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Strange English
Is it because it's Russian ?
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2014/04/16
7:38pm
Robert
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Am I alone to feel the last clause below (starting “About…”) bewilderingly weird ?

“… there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child….Oh when?  About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer.”

The English is straight, and the logic is flawless (it is a perfect answer to the question ‘when?’ )   But somehow it totally throws me off course.

Maybe I am alone.

2014/04/16
11:28pm
tromboniator
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I find it charmingly poetic.

Peter

2014/04/17
1:03am
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This is like a math riddle. The “certain initial girl-child” was obviously not Lolita. If the character (Humbert Humbert) was, say, 16 years old at the time of that initial encounter, then the story line declares that character was 16 years older than Lolita. The Lolita character (Dolores Haze) was 12 years old in the novel, which would make the protagonist (antagonist?) 28 at the time of their encounters.

I agree with Robert though … seems like Nabokov could have been a bit more transparent with his narrative. But I also agree with Tromboniator that it’s kind of a poetic way to say something that could have been expressed more simply. I guess that’s what great writing is all about. Many “lists” put Lolita in the top 100 novels of all time. Personally, I didn’t much care for it.

2014/04/17
7:35am
Dick
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Heimhenge said
This is like a math riddle. The “certain initial girl-child” was obviously not Lolita. If the character (Humbert Humbert) was, say, 16 years old at the time of that initial encounter, then the story line declares that character was 16 years older than Lolita. The Lolita character (Dolores Haze) was 12 years old in the novel, which would make the protagonist (antagonist?) 28 at the time of their encounters.

I think you’re calculating this wrong.  If Humbert was 16 at the time of the encounter with the earlier girl, then he was 32 when Lolita was born.  Since she is now 12, he is now 48.  However, other places in the book (he was born in 1910 and it is currently 1947) show that he is now 36 or 37, about 3 times older than Lolita.  So he must have been 12 at the earlier encounter.

Also, Robert asks in his heading, “Is it because it’s Russian ?”  I just discovered that, even though Nabokov was Russian, Lolita was written in English and later translated to Russian.  That probably makes no difference since a Russian mind came up with the wording.

I, too, believe it is poetic and was written this way to achieve that end.

2014/04/17
10:19am
New River, AZ, USA
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Dick Said: I think you’re calculating this wrong.  If Humbert was 16 at the time of the encounter with the earlier girl, then he was 32 when Lolita was born.  Since she is now 12, he is now 48.  However, other places in the book (he was born in 1910 and it is currently 1947) show that he is now 36 or 37, about 3 times older than Lolita.  So he must have been 12 at the earlier encounter.

You are, of course, correct. Note to self: Do not attempt arithmetic after 1 am.  :)

2014/04/17
6:09pm
Robert
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Dick Said: he was 32 when Lolita was born.  Since she is now 12, he is now 48.    44, no?

 

Since then I’ve thought about the cause of my being perplexed (at the expense of failing to see the poetry in it).

I am familiar with comparative expressions  where one side of the equation explains the other, but in an emphatic way, like this:

As many fish as there are stars in the sky.

As few good men as can be counted on one hand.

The problem with the one by Nabokov is that he made  both sides of the equation unknown, hence the perplexed feeling.  And instead of answering the question when? at all,  all he did was suddenly  throw in a shocking idea, that of a child as a man’s lover.

If Mr. Nabokov purpose was to cause perplexity and shock, that makes me an unwitting, or accidental, appreciator of literature.

 

2014/04/17
6:38pm
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Robert said: The problem with the one by Nabokov is that he made  both sides of the equation unknown, hence the perplexed feeling.  On top of that, the shock from how cavalierly  girls are suddenly thrown in.

Hey Robert, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Being strictly left-brained, that stuff happens to me all the time with prose. And I hadn’t read Nabokov’s work in over two decades. I should have checked the source text, and I would have caught the references Dick alluded to. The late hour of my reply (plus a couple shots of fine single-malt scotch) clouded my reasoning.  :)

I ran into the same difficulties when reading works by Vonnegut, Conrad, Kerouac, and other free-thinkers. Sometimes I just can’t connect to the deeper meanings in some literature. It goes way beyond just “knowing” the language. Persevere, bro. That’s why this forum is such a great resource.

2014/04/18
1:42am
Robert
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Actually , not pretending to be a literature professor, I believe he set it up as a kinky grammar code as prelude to other kinds of kinkiness  to come.

2014/04/18
7:44pm
deaconB
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I always assumed that the writing in Lolita was deliberately munged to disguise the writer’s identity.

Anne Rice eventually wrote some pretty kinky stuff under her own name, but her A. N. Roquelaure stuff had a very different writing style.  And she wasn’t facing prison like Nabokov would have been.

 

2014/04/18
11:17pm
Dick
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deaconB said
And she wasn’t facing prison like Nabokov would have been.

 

Nabokov was living in the United States in the early 50s when he wrote Lolita.  Maybe he was thinking of something worse than prison.

2014/04/20
5:57am
deaconB
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Dick said

deaconB said
And she wasn’t facing prison like Nabokov would have been.

 

Nabokov was living in the United States in the early 50s when he wrote Lolita.  Maybe he was thinking of something worse than prison.

Marriage?  The book makes that clear.

A friend of mine pointed out that everybody hates their middle name, and wondered what Humbert’s middle name was. She said that if homosexuality was caused by your mother dressing you funny, Humbert’s sexual persona could be blamed on a mother who abused him early and often, starting with giving him that name. 

2014/04/20
4:24pm
Robert
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I don’t  see the thing about prison and marriage (or misunderstand)- Nabokov was married way back in 1922, and seemed close with his wife, who during Lolita  was all in it with him.

This question is always valid though: If you empathize so well with certain personality traits (enough to write book about them ), does that mean you yourself be automatically suspect?    (It doesn’t matter that all you write be imagined;  it’s the passion you invest in it that’s enough. )

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