Nabokov’s work still ahead of the times

LINCOLN, Neb. (U-WIRE) — He led the world to fall in love with the story of a pedophile. Imagine Vladimir Nabokov being criticized for not having a sense of humor.
A self-described social cripple and obsessive perfectionist, the author of “Lolita” was actually a notoriously warm man. His first love as a young boy was lepidopterology (collecting butterflies); he studied Russian and French literature at Cambridge, and as an unabashed romantic, the Russian emigre stayed devoted to his lifelong love, wife Vera, until his dying day.
Aside from his most famous work — the story of a snobbish European engaged in a trans-American tryst with his pre-pubescent stepdaughter — the whole of Nabokov’s life could be most easily captured by a white picket fence.
Friday marks the centennial birthday celebration of the misunderstood and controversial figure, sparking renewed applause as well as scorn for the man who brought the word “pedophilia” to global consciousness. For more than 40 years, this persists as his legacy.
Since the release of the book in 1955, Nabokov’s name has been synonymous with the concept of sexualized nymphets and molestation. In truth, “Lolita” is a testament to his farsighted approach to literature and even love. After the sexual revolution, the rock ‘n’ roll revolution and the PC revolution, Nabokov remains a visionary, who, although dead for more than 20 years, is still ahead of his time.
The issue at stake with “Lolita” is not one of pedophilia but censorship. The world will never know if “Lolita” is a modern love story (the greatest of our time, according to some) or if it is a sympathetic gesture to obsession. Some feel like it is a mockery of Freudian thought.
The argument is a moot one. The true topic of “Lolita” is understanding why it was written and what it means to popular culture. Indeed, the book itself is an examination of culture and its values. Humbert Humbert, the nymphet-obsessed protagonist, represents snobbery and antiquated elitism. Of course, his pedophilic tendencies are thus ironic and hypocritical.
Nabokov, a liberated member of the pre-Bolshevik autocracy, wrote pedophilia into this story as a challenge to popular culture. Needless to say, it failed.
Four U.S. publishing houses rejected “Lolita” before it was accepted by a Parisian subculture publisher, Olympia Press, whose stable included William S. Burroughs and a host of soft-porn writers.
Today, “Lolita’s” story is still relegated to the shadows, and both film versions, Stanley Kubrick’s in 1962 and Adrian Lyne’s in 1997, faced issues of censorship by both church and state.
It is true that Nabokov is sympathetic to Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” and it is a riveting tale of passion and, indeed, pedophilia. But there is not a flicker of such deviance in the life of the creator, and Nabokov asks us to act in the same way: above judgment and with love of literature.

This staff editorial appeared in Thursday’s University of Nebraska Daily Nebraskan.