Humbert Humbert represents himself as loving Lolita. Does the novel represent him as loving her?
Does the novel Lolita present the character Humbert Humbert as loving her? First we must define the term love, as it is an elusive concept that seems easy to understand but hard to name. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has one main definition of love made up from a variety of ideas. It is as follows:
Main Entry: love
1 a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests b : an assurance of love
2 : warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
3 a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration b (1) : a beloved person : DARLING -- often used as a term of endearment (2) British -- used as an informal term of address
4 a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another b : a person's adoration of God
5 : a god or personification of love
6 : an amorous episode : LOVE AFFAIR
7 : the sexual embrace : COPULATION
If we momentarily abandon our personal definition of love, we can see that it is comprised of many facets of behavior which all work together to form a generally accepted concept. For our intents and purposes we can take two definitions of love and contrast them to Humbert and Lolitas relationship in turn. The first one will be 1a (2), or attraction based on sexual desire; affection and tenderness felt by lovers. The second will be comprised of two of the above definitions: 2 and 4a. They are warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion and unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. Although no one can argue that Humberts relationship with Lolita is equal and fair, even acceptable, throughout the book he does act in accordance with many behaviors that we have deemed express love.
Of course Humbert expresses the attraction he has for Lolita based on sexual desire. In chapter twenty-nine of Part One Humbert watches Lolita through the night, and in the morning is ultimately seduced by her and they engage in sexual relations. It is easy to see his sexual attraction in many of these passages, especially as he watches her as she sleeps. He says, I lay quite still on my brink, peering at her rumbled hair, at the glimmer of nymphet flesh, where half a haunch and half a shoulder dimly showed, and trying to gage the depth of her sleep by the rate of her respiration (Nabokov, 129). He focuses on different parts of her body, which is a very voyeuristic way for hi, to view her, especially as she is (we assume) unaware. On the next page, he says I managed to bring my ravenous bulk so close to her that I felt the aura of her bare shoulders like a warm breath upon my cheek (Nabokov, 130). There is no doubt throughout the novel that Humbert is sexually attracted to Lolita.
One must also only look to the text to see that he does display affection and tenderness towards her. After they kiss, the following scene is played out: Lay off, will you, she said with a twangy whine, hastily removing her brown shoulder from my lips. (It was very curious the way she considered and kept doing so for a long time all caresses except kisses on the mouth or the stark act of love either romantic slosh or abnormal.) (Nabokov, 133). If we are to define one side of love as sexual desire, it is painfully obvious that Humbert excels in that category.
If chapter twenty-nine of Part One was the best chapter to express the sexual side of love the Humbert had for Lolita, perhaps then it is intentional that chapter twenty nine of Part Two so clearly shows the now deeper, more personal and less sexual love that Humbert holds at the end of the novel.
The second definition of Merriam-Websters entry for love is: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion. Early in the chapter Humbert claims I could not kill her of course, as some have thought. You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, last sight, at ever and ever sight. (Nabokov, 270). As soon as he sees her he expresses his devotion and attachment to her, claiming that not only does he love her, he will always love her. We can see his enthusiasm as he travels to see her in Chapter 28. He expresses a few signs of his eagerness to see her again, such as: I was not able, alas, to hold my breakfast (Nabokov, 268) and My pulse was 40 one minute, 100 the next (Nabokov, 269).
Entry 4a claims that love is unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. Although it is arguable that Humbert had no concern for the good of Lolita throughout much of the novel, in chapter twenty-nine of Part Two he does express this sentiment. When Lolita is no longer the nymphet he dragged across the country, and even after she ran off with Quincy, he gave her $4000 to help her establish her family in Alaska. Even though she would not leave with him, even though she had earlier ran away from him, he was still devoted to her. He gained nothing from the gift, and it shows benevolent concern for the good of another Lolita and her new family.
Humberts feelings for Lolita change throughout the novel, towards the end he does express real love for her. He says towards the end of Chapter Twenty-Nine of Part Two You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear the court, but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poor truth. I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, big with anothers child, but still grey-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still mine (Nabokov, 278).
The novel represents Humbert loving Lolita according to our definition. Although in Western contemporary society we feel that love exists only between two people who are in an equal and compassionate relationship, if we examine the root behaviors we use to classify love we can see that he is represented as loving her. We cannot confuse the cultural script of how one in love should (or does) act for the feelings of love its self. Although Humbert is an untrustworthy narrator, he seems bowled with devotion for the older Lolita. He has no need to lie about this, nothing he could do could redeem him in the readers eyes by this point. Although he acts in a perversion of how we feel a loving relationship should function, the book does present him as loving Lolita.