Humbert Humbert: The Great Liar

Lolita is a narrative delivered in such a way that it not only allows for, but essentially demands speculation about its reliability. Nabokov, in keeping with his style, constructs a narrator whose accounts of events are given an obvious slant. For the reader, it becomes clear that we can generally rely on the factual details of the story, but we should not give much credence to the assessments or interpretations provided by the narrator. Nabokov’s ability to so effectively create a convincingly deluded character is among the stronger points of this novel. Throughout the novel, Humbert pays lip-service to traditional analyses of his situation, unconvincingly pretending to agree with socially acceptable moral assessments of his behavior. In the same breath, he lays out explanations for himself. Humbert makes a concerted effort to thoroughly describe the intricate details of the situations that provide him with irresistible opportunities to indulge in his unusual fantasies. This level of detail and his rather transparent efforts to seem repentant or remorseful, or at least as though he can even comprehend the idea that his behavior is inexcusable, would perhaps indicate that the opposite is true: that he does not regret his behavior at all, that the must unsettling thing about the entire affair, for him, was that it was not able to last forever. But while it might seem that way, that Humbert was a sociopath with no remorse and no conscience, I suspect that he is being deceptive. In this case, he is not deceiving the readers, but himself.

Nabokov’s narrative style is very misleading in its straightforwardness. His narrator, Humbert, seems at first glance to simply tell us the story with nothing to hide. He seems nearly credible in the way that he discloses apprehension about telling certain things, relating certain details of his story. Yet he continues, pushes forward anyway so that the reader will have the full benefit of the whole truth of the story. In certain places in the text, he makes a special point of calling the readers attention to the level of detail, explaining that recalling that level of detail is difficult work, but if the readers hope to properly understand his dilemma and the drama the story, then we must engage in those very details which are capable of making some people quite uncomfortable. On this surface level, Humbert seems vaguely repentant. He expresses his agreement with notions of common decency and social acceptability when he refers to his own cunning as insanity and to his own acts as being depraved and disturbing.

It should not take long for any reader to realize that Nabokov’s narrative should not be taken at face value. Humbert’s tone varies in significant places in the text, his frighteningly attentive detail clearly quite serious in places, while in other places he includes obligatory stock-phrasing to indicate that the remorse he expresses is not entirely sincere. We soon come to realize through this transparency that Humbert knows that his relationship with Lolita is unacceptable. He is sure to point out his awareness that his conduct, by any reasonable social conventions, would be considered disturbing, if not outright disgusting. While he refers to his desires and impulses as insanity, he also describes in detail the ways that he premeditates situations so that he might fully take advantage of them.

This is where the final layer of deception lies. Humbert is a man who has, from a very young age, had a particular hang-up. He doubtlessly recognized very early in life that his desires and fantasies were different than those of most people, and that he derived an inordinate amount of pleasure from dealing with women much younger than would be socially permissible for him. While his mock shame at being so afflicted is easily seen through as a sham, on closer inspection he would seem to harbor a certain level of genuine shame about the matter. His construction of the narrative is deliberately deceptive, an effort to convince the reader that he feels guilty for behaving in such a way, but beneath the cold calculation that permits him to take advantage of the forbidden fruits, there lies a genuine remorse at what he has become. The existence of the nymphet becomes his only saving grace, the very thing that gives him an opportunity to escape his loneliness and disconnection from the world. Lolita is quite different from anyone else in that she is among the only people who can relate to Humbert. He may be able to get avoid sincere belief that his desires are wrong in any way, but he can never escape the fact that his desires set him apart from mainstream society. In that respect, he will remain painfully aware of the fact that he is different and separate from the people around him, and the people who could potentially accept him for those flaws would certainly be quite limited. To make matters worse, those very few people who might be willing to accept Humbert, knowing about his illicit desires, could never condone the fact that he expresses no intention to refrain from acting on those impulses. The nymphet, however, is unique in her ability not only to accept Humbert for his desires, but also to accept him even when, or especially because, he is willing to seek satisfaction, or not refuse it should it be delivered.

