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Old 07-23-2002, 09:24 AM   #1
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To all Nabokov 'Lolita' readers: question

I felt this belonged to FYM for this is a serious matter.

Issue #1:
Does Humbert feel

. mostly love, or
. mostly lust

for Lolita?

I keep arguing with my s/o about this, for he insists that it is all lust and that Humbert is a dirty old man, nevertheless my s/o thinks it is a touching story of a pervert. He even cried during the film.

I however insist that even the passages where Humbert 'lusts' after her, what we as readers feel from it is love. At the end when he meets her again, he writes that he has never loved anyone as much as he loves her.

Issue #2:
Did Humbert rape Lolita?

My friend claims that there is a twist at the end of the novel, with a line that reveals this. I'll have to look for it and post the line later.

What do you reckon?

foray
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Old 07-23-2002, 09:33 AM   #2
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He feels mostly love and mostly lust. Love and lust may be not the same, but one doesn´t exactly exclude the other. Maybe the kind of lust he feels is so strong it drives him crazy; a kind of loving maybe.
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Old 07-23-2002, 11:03 AM   #3
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Re: To all Nabokov 'Lolita' readers: question

Quote:
Originally posted by foray
I felt this belonged to FYM for this is a serious matter.

Issue #1:
Does Humbert feel

. mostly love, or
. mostly lust

for Lolita?

I keep arguing with my s/o about this, for he insists that it is all lust and that Humbert is a dirty old man, nevertheless my s/o thinks it is a touching story of a pervert. He even cried during the film.

I however insist that even the passages where Humbert 'lusts' after her, what we as readers feel from it is love. At the end when he meets her again, he writes that he has never loved anyone as much as he loves her.

Issue #2:
Did Humbert rape Lolita?

My friend claims that there is a twist at the end of the novel, with a line that reveals this. I'll have to look for it and post the line later.

What do you reckon?

foray
Maybe he thinks he loves her but come on you would have to call what he did to her rape she is only a kid- no matter what he feels love or lust its still wrong what he does to her so yes i would say he raped her.
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Old 07-23-2002, 05:41 PM   #4
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Ah, foray... thank you so much for posting this wonderful topic for thought. I see that for this discussion you have picked not only one of my favourite novels of all time, but, I think, one of the most powerful pieces of flat-out art ever in the history of any art form.

Nabokov's classic is far more than an introspection of 'a dirty old man's psyche', it is far more than a social commentary and satire, and it is far more than a criminologist's handbook. Ultimately, I do believe that the elements of Love and Lust are at the heart of the story, however, whether they apply to Humbert that is a matter so controversial you will always have people disagreeing with themselves, let alont others.

However, it is my opinion that Humbert does indeed 'love' Lolita, while the darkest character in the book, who is constantly written as a foreboding and disturbing presence (until his humorous demise in the end), Clare Quilty, is the man who 'lusts' after her; casting her aside the moment she refuses to go along with his perversity.

Is it a love story? I believe it's perhaps one of the greatest love story. However, people assume that his fascination with Lolita is merely because of her youth, I believe it is because 'in spite' of her youth. He begins his musing with telling us about Annabel, who, without her - he informs us - there may never have been a Lolita. Annabel was his first love, clearly, and he loved her so much so that the loss (if you remember, she dies preamturely and suddenly) was unbearable and traumatising.

'I am convinced, however, that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel'. This is his prognosis. This is how he explains what followed Annabel. The infatuation with Lolita. His marriage with Mrs. Haze to get closer to her. His indirect connection with her subsequent death. His bizarre road-trip with Lolita across America. His growing jealousy as she sexually matures with 'other' boys, and his final episode in madness and murder with the destruction of Quilty. It is all because of 'Annabel'.

The difference between Annabel and Lolita, though, is the element of requitement. His love for Annabel was requited, but for Lolita it was not. 'Oh, Lolita, had YOU loved me thus!' he bursts out occasionally in between the poetic and lyrical confessions.

