H.H., or Humbert Humbert, admits to his transgressions and takes some accountability for his actions, but only asks for the reader to listen and understand his point of view. He does, in fact, appear to be an unreliable narrator at time. “She seduced me” — which seems entirely unrealistic for a 12 year old girl and a middle aged man. His entire story is documented then as a kind of testimony for a jury. Whether or not the reader agrees with Humbert’s justifications he at least evokes sympathy from the reader, deserved or not. H.H. is a vile monster, and he admits to this. I remember when I was 19 and my ex boyfriend was discussing the novel. I had been reading Lolita in Tehran which comments on this novel, but having not read the novel itself, I was curious. He said to me, “It seems like H.H. really cares about Lolita.” I, intrigued, because I had known of this classic, yet had not read it, decided to pick it up some two years later. Why my Women’s Literature professor had decided on Lolita in Tehran over Lolita I haven’t figured out. Maybe she decided an entire class of 18-20 year old women were already familiar with the text. Whether or not H.H. actually cares for Lolita, or cares for what Lolita has to offer, I have not decided. It is still a novel that ranks as one of my favorites despite its dark and almost repulsive details. In fact, Nabokov’s poetic writing makes this novel all the more terrifying because it’s so easy to look past the horrifying events.
I have recently been listening to this audio book on the way to work as a substitute for repetitive morning radio. I work at a high school, in itself, this seems kind of ironic, or at least awkward. However, H.H. has what many of us don’t have, particularly high school students. Despite it being frowned upon as a high school literature text, if not explicitly banned, depending on your flavor of local superintendent, it does hold a lot of value.
You see, H.H. has purpose. He has a vile, twisted, and perverted purpose; but he knows what he wants. His purpose in life is to capture a particular nymphette and have her love him. Since he can’t do that, he rapes her. In his mind, this is the next best thing, and in particular his mind because he is so good at twisting the events in his testimony. It almost seems as if, at times, he even believes what he says. “She seduced me.” and “I was not even her first lover.” I’m not saying that H.H. isn’t a horrible evil person, he is, but we have a lot to learn from him. H.H. has purpose. We all need purpose to continue, to do more than exist, as he was simply existing with his first wife.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, find what it is that drives you to continue. Do more than exist. What is the point of living a very long life doing what you don’t love, even if what you are doing makes money? I’m trying to convince myself I’d rather live a very short life doing what I love to do, even if it doesn’t seem like it can work (can it?), than living through 60 years of mistake. Somebody once told me, “I doubt there is anyone on their death bed wishing they had done less with their life.” H.H. may be a vile monster, but Nabokov has a lesson for everyone woven into the poetic language of Lolita.