Quilty, or others who share Humbert’s affliction, could arguably be people who are capable of relating to Humbert. Contrarily, men who share such an affliction would likely be quite helpless to each other, particularly because of the fact that they would in competition with one another for a decidedly limited resource, just as Quilty and Humbert are for Lolita’s affections. Humbert might have been able to hold on to a modicum of denial about the impropriety of his desires because he was able to pin their origin on something in his childhood, something that had been done to him through no fault of his own that he had no power to undo. It would be impossible to commiserate with Quilty because it would tear the very thin fabric of Humbert’s denial, a denial so weak that it is barely convincing to the reader. And yet he is forced into the same category as Quilty; they are trapped by the same desperate need: Lolita. Humbert’s fatal mistake with respect to that competition was simply that he had Lolita first. Of all the things that Humbert’s nymphets might be, devoted would never be one of them.

Losing Lolita to Quilty also demonstrated another important distinction between the two men. Humbert’s pedophile-nymphet relationship with Lolita marked her initiation into that world, or an end to her childhood. Her relationship with Quilty, even if he had been the only man that she had ever been crazy about, could still only be a follow-up to the time that she spent with Humbert. But when Humbert visits her, in her new life after Quilty, he realizes that no sentimental ties to the time that she spent with him remain. She had been crazy about Quilty, shameless as he was, and Humbert had only been a substitute. While Lolita herself had only worked her way into Humbert’s heart as a stand-in for his Annabel Leigh, she had quickly become more than that to him. Where losing her did not put an end to his illicit attractions, it did put an end to his pitiful hope that a relationship with someone to whom he was so attracted would have any favorable outcome.

Finally, seeing Lolita in her new domestic life, a mother-to-be, Humbert is subject to a resurgence of his irrational dreams of possessing her and spending his life with her. Such a relationship could have never worked out. Beyond the fact that she was simply not interested in Humbert, through the course of their affair she had come to view him as pitiful. He took interest in her originally because she fit the model that he had for perfection—his Annabel Lee—so well that she recreated it. His fixation on her evolved from superficial sexual attraction to a deep emotional dependence. Initially hooked on the fleeting crush that brought her close to him, he eventually developed an addiction to the cruel indifference with which she treated him. Her indifference, though, was more special to him than affection could have been from others, such as the woman Rita whom he connects with temporarily. Lolita remains indifferent to Humbert in spite of knowing what he is. Humbert, unrepentant and insincere as he might seem, would be a fool to not desperately fear the reactions that people would have to him knowing what he truly is. To find acceptance from Lolita, even if it is by way of her indifference, is a deeper connection than he could hope to have with anyone. So when he has no remaining hope of having her in his life, Humbert has little left to hope for at all.

The murder of Quilty is necessary because Humbert cannot possibly suffer such a loss without some sort of retaliation. Quilty makes a perfect scapegoat for Humbert’s suffering. For starters, he possesses the same affliction that has made Humbert so miserable. Killing Quilty can serve, for Humbert, as a symbolic gesture representing killing that part of himself that he most hates. Even worse than being a symbol for Humbert’s affliction, Quilty is the one Humbert blames for the loss of Lolita. No matter that she wanted to go, wanted to leave him, Quilty was the one who took her, and for that he would have to pay. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Humbert had to kill Quilty because he was the only one that Lolita had been crazy about. Quilty would be able to have the only thing that Humbert suspected could make him happy, and he was not interested. He had let her go.

Humbert’s deception throughout this book runs deep; he misleads the readers and misinterprets himself. Nabokov carefully constructed the narrative to capture this deception, touching on themes of Americanism versus Europeanism, sexuality and psychology, and love and fixation. Somehow, in all of the lies, Humbert’s tragic love story rings very true.

Another Letter to the Editor

I’m realizing that I really don’t like this John Ostrowski fellow. Maybe he reminds me of myself when I was younger and more of an idealist. Nevertheless, I responded to his column.