Another signal of his morality, and how he is no immoral creature (though some of his acts may have been immoral) is the constant reference to his guilt. He KNOWS he did wrong. He KNOWS he deserved what he got. 'You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style', he tells us. Nabokov's character is far from simple and guiltless, however, it is his guilt that partially redeems him, and it is the character of Annabel that explains to us that his love for Lolita was a true love, as it was born out of a desire to love another just like her. In a way, Humbert Humbert never grew up, I think he was pretty much left behind in that summer when he was in his early teens, where what happens can 'shape the life of a man forever'. This is very true. He never forgot Annabel, but looks for her in others, and hence finds Lolita.

Does he feel lust for her? Ofcourse he does. Don't tell me that love and lust don't go together, for they do, they are two sides to a coin. Atleast in a 'romantic' relationship, you need to feel physical or otherwise attraction of some sort for the person, which will help intensify the relationship, and indeed he feels a LOT of lust for her. This is where we may proceed to call him 'a dirty old man', however, I never said he was imperfect.
The distinctions, though, are to be made between him and Quilty. What does his character serve besides the excuse of a plot-device?

His character serves as a contrast. Contrast in behaviour, in the way they speak, and contrast in their feelings for Lolita. Ultimately, it is Quilty who Lolita chooses. She loves him and not Humbert, though Quilty throws her out the moment he finds out that he can't use her for his sexually perverse excercises and 'art'. Incidentally, I believe Nabokov is making some wise observations about the classification of 'art' and pornography. It would seem that his conclusion that pornography is there to exploit to a degree that is demeaning and immoral to the person, as it was to Lolita, while 'art', as is Humbert's poetry and genuine feelings for her, is a more passive and considerate progression... that does NOT constitute rape.

I do not believe that she was raped at all. He never raped her, though many times he probably felt like doing it. And, perhaps, he did rape her in 'other' ways. He deprived her of company of her own age, and when she did get some he grew insanely jealous. He practically kidnapped (though she never really objected) her from her home and education, and abused the position of 'parent' and 'father'. He played the 'father' role to get the upper hand, but played the role of the lover at night so he could get what he wanted. However, he did not rape her. Any physical act was done willingly out of her own accord. Plus, there is also the fact that she was NOT a virgin when she made love to him. The girl's sexual maturity had commenced long before he even set eyes on her. She flirted, she toyed, she tortured him - never thinking or knowing how her actions were affecting him so deeply. Its not a question of faults, its a question of what people do with such overwhelming emotions, and if there is such a thing as 'moral redemption' afterwards.

It is the overwhelming guilt, the insane jealousy and the fear of recognising his soul in Quilty's that motivates the murder. Quilty is the one for lust. Quilty was the one who used and abused. Quilty was the one, who, when beggins for his life, comes pouring out with all his smut, sexual perversion and terrible depravity that even Humbert never knew was possible.

It is Quilty's conversation with Humbert at the end before he dies, that really tells us who was the lustful and who loved. Just compare Humbert's poem with Quilty's response. In the poem it is wise to observe Humbert's guilt concerning how he treated Lolita, his jealousy born out of great love, and how he has this overwhelming need for 'redemption';

'Because you took advantage of a sinner
Because you took advantage
Because you took
Because you took advantage of my disadvantage...

... when I stood Adam-naked
before a federal law and all its singing stars

... Because you took advantage of a sin
when I was helpless moulting moist and tender
hoping for the best
dreaming of a marriage in a mountain state
aye of a litter of Lolitas...

Because you cheated me of my redemption
because you took
her at the age when lads
play with erector sets...'

And then he begins to desribe Lolita in images, comparing her to a doll and how Quilty ripped 'the head off' and took her to pieces and threw its head away. Now compare his poetry with Quilty's response. It is filled with self-pity, self-loathing, sleaze, offers (as if he were the devil trying to tempt him), bribes. Also look at the structure of his response; it is mere full-on droning prose. Infact, its an endless paragraph that spans nearly three pages. He mentions every sexual oddity and perversity you can possibly think of, and, only really remembering Lolita once he takes the gun out and shoots something, knowing full well how he is in mortal danger.

