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Exploration of the Nymphet in Nabokov’s Lolita

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 Lolita is novel by Vladimir Nabokov published in 1955.

  Nabokov has a long history of writing controvesial novels which are debated in the public about the societal morals which his writings seem to reflect.  This particular novel was steeped in controversy since the day it was published.  Often regarded as pornography and it has been on and off the banned book list for decades.  The forbidden subject and combined with a vividly explicit erotic prose style made Lolita the book everyone hated but everyone loved to read.

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    The plot centers around a 12 year old pre-adolescent girl who becomes the obsession and lover of a much older man (Dirks).  Nabokov creates the term and definition of “nymphet” to soften the controversial nature of Humbert’s deviant and socially unacceptable love for Lolita.Lolita centers around a relationship between an older man named Humbert and his teenage obsession, Lolita.  This relationship is extreme controversial and has been debated since the novel’s publication and the author’s motives in writing this novel.

  Humbert often uses the term nymphet in describing Lolita.  “The form and movement of Lolita are shaped by a dual task: to record the emotional apotheosis of the narrator’s passion for a nymphet, and to transform his story into a work of art which will immortalize that passion.”(Bloom 53).  However, he does explain that this is a term that he uses to describes girls just like Lolita – the same age and same womanly qualities.

  “Lolita is Humbert Humbert’s own account of his misadventures with the wily nymphet Lolita” (Whissen 131).   Humbert claims that he has loved girls before like Lolita which he refers to as nymphets.  Still the definition of nymphet is not fully fleshed out.  By examining what a nymphet is in the novel as well as in the real world it might reveal Humbert’s obsession with them.

   Nymphet is not a term that existed before Nabakov.  The term’s history begins in the novel Lolita, which was published in 1995.  It is through Humbert observations that nymphet can be defined.  He describes the nymphet’s behavior:”Now I wish to introduce the following idea.

Between the age limits ofnine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers,twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is nothuman, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as “nymphets (16)”It is clear that the nymphet’s ability, despite her young age, it inspire lust in the hearts and bodies of middle aged men is unnatural and intoxicating like that of nymph out of mythology.”Although the novel is a memoir narrated in the first person, there are themes and revelations of which Humbert is not fully in control. The striking verisimilitude which Nabokov creates through the mask of Humbert is only one aspect of a shifting tale.”(Bloom 53).

Nymphet is a transformation of word nmyph which has its basis in ancient myths.  Nymphs are basically spirits which are created out of nature.  They are no gods but occasionally have god-like qualities and skills.  They are often found hiding in nature – forests, rivers, meadows, and even the sea.

  Nymphs are extremely beautiful represented in not only literature but aslo statues throughout the world.  They also used as objects of love to Gods of Mount Olympus.  However, like Humbert points out, they can be equally as  “vengeful and destructive” as soft and loving.  Certainly, Lolita embodies these qualities and creates a paradox for Humbert.

  Who is tragically in love and lust with Lolita which ultimately leads to the physical and spiritual deaths of many characters in the novel.Humbert is a man haunted by an early love that died, Annabel.  He never quite got over his first love and in terms of emotions never grew up.  He believes that Lolita might be an incarnation of Annabel.

  “The fact that Lolita is presented largely as such a “youngster,” and yet eclipses the sensitive sea-nymphet for Humbert, suggests that the imagination both relishes and transcends the physical world. The material for the imagination may lie in the physical world” (Bloom 55). Humbert asserts “It was the same child – the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair” (39).  Humbert honestly believes that Annabel’s soul lives inside of Lolita which is a similar description of of what a nymph is in mythology.

  A nymph exists only as a spirit.  He believes that Annabel’s spirit has been following him around tempting him from the beyond and finally Annabel has found in a home in Lolita supple young body.  It is this reincarnation of Annabel, in the body of Lolita which he refers to as a nymphet.Lolita completely embodies all the characteristics of a nymph.

  She is certainly capable of being a love object.  Lolita is also “vengeful” and creates destruction and chaos in her wake.  It is Lolita’s nymph like allure which “forces” Humbert to take residence at the Haze house.  He is tempted by her the very first time he sees her.

  He convinces Lolita’s mother that he would make a great tutor of Lolita, and their relationship begins.  Once living with Charlotte and Lolita an invisible love triangle begins.  Humbert realizes that stay with Lolita he must make Charlotte believe that he loves Charlotte — so he can really love Lolita. Charlotte becomes suspicous and eventually jealous over the close relationship between Lolita and Humbert.