Also, I applied again for a job at Publication Services. Let’s hope I scored better on the tests this time through. It’s been almost twenty-four hours and they haven’t contacted me, so maybe I didn’t do better (I’m under the impression that it doesn’t take them long to score the tests).

And I contacted Antioch University. They told me that I’m on the waitlist. I’m eager to hear back; hopefully I’m not too far down on the waitlist and will get an open spot.

Without further ado, here is the letter I sent to the DI:

In his column today, John Ostrowski suggests that amoral, irreligious, and materialistic trends in society are relatively new. Materialism has existed in a wide variety of shapes and sizes throughout the past, bearing many different names. This is nothing new.

Religion, however, is not nearly as dead as he seems to be suggesting. As a matter of fact, some of the most deadly forces today are the irreconcilable differences between some of the world’s most influential religions, especially Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. According to, only 16% of the world’s population is non-religious (half of that group being believers of some sort who do not identify themselves with a religion).

The University of Illinois campus is far from being a microcosm of the world population. Of course, we do have members of many major religions on campus. Those groups, however, tend to be draw much less attention than the hordes of hedonistic bar-crawl crowds that Mr. Ostrowski so admires. The suggestion that people are, for the first time in history, beginning to engage in meaningless acts of self-indulgence is ridiculous to the point of absurdity. People have been engaging in self-satisfying behaviors since the beginning of time. No religion, no matter who they call their God, will put an end to that.

Different people believe in different things. Religious or otherwise, values are going to vary from person to person. The best that we can hope for is that we can find a tiny bit of common ground, a set of values on which everyone can agree. Establishing such common ground is much more easily accomplished when we refrain from judging the actions of others by the standard of what we want for ourselves. If we really hope to reach a common ground, we must make an effort to understand the values of others instead of dismissing them outright for being inconsistent with our own.

Forget It

I forgot a lot of the things that I wanted to include in the last post. but it’s a good thing, because thanks to my friend Marc, I’ve had a chance to research the program I mentioned in the last post, and I’ve been thoroughly dissuaded. Worst case scenario: if I don’t get into Antioch, I can fall back on the old plan of finding out from Eastern Illinois U. what I will need to earn certification to teach at the high school level. I can always apply to MFA programs later, maybe after I’ve done some more writing on my own time.

I got my tickets to California in the mail the other day. I’m going out for the World Service Conference, but I will stay to visit with my brother and his family. It’ll be about two weeks total, right at the very end of the semester. After that, I can start my new life, whatever that might be.

I also got a letter from my lawyer. he says that it’s going to cost a little under four hundred bucks to keep my driving record clean. probably worth it, I think. and he’s doing this one pro-bono. and here we all thought I was done with the nude modelling 😉

I checked out another one of those 9-11 conspiracy videos today. Fuck, it makes me sick. I fantasize about going underground and hunting some of these evil bitches down. can I say that? I guess I’ll just have to accept the idea that the FBI/CIA/NSA is going to be monitoring me for the rest of my natural life. that’s fine, at least that means I’ll have a dedicated audience 😉

also, I’ve never mentioned that I read a really interesting book by the guy who draws Dilbert, Scott Adams. It’s called God’s Debris…give it a shot.

anyway…I’m headed back to try to help out at the coffee shop. they’re installing new cabinets/countertops behind the bar, and part of my job is to show up and help them move all the crap back to where it was. I’m trembling with excitement.

How about An Online Degree?

I got my rejection letter from the U of I today. So the final hope, of course: Antioch University LA, the low-residency program. I was bouncing around the ‘net considering what life might be like if they say ‘no’ too, and I saw an ad for Phoenix Online. I went ahead and checked it out, and it looks like it wouldn’t be too tough to get signed up to earn a Master’s in Education—I would be able to teach in a community college or maybe a high school. I might give it some serious consideration.

I also did some work on an essay for a contest in The Nation. It’s not quite what I hope it will be, but it’s going to get better.