Quilty is the lustful one who took advantage. He took advantage of her love for him, and thus completing the cycle of unrequited love. Mrs. Haze has unrequited love for Humbert, Humbert has unrequited love for Lolita, and Lolita has unrequited love for Quilty. What a truly miserable novel! Its a novel that teaches the irregular nature and complexity of love. It shows how people don't choose their natures, but control and restraint is needed for out passion-ridden souls. Humbert can not help loving Lolita, no more than Lolita can help loving someone as perverse as Quilty. Its a novel that deals with completely helpless and almost pathetic characters. Whether its the pityful and almost 'common' Mrs. Haze, the bizarre Quilty, the manipulative Lolita or Humbert, perhaps the most complicated of protagonists.

I have a question for YOU foray; do you think that Lolita is a victim? How much do you think was Lolita's own manipulative doing? Was she manipulative?

Well, that was three questions. Sorry.

Thanks for this topic. I feel very passionate about it.

Ant.
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Old 07-23-2002, 05:48 PM   #5
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Oh, and another thing, Have you had the fortune of seeing the film versions, both Kubrick's version and Lyne's superior version?

Kubrick, though retaining the wit and cleverness of the novel, was much restricted by the times. And so, his is much more tame, less powerful and, ironically enough, less faithful than the subsequent production. I say its ironic, because Nabokov had a hand in the script. The main reason for my dislike of this version, is the fact that Quilty is no longer disturbing here, he is purely played for laughs by Peter Sellers.

Adrian Lyne's version is a masterpiece. It is extremely well acted by all, it is remarkably faithful to the novel, and is beautifully shot. The cinematography and the music (by Ennio Morricone, no less) gives it an atmospheric and disturbing edge. I do believe it is the definitive version, one where we can understand Humbert's actions, hate him while at the same time feel extremely sorry for him, and find ourselves both feeling horrified and extremely amused when the murder scene at the end takes place. Beautifully, beautifully done.

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Old 07-23-2002, 08:01 PM   #6
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Mostly lust. Nabokov clearly indicates that the attraction he feels for her is because of, not in spite of, her youth and prepubescent attributes. Humbert refers to girls like her as nymphets and states outright that there is a certain age window that he finds titillating: when she is just on the verge of puberty, budding with signs of impending womanhood and fecundity. The attraction wears off when the object of his fascination gets older and develops more obvious physical characteristics of sexual maturity. At the end of the novel he is repulsed by Lolita--she's no longer a nymphet

The fact that he's motivated mainly by lust doesn't mean he can't love her. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

I don't recall him raping her using blatant physical force, but I will re-read the end of the book. Obviously coercion can take many forms, and despite her teasing, flirting, and sexual encounters with other men, she was still a young girl, after all.

Quote:
He never raped her, though many times he probably felt like doing it. And, perhaps, he did rape her in 'other' ways. He deprived her of company of her own age, and when she did get some he grew insanely jealous. He practically kidnapped (though she never really objected) her from her home and education, and abused the position of 'parent' and 'father'. He played the 'father' role to get the upper hand, but played the role of the lover at night so he could get what he wanted. However, he did not rape her. Any physical act was done willingly out of her own accord. Plus, there is also the fact that she was NOT a virgin when she made love to him. The girl's sexual maturity had commenced long before he even set eyes on her.
I am very uncomfortable with this insinuation that because she wasn't a virgin, no rape occured. A girl's previous sexual experiences, in the context of this novel or the real world, should never be used to determine consensuality. And she DID object to being hauled across the country! Why else would she try so hard to get away from him?
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Old 07-23-2002, 08:30 PM   #7
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But Shriek, he clearly goes on and ON about how much he still loves Lolita, no matter how old she's become. He still feels the same for her as he did before.

And as for him hauling across the country, that doesn't consitute as rape, and the only times she ever objected to was when he prohibited her from going to the 'play' or being restrictive over certain things, the abuse of his parental powers.

However, I maintain that he never raped her, and I never made an insinuation that just because she wasn't a virgin, she wasn't raped - my insinuation was that she was relatively experienced in sex already, and in many ways held the upper hand when it came to that matter. She blatantly manipulated him sexually.

And the main reason she tried so hard to get away from him was so that she could run off with Clare Quilty. Which she did.

