As in: IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT.
The way Ms. Loftus deals with the intersections of so many huge issues is MASTERFUL and full of authority, quality research, and INSIGHT. The best art should, in the words of Gregg Bordowitz, “return [us] to [ourselves] strange” – that is, great art causes us to reflect and see our experiences and understandings from other angles and in new light. That’s what Loftus does. LISTEN.
I first read Lolita the summer before beginning college, and the book led me into a long love affair with Nabokov. That first year as an undergraduate I read Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, King, Queen, Knave, and The Eye all in quick succession. Later on came Ada and Pale Fire and other works. I read these works mostly in a vacuum; until I met my future wife I had no one else with whom to discuss the works.
I think this solitary reading dovetailed with certain aspects of my upbringing in such a way that I missed a LOT of the cultural assumptions surrounding Lolita. Assumptions (projections) such as: the notion that it was a “love” story, that Dolores Haze was some kind of “femme fatale” who manipulated Humbert, or that Humbert was misunderstood and relatable. I read the book as what it was: the testimony of an unreliable, unfaithful narrator who was attempting to make me, the reader, complicit in his abuse by convincing me of the ultimate appropriateness of his attitudes and sensibilities. The ultimate gas-lighter, Humbert obfuscates and violates the truth even as he destroys Dolores – a 12 year old who has lost her mother, father, and brother only to be intentionally captured by a predator.
It is not a love story. It is not cute. It is devastating and heart-breaking.
A couple years after reading the book the 1997 Adrian Lyne film adaptation was released on Showtime. I taped it on VHS at my friend Peter’s house. I was confused by the film. It seemed to miss the point of the novel, and much of the horror and oppressiveness was lost, left to be shown in just a few moments (perhaps the best one is where (Dominique Swain as) Lolita screams at Humbert, “I EARNED THAT MONEY!! MURDER ME! MURDER ME LIKE YOU MURDERED MY MOTHER!”). In my own first reading, I had more than one instance of having to pull my car off my the side of the road or go into my bedroom and close the door to cry. The sadness I felt for Dolores at the end, the disgust I had for Quilty’s conniving, and the anger I felt at Humbert’s pathetic audacity (re-imagining the Dolores who had finally gotten away from him back into his lust-vision as a way to comfort himself) were nothing like the gauzy sex-dream of the movie.
Loftus unpacks the socio-cultural background that informs how Lolita has been received and promoted over more than half a century, bringing important research to the fore. Through interviews and archival footage, she examines the construction of the myth of Lolita. In this Loftus clearly demonstrates the value of the original material and honors not only the character of Dolores Haze, but also the women who have played her over the years. This podcast is REALLY, REALLY worth your time. I appreciate the way it caused me to reexamine my own attitudes (What WAS I thinking when I read it the first time? Why DO I love Lana Del Rey? In what way SHOULD we approach telling the stories of people who have been abused as children? What IS my susceptibility to culturally-promulgated ideas about “nymphets” or “spring/winter romance?”).