Finally, I was told that Publication Services might be hiring. Apparently the fact that I didn’t score well enough on the tests the first time through might be overlooked since they just had a handful of applicants who outright failed. Slowly but surely, my generation is whittling away at the standards set by our forebears. So I’m going to go in and give it a shot.

An Essay for The Nation

When asked what is of most concern to my generation, I am inclined to respond that we seem to be most concerned with fashion and entertainment, though I know that distorts the meaning of the language in the question. A vast majority of people under thirty, however, seem to be more interested in issues of style than in other issues, such as those that will require our greatest attention as we gradually inherit the responsibilities of designing the legacy we will leave behind are far removed from those concerns. Style is nice, for sure, but we probably do not need many more generations about which we can say, “They left our world in a sorry state, but they dressed well and made great music.” In all seriousness, my generation needs more than anything else to develop global awareness, shared values, and a sense of conscience. As with any other generation, we have a preoccupation with art and entertainment, so the arts will be, as they have always been, an ideal medium for sparking and fueling social change.

Ignorance and apathy are two of the most destructive social forces affecting the coming-of-age population in the United States. Our entertainment industry imposes a limited vision of the world on the youth, with an emphasis on the flashy, materialistic successes of Hollywood superstars. We are taught to put great value on wearing the right clothes and listening to the right music, presenting the right image of ourselves to the people around us. Those who are fortunate enough to have any idea what life is like in other cities, States, and nations seem to easily adopt an attitude that socioeconomic disparities are caused by laziness or lack of ambition. We have a difficult time empathizing with those who can barely afford to eat because we are too caught up in believing that we are impoverished when we cannot afford a new wardrobe every season or the latest DVD-equipped SUV. Young people are encouraged to find a place for themselves in the corporate superstructure, to insulate themselves from the dangers of poverty and secure the means to stay with the times and provide the greatest excesses for their families. We are encouraged to use credit to finance our lifestyle. If we pull it off, if we can convince the people around us that we are capable and accomplished because we have spent enough on our clothes and cribs, then we will eventually be able to pay off our debts. We would be surprised to learn just how much we have compared to those who experience real poverty, and maybe we could begin to understand the problems of the world around us if we were not incessantly inundated with artificial concerns.

In recent years, the popular media seems to be evolving gradually to incorporate a more international perspective. As young people who are willing to stretch their limits begin to have an opportunity to see portrayals of life outside of the United States, we are presented with a challenge to reconsider our values systems. The awareness of actual poverty and need in the world around us should awaken in us a sense of the need to reevaluate the traditional American dream of wealth and prosperity. Where we once believed that prosperity is defined by abundance to excess, we must now begin to face the reality that we have much more than we could ever hope to need. Our values can evolve to include the well-being of others, not just in our own nation but abroad as well. Individualism has hypnotized us into believing that we must meet not only our own needs first, but also our own desires; nationalism has taught us that when we have met our own needs and fulfilled our desires, our duty is to help the people in our country to meet their needs and wants. We demonstrate very little capacity for understanding the differences between needs and desires, and we fail to pay attention to the fact that human desire is unlimited. We tell ourselves that we will help the needy of our own country when we have satisfied ourselves, but we continually re-draw the line in the sand. Similarly, we say that we will help impoverished people in other parts of the world when we have satisfied the people of our nation. When our values evolve to incorporate the needs of all of humanity, we will have an opportunity to develop a collective conscience.

Our conscience must serve as the ability to identify disparities between the values we express and the values demonstrated by our actions. When we have developed such conscience, we will no longer be able to form legal entities whose sole priority is profit. Providing for the common welfare of humanity must become our guiding virtue, a virtue that never interferes with individual rights though it may supersede individual privileges, including the privilege of extravagance.

Further Rejection

I got a letter from ISU today. it was a small envelope, so I didn’t even really need to look inside to know what it said. this means that I will not be leaving CU for school in the fall. I will either enroll at the U of I (they haven’t responded…it might be a good sign?) or at Antioch University, the low-residency program (few weeks a year, at most…in sunny Cali), or I will be remanded to finding a job to pay for my student loans. I would probably strongly consider driving a semi. the downside to Antioch is that I would not have the option of teacher’s assistantship, and I would have to find a straight job to work…hopefully some 9-5 gig or something. the good news is that they offer the option of sticking around after the MFA to pursue a Master’s in Education so that a person can teach Creative Writing at the college level. I will probably hear from those two schools in the next week or two.