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Old 07-24-2002, 08:51 AM   #8
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I have an obsession with Lolita. I knew from the first time I read its opening lines that this was an extraordinary and important work. My paintings have even gone through Lolita-inspired phases.

It is almost difficult to see it as fiction yet I can be detached enough to say that, yes, I don't think Lolita was raped. She tells Humbert he raped her, but it is more a tool she uses to manipulate him. One may think that for most of the novel, she manipulates him and it is only at the end that the reader feels she has been as manipulated (by 'Cue' and 'Hum') as Humbert. He broke my heart. You merely broke my life. Broke her life--what does that mean? Did she mean she would have led a less scandalous/sordid life if Humbert didn't do what he did? I doubt it.

Is Lolita a victim? Well, Humbert is the only parent figure left for her after her mother dies. One of Humbert's many wrongdoings, I suppose, was failing to supply her with a figure of authority to guide her morally. You have to admit the onus was on him to provide that authority figure, and his failure to do so only encouraged her to be childishly manipulative. So, Lolita is both dominatrix and victim.

It's interesting Anthony pointed out that Quilty serves as a contrast to Humbert in that Quilty represents all that is sordid and pornographic. I wrote the following lines of poetry, recalling Humbert mentioning she'd prefer a hamburger to a Humburger: ham-or hum-burger/she is salome/who wants my heart on a hotplate/my love prefers junk to cui(sin)e. No doubt Quilty is the 'junk' but though Humbert is not as soiled as Quilty, he is still muddied with gross imperfections.

As a side note...

I love the novel and have seen both film versions several times. I like Kubrick's and Lyne's interpretations equally because they are so different. Kubrick's was successful as a black comedy (Peter Sellers was brilliant) and Sue Lyon was what I had envisioned Lolita to look like. True, the Kubrick version was disappointingly untrue to the novel, made even more disappointing since Nabokov himself wrote the screenplay; however I do think the excellent directing & acting were its saving grace. I love Lyne's film because Jeremy Irons was spot on in his role as Humbert. Dominique Swain as Lolita was more accurate in character because she was portrayed not just as a precocious temptress, but a gawky one as well (see scene where she runs up the stairs to kiss Humbert). She was also very good in the crybaby scenes. Ennio Morricone's score is breathtaking. The soundtrack is great (um, except for 'bongo bongo bongo in the congo').

The whole deal with Annabel doesn't sit well with me. Being someone who believes that love is particular--that is to say, if you love Bill, you love his Bill-ness, you love Bill because Bill is--I do not like that Humbert transfers, so to speak, his love for Annabel onto Lolita. While it is obvious that Humbert is devoted to Lolita, as everything is Lolita! Lo! Dolly!, with eventually no mention of Annabel, is he devoted to this Lolita or does Annabel still hover in the recesses of his mind? You may not agree with this but it seems to me the Annabel episode was added into the mix merely to appease somewhat the readers of Lolita. It is one of the 'strongest' justifications for Humbert's obsession with minors, one that is better left out, in my opinion.

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Old 07-25-2002, 05:01 AM   #9
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I agree that love and lust are not mutually exclusive. But my question was does Humbert feel mostly lust or mostly love (thanks shriek for your reply). And what would you think if it is mostly lust but still a little love: is that good? Bad? Is it not for us to decide whether a r/ship is healthy or unhealthy just because the lust overpowers the love?

Ah, I've found the sentence that my friend alleges is the twist: Had I come before myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape, and dismissed the rest of the charges.

Thoughts?

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Old 07-25-2002, 05:40 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by foray
And what would you think if it is mostly lust but still a little love: is that good? Bad?
foray
Good

no, seriously: I think relationships can´t be put in such a dualistic system. There are hundreds, and I do mean, hundreds of different ways you can live a rel.; it depends what you allow to yourself while being able to look in the mirror.

If it is mostly lust and still a little love, I would maybe not call it love, because there exists no "a little" in real love, I think. I would call it loving maybe, or... well you know, this extreme passion, this wanting, it is romantically obesessed love, which is also a kind of love.

I think it is good because every positive emotion is good; however I think a love like that can only last for a certain time period. A serious, full love somehow includes life-plans too, sooner or later or too late, you know. Living insieme, growing together; being partners and living the passion every day, too.

