Crime and Pun: Moral Evasion in Lolita

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. So says Humbert Humbert at the start of Lolita in his account to the "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury" (9). He refers to himself as a murderer (he is, after all, "guilty of killing Quilty"), not as a rapist, the far more serious offense Lolita levels at him. That I, and everyone else who reads the book, call Dolores Haze by the name "Lolita" demonstrates the efficacy of Humbert's fancy prose style - under the spell of his aesthetic mastery, we, the jury, must bend to his subjective vision through memory, and thus we see the twelve-year-old nymphet as Lolita, as she is in Humbert's arms. It is difficult to castigate Humbert when we see the world through his European eyes.

Humbert's main strength is his sense of humor. Nabokov is sure to throw Humbert's way all the American kitsch he can handle - mostly in the form of Charlotte Haze. His sly insults sail over her head, but Humbert wins our approval by making sure we understand them. Similarly, we admire him because we must recognize that he is above us, too - untangling "Vladimir Nabokov" from "Vivian Darkbloom" may seem easy once it has been pointed out,...

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