Tag Archives: characters

Why “Lolita” Was Despicable– And Why I Loved It.

After having been accosted by friends and colleagues for ages about not having read Nabokov’s “Lolita,” I finally picked it up some two weeks ago.

I’d thumbed through the thing on several occasions due to its high praise and high controversy while I worked as a shelver for my first library, but it never stuck. I often found myself put off to it because the subject matter just seemed too, well, perverted. And I’m not prudish by any means (I mean, c’mon, I grew up with some of the most appalling fanfiction), but the thought of reading an entire novel about one man’s obsessive sexual love affair with a preteen made my stomach churn.

I had no idea just what I was missing in rejecting this novel for so long.

In the past, I’ve read it acclaimed as the “only convincing love story of this century” or some such wording, and to a degree I can understand this thought.

But the inherent problem (and what made me wrinkle my nose at this quote at first) is the idea that “love” is always this infallible, beautiful, selfless thing. However, in my own past, I’ve seen “love” as Humbert Humbert sees it with Dolores Haze– not pedophiliac, by any means, but certainly distorted, obsessive, excruciating. That is the love story we see between our manipulative narrator and his prey, Lolita. His Lolita, as we are reminded so many times. We see a relationship sick, selfish, and full of deceit. This is not one for the storybook lovers, for those who desperately desire a happy ending. And in that sense, “Lolita” truly is a very convincing love story– where love and lovers are underhanded and egomaniacal. Desperate to the point of utter immorality.

 

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

And that is what disgusted me so much about the book: each character appeared to have been crafted to be as alarmingly loathsome as possible, riding a wave between antagonist and protagonist throughout.

H.H., so darkly humorous, well-spoken and charming, handsome and crafty, was every inch the spider he described himself to be. His exploitation of Lolita and others around him was sometimes the only thing keeping me from falling in love with him, myself. From the moment you understand his affliction and his total grasp of it, you want nothing more than to hate him. But it’s hard, at times. He makes it hard.

Dolores was much the same, in some respects, but it was watching her become a casualty of Humbert’s delusion that became the only thing keeping me from hating her. Her apathetic communications, flirtatious and sardonic interactions with H.H drove me mad. I was as much disappointed, I think, in her desperate plea for money and the roundabout conversation in which she gave Clare Quilty away (and perhaps the entire escape with him) as I was with Humbert Humbert’s initial scheme to remove her from Ramsdale.

But Charlotte’s infantile disdain for her own daughter and the jealousy she felt around H.H. made her the most outrageous villain. Upon learning of her husband’s antipathy towards her and his lust for her very young daughter, she still wanted to send Dolores away to a reform school.

I hated all of the characters to some degree, even auxiliary ones.

And that, friends, is why I loved “Lolita.”

I was manipulated by the same orchestrations as the girl after whom the book is named.

I was forced to love and hate Humbert Humbert as he loves and hates himself. I was forced to struggle to love Lo as he struggled to “love” her. I was forced to view Charlotte through a dirtied, altered lens, making her seem more nefarious than she probably was. And each secondary character left an impression of frustration and exasperation on me, much as they did Humbert.

In this analysis, I’ve come to understand why I had been so wrong in assuming the novel itself was one of illicit lust and nothing more. It was one of struggle and manipulation, and I would even go so far as to say it’s one of sociopathy. We know only of the story through Humbert’s eyes, how he perceived those fateful years, that conglomeration of tiny moments, and nothing more. We have only little details to ground us in the reality of the circumstances. One could even argue that the only struggle is an internal one– beyond his obsession with the girl, there was nothing to keep Humbert Humbert in the situations that drove him so mad. There was nothing to prompt him to transform from a sick man with disturbing appetites to a willing and able pedophile– to a murderer.

Somewhere down the road I would really love to read “Lolita” again, understanding how pliable I was in the author’s hands, so to speak. I wonder if I will find something else in it I had been too blinded by the first telling of the story to see.

For now, five out of five.

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

If you’ve read “Lolita,” what did you take away from it? If not (and you haven’t minded the spoilers), why not? Share in the comments below!

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Camp NaNoWriMo – Week 1

I don’t know about you, but for me camp has already been ridiculously helpful.

Notoriously, I’m a pantser. Meaning (for those of you who don’t participate in the NaNoWriMo fun) I fly by the seat of my pants when I write. I kind of just compile character composites I enjoy, have one main plot point, and write it out by allowing my characters to tell the story for me.

I’ve realized in this first week that my usual method won’t work for this one.

My initial goals in starting were to complete 25k words (probably not gonna happen), create an actual outline (probably gonna happen), and to come up with a more suitable working title than “Untitled Religious Apocalypse” (definitely already did happen).

With one goal down, another developing each day, and the other just waiting to happen, I’m feeling rather successful though my word count is still at the big goose egg.

“Untitled R.A” has become “God’s Out Sick.”

3k words I’d written when this novel was nothing more than a concept will not have to be discarded as I’d originally thought.

Two more characters have developed integral roles.

My plot has gone from one centered around my own personal beliefs and has exploded into one with multiple facets and more substance than I even really know what to do with.

And I’ve done more research on multiverse theory than I ever thought I’d do in my life.

Slowly but surely, I’ve been working on writing down major plot points. I will not physically begin writing again until these plot points successfully lead me from opening page to conclusion. This has been the most challenging thing for me.

However, as an author, as a NaNoWriMo “winner” in years past, as a reader, I know that I need this step before I can begin. I can reach word count goals by the seat of my pants, but I can’t construct a world, a Universe, where multiple characters are all tied to the fates of each other and to each ripple in the story. 

So far, with each plot point I’ve written, I’ve discovered a new connection, a new twist, a new setting, a new fuse to light, more characters, more problems, and more answers.

Outlining isn’t the most exciting thing I’ve ever done for a NaNo Project, but it’s already been the most productive.

What struggles are other Campers coming upon? What little moments or changes in routine have already surprised you? How’s the first week going, over all?

I’d love to hear from other WriMos!

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Character Depth– What Really Works?

I’ve seen it hundreds of times over the course of my many years writing:

Character building in the form of “Interview Sheets” or “Character Charts.”

You know the drill; you have this wonderful little application for you as the narrator or you as your character to fill out for an in-depth study of history, quirks, personality, thought process, appearance, and more.

But my question always ends up being: How much does this help? I’ve tried it and found that I end up just wasting time on trying to flesh out characters who would rather add skin to bone in their own time.  Of course, these character “cheat sheets” are only supposed to provide an outline, some inspiration, but I’ve yet to find any.

For me, my characters become rounder as I write. I’ve yet to have any sort of problem with this style and have often found it preferable to the reader. If your character is narrating in the first person POV, why would she comment on her long golden-brown hair in the first five pages of the novel? I know when I tell a story, what I was wearing or how my hair looked become totally unnecessary details in the telling. If an omniscient is telling the story, why would the narrator need to convey your character’s happiest memory if it will never have any impact on the story at hand?

In this way, writing for myself is easier because my characters unveil themselves slowly– and as a reader, I appreciate the same.

I will go out of my way to find fitting names for each character. Oftentimes, they denote something in personality, history, or main objective, even if the correlation is a small one. I like to create pathways (something tangible I can reference later) from one character to the next and their impact on the story. I will give them age ranges, base descriptions, and occasionally will outline certain personality aspects. Beyond that, it all comes out in-text.

In that case, though, what else can be done to help make a character more “real?”

More importantly: What do YOU do to help make your characters more real?

I’d love to hear some input. Especially if you have a really rockin’ alternative to the character chart.

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