Hmmmm.... just my 2c
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Old 07-25-2002, 02:24 PM   #11
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I did answer the question, foray:

Quote:
Mostly lust. Nabokov clearly indicates that the attraction he feels for her is because of, not in spite of, her youth and prepubescent attributes . . .
I honestly don't understand how you people can conclude that Humbert's obsession with Lolita is motivated by anything more than lust. Yes, there are things about her he admires other than her youth, like her aptitude for tennis, but mostly he finds her personality distasteful. Don't you recall all the instances in which he complains about her negative traits? Her taste in music? Her annoying habits? He even mentions her tendency for poor hygiene.

Perhaps you are confused by the book's ambiguity and understatement. Nabokov's elegant writing style, as well as certain literary constraints of the time, precludes him from explicitly saying he wants nothing more than to jump her precocious little bones. If a modern author wrote a story like this, Humbert would probably say something like "Every time that little tart brushed up against me I got a massive boner."

Quote:
And what would you think if it is mostly lust but still a little love: is that good?
In a relationship involving two consenting adults, "mostly lust" is fine and dandy. Why is it that so many people automatically categorize lust as bad or somehow inferior without the pure, sublime feeling of love (whatever THAT means to them) to back it up? Obviously lust alone isn't something on which to base a lifelong commitment, but not everyone is obsessed with finding their "one true love".

A relationship based mostly on lust (again, I'll limit it to one involving two consenting adults) is not inherently unhealthy, if both people find it satisfying.

As far as the mutual mind-fuck which constitutes the relationship between Humbert and Lolita, even if you honestly believe he feels mostly "love" for her, you can't deny that it is sick. It causes both of them nothing but pain.

This is the sentence your friend interprets as some kind of twist, alleging that Humbert raped Lolita:

Quote:
Had I come before myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape, and dismissed the rest of the charges.
What mental block prevents you people from acknowledging that sex with a 13-year-old child is rape? The person making this statement is referring to what most of the people posting to this thread evidently view as consenual relations. Unlike the rest of you, he understands the severity and moral turpitude of what Humbert did to Lolita. He understands that Lolita was victimized.

Quote:
. . . is he devoted to this Lolita or does Annabel still hover in the recesses of his mind? You may not agree with this but it seems to me the Annabel episode was added into the mix merely to appease somewhat the readers of Lolita.
It isn't that simple. The issue of transference is tricky. It's a psychological phenomenon, not a moral one. If he truly loves Lolita (although what a pedophile feels for a young girl is not the same emotion normal adults call love), it isn't lessened by the nature of its origins.

By mentioning Annabel, Nabokov was trying to shed some light on one factor that may have contributed to the development of Humbert's proclivities. That doesn't mean his goal was to appease the readers or ease them into a difficult subject. I think he has more respect for the readers' intelligence than to do that.

By the way, foray, although we disagree on several aspects of the novel, I appreciate your viewpoint. And we do agree that it's a wonderful book. Thanks for introducing this topic!

Ant:

Quote:
And as for him hauling across the country, that doesn't consitute as rape, and the only times she ever objected to was when he prohibited her from going to the 'play' or being restrictive over certain things, the abuse of his parental powers. However, I maintain that he never raped her . . .
No, hauling someone across country isn't rape (I did not imply the two were the same), it is kidnapping, to which she objected almost constantly. She complained daily and was miserable most of the time.

It amazes me how you can nonchalantly throw in the phrase "parental powers" and in the very next sentence claim that what he did to her wasn't rape. To me, that is a glaring contradiction.

Quote:
I never made an insinuation that just because she wasn't a virgin, she wasn't raped - my insinuation was that she was relatively experienced in sex already, and in many ways held the upper hand when it came to that matter. She blatantly manipulated him sexually.
Gee, though, it sure sounds like that's what you mean:

Quote:
However, he did not rape her. Any physical act was done willingly out of her own accord. Plus, there is also the fact that she was NOT a virgin when she made love to him.
If you didn't intend to imply that her sexual history made a difference in determining whether rape occurred, I wish you'd made that clearer.