I also received in the mail my Passport. so if I up and disappear, that’s why.

I filled out an application at the Outback Steakhouse today to become a server. the tips would be better than I make bussing at the ribeye, and probably more than I make at espresso, as well. I knew a guy who worked there, and his boss called him up to check on me. they were all set to hire me until they got the results back for my psychological profile (no joke). I can only surmise that I am too sane to work there, because my ex-girlfriend works there, and anyone who knows her can tell you that she isn’t sane enough to take a personality test, let alone pass it 😉 but seriously, wtf? I’m amazed. apparently the Universe is conspiring to push me somewhere. it’s just a matter of figuring out where that would be…

A Road Rage Tornado

flipping the bird

funny…it’s one of the things that I’m preparing to let go. I’m working to imagine myself as a person who doesn’t lose his cool, doesn’t let little annoyances make him act in ways he’d rather not act.

I slept three or four hours the night before last, getting up early in the morning to drive to springfield for a service conference. I didn’t eat any substantial food before or during the conference, presuming that we would all go get something to eat together afterward, because that’s what we usually do. when the conference was over, it became clear that most people were planning to leave town immediately.

I got a call from a co-worker who needed someone to cover his shift and I agreed to be that person because I knew I could use the money. I arrived back in CU at the time I was supposed to start working, so I had to rush to get there after stopping at home to change clothes. it started off a slow evening, but began to pick up after a couple of hours. I worked with two other people, one who moves just quickly enough to handle his own responsibilities, but not much more. the other guy, a young guy, was not only too slow to keep up with his own stuff, he isn’t attentive enough to see where his services are required. I really busted ass, moving quickly to do my job well and pick up slack so that the place remained in decent shape.

the first episode of the newest season of the sopranos would begin at 8, so I did my best to get out of there as early as possible. I pulled out of the parking lot at 7:50, calling the little lady to let her know that I was on my way, so she should come out to the car so that we could head over to the home of a friend who has cable, clear the hell across town. She seemed fairly upbeat about getting out of the apartment to do something fun—she’d been at home cleaning all day—and excited to spend some time with our friend, whom she hasn’t seen much recently. I drove more quickly and aggressively than I usually do (riding in my car on normal days makes my brother incredibly nervous), but remained as attentive as always. I noticed a police car at an intersection, and I glided through knowing that I had been driving somewhat fast as I approached the intersection. perhaps he had noticed before I slowed down?

I saw in the rearview that he turned in the direction I was going, so I chose at the next intersection to take the furthest left lane—the turning lane—because it was the least likely intersection for him to take. this forced me to amend my choice of driving route, an inconvenience, but not enough to make me lose time. I hurried down the road, following a slow car through one of my right-hand turns. I hopped into the left lane to pass the putters-along, but the driver—an adolescent—saw my desire to pass as an opportunity to prove to his equally adolescent passenger how cool he was. He sped up to my speed, so I continued to accelerate, hoping to get past him before I was blocked by a car in my own lane.

sure enough, he stayed even with me and I was forced to slow down and get behind the kids. at this point, I was pissed. then, to make things more interesting, the little boy let off the gas for bit, slowing to a speed equal to that of the obstructing vehicle in the other lane. I was trapped. I had nowhere to go. I saw a red light ahead and imagined getting out of my car when we stopped, running up to his and pounding on his window, just enough to scare the piss out of him. the light turned green before we stopped, so I continued to ride his ass, hoping to catch him at the next red light. when we approached the next light, he passed the car on the left and jumped into the left turn lane, while I needed to go forward, and the light turned red, bringing us to a stop with a car between us. just to the right on the cross street, a police car was stopped with its lights on, and it looked like the officer was in the yard of the house on the corner, talking to the owners about some domestic dispute call or something of that nature. I looked to the boys on my left, rolling my window down to tell them something. the passenger stared at me, then opened his window when he realized I was going to say something.

