathe themselves as a result of what they have done to their loves

Both Lolita and Fusun Have Dreams of Movie Stardom
Both Lolita and Fusun Have Dreams of Movie Stardom | Source

2- Dreams of Stardom

Both Lolita and Fϋsun have dreams of movie stardom. Lolita escapes from Humbert with the help of Clare Quilty, a writer, who promises Lolita a part in one of his films; and Fϋsun is initially encouraged by both her husband Feridun and Kemal to pursue a career in film. Unfortunately, both Lolita’s and Fϋsun’s dreams of the big screen are thwarted in part because of Humbert and Kemal.

"The Museum of Innocence" is set in Istanbul
"The Museum of Innocence" is set in Istanbul | Source

3- Imbued Objects of Reflection

Both Humbert and Kemal collect objects of their beloveds; Humbert collects discarded objects of Lolita after she flees from him, and Kemal obsessively collects objects which Fϋsun has touched, going so far as to steal them out of her home then replacing the objects with more expensive ones. Ultimately, Kemal creates, “The Museum of Innocence” to chronicle his love for Fϋsun.

Kemal states of objects related to Fϋsun:

As the objects accumulated, so did the manifest intensity of my love. Sometimes I would see them not as mementos of the blissful hours but as the tangible precious debris of the storm raging in my soul. (Page 361)

Regarding Lolita’s physical traces, Humbert states:

Up to the end of 1949, I cherished and adored, and stained with my kisses and merman tears, a pair of old sneakers, a boy’s shirt she had worn, some ancient blue jeans I found in the trunk compartment, a crumpled school cap, suchlike wanton treasures. Then, when I understood my mind was cracking, I collected these sundry belongings . . . .and on her fifteenth birthday mailed everything as an anonymous gift to a home for orphaned girls . . . (Page 255)

While Kemal passionately hangs on to objects associated with Fϋsun, Humbert must ultimately rid himself of Lolita’s possessions. In both circumstances, Kemal and Humbert relate to the objects associated with the beloved with a form a mania.

4- Drawing Near to the Beloved through Family

Both Humbert and Kemal invade their beloveds’ families to get closer to them, Humbert by moving in with Lolita and her mother Charlotte, then by later marrying Charlotte, and Kemal by obsessively visiting Fϋsun at her mother and father’s home for eight years. In Humbert’s case, Charlotte has no idea that Humbert’s true desire is to get closer to Lolita until close to Charlotte’s untimely death. Conversely, Fϋsun’s family except for her husband, know of Kemal’s desire for Fϋsun.

Sunset Over the Bosphorus - Istanbul

"The Museum of Innocence" and "Lolita" Are Evacuative of Place
"The Museum of Innocence" and "Lolita" Are Evacuative of Place | Source

5- Evacuative of Place

Lolita and The Museum of Innocence are strongly evocative of place--The Museum of Innocence of Istanbul and Lolita of America. Lolita reads as a travel catalog of sorts when Lolita and Humbert travel through the United States in Humbert’s desperate longing to keep Lolita for himself, and The Museum of Innocence describes Istanbul with beautiful clarity:

As we drove over the Galata Bridge, we opened the windows, happily breathing in the familiar Istanbul smell of sea and moss, pigeon droppings, coal smoke, car exhaust, and linden blossoms. (Page 469)

"Lolita" Was First Published in 1955


6- Significance of Holidays

In both novels, Nabokov and Pamuk make wonderful use of holidays. Nabokov boldly (and hardly any author can get away with this except for maybe Salman Rushdie) makes brilliant literary use of New Year’s Day, The 4th of July, and Christmas. Pamuk utilizes Fϋsun’s birthday and The Feast of the Sacrifice, a holiday in which lambs are slaughtered. The Feast of the Sacrifice is the first time that Kemal meets Fϋsun—a likely foreshadowing of tragedy and Kemal’s robbing of Fϋsun’s youthful innocence.

7- Kismeted Partings

Though Humbert and Kemal state emphatically that they loved Lolita and Fϋsun, both women are irreparably damaged by their sojourns with Humbert and Kemal, and the affairs come to tragic ends. The love affairs, ill-fated from the start, seem to burn out from the fervor of male desire alone.

Orhan Pamuk: The Museum of Innocence | 92Y Readings

8- Lyrical Language

The beautiful, lyrical language of both novels along with a passionate voice, ardent love stories, and strong doses of nostalgia (of the Greek brand) make Lolita and The Museum of Innocence modern-day classics. Sadly, neither author is American born. Perhaps there is a lesson for us here in the United States.


Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Random House, 1997 (Second Vintage International Edition). Original copyright, 1955 by Vladimir Nabokov. Print.

Pamuk, Orhan. The Museum of Innocence. Trans. Maureen Freely. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008 by Orhan Pamuk. 2009 Translation by Maureen Freely. Print.


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