She may have been willing, but the fact remains that she was a child. That makes it rape, period.

Nothing she did to tempt or manipulate him--and I agree that she did a great deal of that--excuses his actions.

Quote:
Humbert can not help loving Lolita, no more than Lolita can help loving someone as perverse as Quilty.
I agree that he can't help, uh, loving her (it chafes me to use that word). You can't control your feelings. But you can control your actions. Humbert did not, and that is inexcusable.
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Old 07-26-2002, 10:42 PM   #12
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From the little I remember from my English class...

Issue #1: Lust or love?

Before I start, let me point out that one critic claimed Lolita as the most believeable love story of our times....

I'd say love mostly. My English professor gave a Freudian theory referring to Annabel... that Nabokov complicated Freud's theory by inverting the primal scene, you know, when you're a kid and you walk into your parent's room and they're doing it.... a young kid could get scarred for life...and in this case, it's the opposite, people walk in on Humbert's innocent sexual escapade, which psychically connects his fixation.

After all the adventures and the love tryst, I think it's inferred near the end that Humbert reminensces the past and tries to analyze his past with Lolita and realizes he really did love her, and therefore he takes it on to avenge Q. ... At least, that's what my prof. argued.

Issue #2: Rape?

Offhand, I actually think that it was Lolita using Humbert as a victim... not the other way around... she was the one more aggressive while Humbert was trying to keep it on the d/l.
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Old 08-01-2002, 03:49 AM   #13
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Yay, I can finally ask this question, I've been meaning to for ages.
I have not read the book or seen the newer version of the movie, just the black and white one which I am assuming is the original, so I'm not terribly well read on the whole story as I saw it ages ago.

But, in regards to the topic here, did anyone feel uncomfortable with the affair as it unfolded? I say affair, but swap it with relationship/interaction whatever is best.

No doubt Nabakov's Lolita is a brilliant story. I have read these replies a few times now and they are all well thought out and intelligent responses. But what is your gut instinct on the relationship? Was anyone uncomfortable watching it?

The twist you posted foray:
Had I come before myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape, and dismissed the rest of the charges.

I wonder if the author used this to show the act is infact wrong, and yes, leaves the rest of the relationship open to interpretation?

So...to get back to your original second point, was it rape, could this be used as an admission? I agree with Shriek that it is rape. When you are looking at the instance of a 13 year old girl and a grown man, consent does not make a difference. It is still rape until the minor turns 16. Introducing the idea that he may very well have loved her in a genuine way, does not retract from the act. It merely, to me, makes the rest of the relationship more difficult to understand.

And while I'm here, may as well say my thoughts on your 1st point out loud and that is I dont know if Humbert could differentiate between love and lust. We may be able to gleam an opinion from watching/reading, but could Humbert?
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Old 08-01-2002, 12:06 PM   #14
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Right on, Angela Harlem.

Quote:
I dont know if Humbert could differentiate between love and lust. We may be able to gleam an opinion from watching/reading, but could Humbert?
Exactly! That is the point I've been trying in a clumsy, roundabout way to get across. You know how sometimes when you feel strongly about something, and think it should be obvious to everyone, you get too frustrated to explain yourself?
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Old 08-02-2002, 08:54 AM   #15
Rock n' Roll Doggie
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: full of sound and fury
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I'm thoroughly enjoying this discussion, especially the ones that oppose my own views. It's refreshing. I have recently read an old article, 'The Lolita Complex' from World Art mag. It's fascinating and talks about how various artists have dealt with the Lolita theme.

There are mainly two trains of thought on the subject. One is the usual vulnerable little girl who fulfils older men's desires; the other is that Lolita has come to be a (healthy) symbol of female sexuality. Artist Jock Sturges' work features highly eroticised figures of naked adolescents which has caused him to be tried for pornography several times. This is ironic because artists like Rita Ackerman and Karen Kilimnik (note, both females) have eroticised adolescent girls in their work as well, but they claim to celebrate rahter than lust after the girls' bodies. I guess it's just different if it comes from a man, cos we don't trust the penis.

What is Humbert were a woman?

Sorry for this short and seemingly hit-and-run post, but I've got to go.

foray
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