Once that Humbert sees Lolita his whole life begins to revolve around the nymphet.  However, it is clear that the way that Humbert perceives Lolita and what Lolita really is, is completely different.  Humbert wishes for a Lolita which is really sophiscated and wise.  His version of Lolita exists entirely in his head.

 The reader realizes that the Lolita is not a stunning temptress but a bratty teenager who understands that she can manipulate obsessive older men, like Humbert, into doing whatever she wants.  Humbert explains “What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another fanciful Lolita – perhaps, more real than Lolita; overlapping, incasing her; floating between me and her and having no will, no consciousness – indeed, no life of her own” (62). It is clear that Lolita does not truly understand her effect on Humbert.  While she sees their relationships as a game, he sees as romantic interest.

  This allure is being exerted through her body, her face, her hair and the way she speaks to Humbert.  It is this nymphic magic which intoxicates Humbert and causes the rising action, falling action, and denouement of the novel.Nymphet refers to a young nymph.  Therefore, it is obvious while Humbert uses this terms to refer to young girls.

  Certainly, Humbert would use the word nymph to refers to adult women for the same reasons. Nymphets are simply, to Humbert, miniature versions of an adult women.  This is why Humbert uses the term to describe girls who are not yet teenagers, or young women.   While Humbert is not explicit it is clear that he is also referring to the sexually curious nature of these young nymphets.

  After the publication of this novel, the term nymphet was basically replaced by the term Lolita.  Today, society uses the term Lolita to refer to an underage girl who may be involved with older married men.Lolita, like an unruly nymph, creates a great deal of trouble within her household.  This particularly true of Humbert relationship with Charlotte.

  The couple marries simply because Humbert wants to be permanently close to Lolita.  He knows that now he has a reason to be near Lolita and because of the familial relationship, can no be separated from her.  Once Charlotte reads about Humbert true feelings toward herself and Lolita, the relationship shifts.  This sets in motion a series of events that pushes along the plot toward a surprising and tragic climax.

  Humbert remembers “”The Haze woman, the arrogant woman, the old cat, the obnoxious mamma, the-the old stupid Haze is no longer dupes,” she reads to Humbert (95). She shows realization of how Humbert’s actions have been influenced by the gale of magic blown by the nymphet, Lolita, and she gives up all her belongings to him but Lolita.  Humbert recounts “I am leaving tonight. This is all yours.

Only you will never see that miserable brat again” (96).Lolita, who earlier in the novel seems to not understand her own sexual allure.  However, once Humbert takes Lolita to the hotel and she engages in sexual activity with Humbert, the reader understands that Lolita knows her power over Humbert.  She knows that Humbert’s intentions are not those of a father for daughter, but the feelings of man for a woman.

Humbert explains “Then she crept into my waiting arms, radiant, relaxed, caressing me withher tender, mysterious, impure, indifferent, twilight eyes – for all the world, like the cheapest of the cheap cuties. For that is what nymphets imitate – while moan and die.” Humbert begins to think about what his plans of will be with Lolita.  “During his first sexual encounter with Lolita, which involves rubbing against the leg of an ostensibly oblivious nymphet, Humbert describes the act in terms that posit parallels between its precarious balance and the strategies of his narrative as a whole” (Tweedie 150).

Humbert laments, “Suspended on the brink of that voluptuous abyss (a nicety of physiological equipoise comparable to certain techniques in the arts) I kept repeating chance words after her” (60). While he is with Lolita, he starts to be very paranoia and constantly believes that he is being followed and monitored.  In the morning, he throws off any accountability for his actions (Tweedie 160).  He claims that the sexual activity between them was Lolita’s fault because she seduced him.

  Humbert explains: Frigid gentlemen of the jury! I had thought months, perhaps years, wouldelapse before I dared to reveal myself to Dolores Haze; but by six she waswide awake, and six fifteen we were technically lovers. I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me. (201). Lolita, who Humbert believes to be pure, questions Humbert about their sexual activity.

  He realizes that Lolita is not new at the nymph game and has tempted other men.  She states “You mean,” she persisted, now kneeling before me, “you never did it when you were a kid?” Humbert begins to reflect on his deviant behavior and he is sure that his behavior is because of the nymphet’s magic.  He claims I am not concerned with the so called “sex” at all. Anybody can imagine those elements of animality.

A greatest endeavor lures me on: to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets. (265). Humbert does not want to just physically be with this nymphet.  He wants to possess her completely and for the rest of their lives.

