The disgusting brilliance of Lolita. - BOOKS READING BETWEEN THE LINES DEC 19 2005 1:31 PM Lolita at 50 Is Nabokov's masterpiece still shocking By

The disgusting brilliance of Lolita. - BOOKS READING...

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BOOKS READING BETWEEN THE LINES. DEC. 19 2005 1:31 PM Lolita at 50 Is Nabokov's masterpiece still shocking? By Stephen Metcalf
Every now and again it's probably healthy to crack open the glass, remove a certain world masterpiece from the display case, and in re-reading it recall that— unlike Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover , two other novels once deemed obscene by the tribunes of moral upkeep— Lolita is a disgusting book. Furthermore, the day will never come when it is not a disgusting book. By comparison, in fact, it can make Lawrence and Joyce look like a pair of old village bluenoses. For all its arduous recourse to the c-word, Lady Chatterley's Lover places its faith in the sexually ful fi lled marriage, a ho-hum piety in the age of divorce. For all its scatological frankness, Ulysses tells the touching story of a surrogate father fi nding his surrogate son. Lolita , meanwhile, tells the story of a stepfather serially de fi ling his adolescent stepdaughter. * Public taste was meant to catch up to Lady Chatterley screwing her gamekeeper, to Leopold Bloom sitting on his jakes. Public taste was never meant to catch up to Humbert Humbert. "I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay," Humbert asks us early on, by way of setting up his description of his fi rst taste of sexual bliss with Lolita, the pre-pubescent daughter of his landlady. (Humbert will eventually marry the landlady; the landlady will eventually die; Humbert will eventually abscond with Lolita. For now, though, he is only their boarder, a debonair European with certain hidden proclivities.) "So let us get started. I have a di cult job before me." This is Nabokov winking out at us. By di cult job, Humbert means: I want to conjure this scene up, with all its strange anatomical circumnavigations, as carefully as possible, to demonstrate to the reader that I am not wholly a monster. (He also means: I had to ejaculate, without letting Lolita know.) By di cult job, Nabokov means: I will indulge Humbert in all his strange circumlocutions, to demonstrate to the reader what a total monster he is. In this respect, Nabokov and Humbert have opposing aims; but in the telling, they become as one. All the comically baroque pleonasms help Humbert shield from himself how repulsively he has acted. They allow Nabokov, meanwhile, to describe a rapine act of frottage without becoming explicitly pornographic. Here is some of what follows:
She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled on in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola, the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipperless foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa —and every movement she made, every shu ffl e and ripple, helped me to conceal and improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty—between my gagged,

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