Confession of a Non-PenitentnContinued from previous pagenglances at suspicious innkeepers, hotelnguests, and chambermaids. In an epiloguenNabokov relates that some twenty yearsnago he had developed the basic plot in anshort story. One can easily imagine thatnin such a form, appropriately pointed,nthe theme may have been morbid andnobscene, with the hero, like Dostoevski’snSvidrigailov, a grim seducer of children.nBut in a book of more than three hundrednpages, Lolita’s narrator cannot remainnsuch a figure.nHumbert is a feather-weight intellectual,nwith his point of gravity situatednbelow the belt; but he becomes a tragic—nalthough at the same time comic—characternin his pursuit of an impossiblenhappiness for the morsels of which henpays an ever higher price of self-debasement,nhumiliation, and remorse. Thendepth of his personal inferno is aptlynmeasured by two episodes; the momentnwhen Lolita, still unaware of her mother’sndeath, finds her new stepfather in hernown bed, intent like a lover, fearful andnhumble like a dog waiting to be patted;nthen that other moment, this time onenof painful reminiscence, when Humbertnrecalls the picture of himself, having justnpossessed Lolita and now adoring in hernthe suffering, debauched child, but withnlust again rising in him, imperious, demandingnsubmission.nJL he central question the reader oughtnto ask of himself is whether he feels pitynfor the girl. Our ethical ideal wouldnrequire that we look at Lolita as a sacrificialnlamb, that we become, in imagination,nher knight-protector. Yet this isnimpossible for two reasons. One is verynsimple: before yielding to Humbert, thengirl had had a nasty little affair with annasty little thirteen-year-old in an expensivensummer camp. Besides, she is anspoiled sub-teenager with a foul mouth,na self-offered target for lechers, moviemagazineneditors, and corrupt classmates.nThe second reason is that throughoutntheir not-quite-sentimental journey,n121nChronicles of CulturenLolita remains as unknown to us as tonHumbert himself, seen only in bed or innthe car, existing only through the lustfulngaze of her stepfather. She remains annobject, perhaps even to herself, and onlynat the very end, as a teen-age mother,nmarried to a simpleton and comicallynserious in her vulgarity, does she becomenhuman, no longer a corrupt little animal,nand no longer a nymphet.nYet both she and Humbert, her mothernand friends, the many people we pass bynin the lust-and-anguish-driven car, formna fantastic, wonderful cavalcade of humanity,ndescribed, analyzed, judged withnincomparable virtuosity. It has been saidnthat this book has a high literary value;nit has much more; a style, an individuality,na brilliance which may yet createna tradition in American letters.nThis is because Nabokov’s writing hasnthe rare quality of dominating the reader,nbody and mind, his curiosity and fears,nhis capacity for pity, amusement, tearsnand laughter. The author rides with himnup-hill and down-vale, enmeshes him innthe marvels of a description, or entertainsnhim, as a veritable mental juggler, withnthe urbane tricks of a cultured conversationalist.nMr. Nabokov complains in the epiloguenthat he had to abandon his wonderfullynrich, flexible and docile Russian fornan English in which he can be no betternthan second rate. Never have I heard ofnsuch false, although .likable, modesty!nMr. Nabokov’s English is beautiful andnimmensely suggestive, espousing withnthe greatest ease the mood of men, thencolor of landscapes, the ambiance ofnmotels, girls’ schools, and small towns.nIt is an ocean of a language, now calm,nlimpid, transparent, then turning into anroar, with waves upon waves of scintillatingnmetaphors, images, innovations,nallusions. The author swims in this oceannlike a smooth-bodied fish, leaving thenpursuer-reader amidst a thousand delights.nDn(The Commonweal, Oct. 24, 1958)nAppendix:nI wrote this review of Lolita almost 20nyears ago. Today, I have ambivalent feelingsnabout the review, perhaps also aboutnthe book. The reason is that in the meantimenpornography has become a way ofnlife and a symbol of political and culturalnliberty. True, the difference betweennNabokov’s work and the Hustler’s worldnis enormous: the first has style, proportions,nform, and depth, the second is, asnBernanos would say, a corpse agitated bynteeming maggots. Yet, I suspect thatnLolita could have, may have, given partnof the impetus which later grew, like ancancerous tissue, into a decadent society’snobscene death throes. Should Nabokovnbe brought to a so far adjourned courtnhearing? And I, too, for a lack of foreknowledge?n— Thomas Molnarn”.. .^u Have to Cringe and Hide!”nContinued from previous pagention to control the presentation of thennovel’s shocking events and place themnwithin a context of broader human concerns.nX^olita is cast as a memoir written fromnprison by the main character, HumbertnHumbert, “a neurotic widower of maturenyears and small but independent means,nwith the parapets of Europe, a divorcenand a few madhouses behind him.” Hentells his story—his early life in Europe,nhis marriages, his move to America, hisnnnobsession with nymphets, and especially,nof course, his love affair with Lolita, thendaughter of his second wife—as he awaitsntrial for the murder of one Clare Quilty,na playwright and fellow nympholept whonstole Lolita from him. At times Humbertnindulges in paeans to the intoxicatingnjoys of his obsession, but the structuralndevice of the memoir, which makes usnaware from the outset that his joys havenled to crime and despair, shadow everyneffusion. Characteristically, moreover,nthe effusions themselves lose their bloomnas they develop. The style shifts. Richlyn