The physicality of the relationship is but one part of the relationship.  He hopes that Lolita will love him with the same obsessive zeal that Humbert exhibits.The content of Lolita is graphic, sexual, and forbidden.  It is unfortunate that the most telling part of Lolita gets lost in the debate over the exploration of taboo topics in literature.

  The main character of Lolita is Humbert Humbert, is an extremely educated and intelligent man.  When he was but a child, his first love, a girl of 11 years old enchanted his heart for a whole summer and died suddenly.  Since then Humbert has not been able to emotionally  move past that tragic loss.  He seeks out and falls in love with ‘girls’ hoping again to find the pure love he shared that summer.

  He is a man who is repulsed by women his own age and is psychologically crippled.  He does have moments of clarity when he realizes that what he wants is wrong but not wrong enough to starve himself of the one thing in life that brings him joy and pleasure.   But without it, Humbert is essentially a dirty pervert who can not control his impulses.  He becomes flat and uninteresting.

  Humbert’s love for Lolita is her fatal flaw. Humbert asserts I could not kill her, of course, as some have thought. you see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.

(270). Humbert is forever linked to this nymphet.  Lolita has used her magic on him and despite the life altering events that Lolita has caused, Humbert can no hate her.The novel begins with   Humbert is offering his confession to whomever would like to hear it.

  His focus is not on why he is in jail but on the twisted path that led him to commit murder.  This of course allows Humbert to speak affectionately about his obsession, Lolita, from which he draws great pleasure.  At this point in the novel Nabokov spends close to 50 pages detailing the background of Humbert’s life.  He delves deep into the male psyche.

  The content of this part of the novel is impossible to recreated on film.  So much of the appeal of Nabokov’s work is that of his have a beautiful prose style.  The rhythm and flow is song-like and the reader becomes fully immersed in Humbert mind.    Nabokov welcomes the reader into Humbert mind and graphically explains his desires: I should have understood that Lolita had already proved to be something quite different from innocent Annabel, and that the nymphean evil breathing through every pore of the fey child that I had prepared for my secret delectation, would make the secrecy impossible, and the delectation lethal (124-125).

 Nabokov’s great talents has a writer, even though he was not American, was his luminous writing style.  The novel breathes life into the American landscape, sweeping passages invite the reader to share in the sunlit beaches, tree lined suburban streets, and grassy backyards.  It is important to note that Humbert is not attracted to all young girl.  He is only attracted to what he considers nymphets (16).

  He believes that this nymphets are made out of the stars and whose “true nature […] is not human” (16).

  Humbert is not even lusting after a young girl but about what he believes a nymphet and occasionally explains that he realizes this is an illusion which leads to “despair and shame and tears of tenderness”  Nabokov attempts to marginalize Humbert deviant relationship and lust for Lolita.  He often calls this nymphets, maidens (16), and that men who lust after them are simply “bewitched travelers” (16).  This type of language can be found in fables or fairy stories which is Nabokov attempt to soften the scandalous nature of the text.Lolita is twelve in the novel and the audience 13 is the age in which a girl starts to become a woman.

  A twelve year old is far too young to associate sexual thoughts with and certainly would not have been tolerated by audiences.  The age difference was just an handy tool to make the audience feel uncomfortable about reading an older man is trying seek out and seduce a young girl.  In the novel there are many more instances where Lolita is a child.  There are of course many more instances where is it clear that Lolita flirts with and sexually teases Humbert.

  Nabokov’s Lolita is fully aware of her sexual power over men (Apple) to fully utilize her “nymphet” abilities.  Lolita was an uninhibited story that mocked all institutions, overturned all conventional concepts of behavior and morality, violated the assumption of adult responsibility, and reversed classic roles (adult/child: seducer/seduced: innocent American vs. sly European). Humbert Humbert was Mr.

Belvedere without inhibitions (Whissen 133). Works CitedBloom, Harold, ed. Vladimir Nabokov”s Lolita. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Tweedie, James. “Lolita’s Loose Ends: Nabokov and the Boundless Novel.” Twentieth Century Literature 46.2 (2000): 150.

Whissen, Thomas Reed. Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.Nabokov, Vladimir.

Lolita. 1955. New York: Vintage International, 1997. 2nd Edition. 

Cite this Exploration of the Nymphet in Nabokov’s Lolita

Exploration of the Nymphet in Nabokov’s Lolita. (2017, Mar 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/exploration-of-the-nymphet-in-nabokovs-lolita/

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