“You got lucky,” I yelled.


“You got lucky!”


I realized he wasn’t going to say anything, just continue to say “what?” because he could think of nothing else and because it was enough to piss me off even more.

“You heard me,” I yelled. They had a turn arrow, so they went, and I took off when our light went green. I realized as I rode down the street that my girlfriend had been yelling at me to shut up since I first started talking to those kids, but I hadn’t noticed. she continued to tell me how silly it was for me to say anything to them, and I exploded.

“You have to stand up to people acting like fools when they do, or they’ll continue to be idiots!” I yelled. she shut up and stared straight ahead, and I knew that she had decided to remove herself from the argument. I flashed forward to an evening of the silent treatment that I’ve gotten from her before, and I slammed on the brakes. turn around? get out of the car? kick her out of the car? I decided to drop her off at my friend’s so I could go somewhere to cool off.

“I can’t stand it when you do this–give me this silent treatment. I’m not gonna deal with it. I’ll drop you off at his place, you can watch the show without me.”

she said no, so we continued to drive, heading right back home because I didn’t know where else to go. I called my friend when we’d made it a quarter or halfway back home, and he said that the show was just beginning. fifteen minutes after the hour, and the show was just beginning. we could’ve made it on time.

that was about the time that it hit me. the things I’d said were the things I’d needed to hear.

“You got lucky.”

we could’ve ended up at a stoplight with no cops around, with no other cars around. I could’ve gotten out of my car and gone up to scare them, taking my road rage to an entirely new level. how often would I let it go there, then, having done it once already? how many ass-kickings could I potentially receive, if I decided to get out of my car each time a driver pissed me off, or how long would it take for police to knock on my door or pull me over to find out why I was threatening people? I got lucky, because the Universe conspired to put me in a place where outside influences prevented me from following through with bad ideas formed by my inner influences.

“You have to stand up to people acting like fools when they do, or they’ll continue to be idiots!” wasn’t that what she was doing? I was acting like a fool, a child. those kids thought I wanted a pissing contest, so they brought it…and I ended up pissed off because I was getting pissed on. I wanted to stand up and prove that I was in control, not them, so I let them make me mad, let them force me to act like a fool. and the little lady tried to tell me, so I snapped at her. she’d been cleaning the apartment all day and got excited when I told her we were going to break our routine of eating in our pajamas and watching a movie before bed. she brought a tub of homemade cookies for us to snack on while we watched the sopranos. and now I was yelling at her because I was afraid that I didn’t get my way, I wouldn’t be able to watch my show.

I began apologizing, but got frustrated with it because I knew saying I was sorry couldn’t convey the fact that I realized how shitty it was for me to treat her like shit because I didn’t get what I wanted. now a nice, relaxing evening hanging out with a friend would turn into the loneliness of two people in an apartment who have nothing to say to each other, simply because traffic wasn’t flowing quickly enough for one of them. we got to the apartment and I layed on the couch, trying to figure out how to make the situation right. . . waiting for her to come put her hand on my shoulder and tell me she knew I had a rough day, and that she believed me when I said that I was sorry. I realized that I would have to say something more. I was waiting for her to understand me, when I should have been explaining that I understood her (if, in fact, I did understand). I explained to her that it was outrageous that I would yell at her when all she wanted to do was have a nice evening, that she didn’t deserve that. I told her that I needed to make up for it, needed to take her out for dinner somewhere nice. of course, at that time on a Sunday night, there aren’t a lot of places open. we ended up going to the Olive Garden, where she had a glass of wine. I try to tell her, but sometimes I think she doesn’t believe me, that seeing her drink a glass of wine at dinner doesn’t bother me, as long as I don’t ever have to see her drunk. a glass of wine probably did her a little good at that point.

we drove carefully on the way home, having overheard at dinner that there was a tornado warning in the area.