LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
Adapting the character
“Lolita” is a 1955
novel written by Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. The novel is
notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator—a
middle-aged literature professor called Humbert Humbert—is obsessed with the
12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he
becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.
The novel was originally written in English and first published in Paris in
1955 by Olympia Press. Later it was translated into Russian by Nabokov himself
and published in New York City in 1967 by Phaedra Publishers.Lolita quickly
attained a classic status. The novel was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick
in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne.
Because the novel is a first
person narrative we are given little information about what Lolita is like a
person, that in effect she has been silenced by not being the book’s narrator.
Lolita is the object of Humbert’s love, a young girl who epitomizes the
seductive qualities of the nymphet. Though she seems to like Humbert at first,
over time she grows irritated with him and defies his authority. Beautiful, she
is also vulgar, crude, and attached to popular culture.
Humbert portrays his victim Lolita at the beginning of the novel as a
lively, innocent 12-year-old girl who is vulnerable because she has been
neglected by her mother. He characterizes her as spirited, intelligent, and
sly, trying to get attention and her own way.
In the book Lolita has the horrendous burden of playing so many roles, and
not only is her very young age and relative inexperience a hindrance, the
unexpected death of her mother leaving her alone in the world deals a savage
blow. In light of what she is forced to
go through, she should be given high marks for her performances. Lolita’s suffering is intense and real, but
is largely hidden beneath Humbert’s endless justifying and moralizing.
Lolita, of course, must juggle many
roles: the average American
preadolescent unconcerned with academics and keenly interested in movie stars,
food, and clothes. This is her surface
role, the one under normal circumstances she would have, and should have, been
allowed to follow exclusively. Other
roles forced upon her are the jaded and bored prostitute and the deadened,
helpless, despairing child.
Compared to the book Lolita’s character undergoes significant changes in
therms of both personality and appearance. Much of the meaning and plot is lost
in the movie. The film was made from a script in which the characters have the
same names as the characters in the book,the plot bears a resemblance to the
original and some of the incidents are vaguely similar.But the
“Lolita” that Vladimir Nabokov wrote as a novel and the
“Lolita” he wrote to be a film, directed by Stanley Kubrick are two
prominently different things.
In the first place, the character of Lolita is not a child in the movie.
Lolita is twelve in the novel and
fourteen years old in the film played by an actress, Sue Lyon-a new-comer, who
was sixteen. For an American 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 audience of the 1960. With
this distinction we can say she is definitely not a “nymphet.”
Right away, this removes the factor of perverted desire that is in the book
and renders the passion of the hero more normal and understandable. It also
renders the drama more in line with others we have seen. Older men have often
pined for younger females. This is nothing new on the screen.
Since the censors woukd allow nothing close to a suggestion of pedophilia,
Lolita’s has to be increased from twelve in Vladimir Nabokov’s original novel
to 14 for the film.They also objected to a scene where Humbert was to gaze at
Lolita’s picture while in bed with her mother Charlotte.In the end the scene
was filmed with Charlotte lying fully dressed on the bed and Humbert lying
beside her wearing a robe.
The age difference was just an handy tool to make the audience feel more
comfortable about watching an older man seek out and seduce a young girl. In
the novel there are 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. While Nabokov’s
Lolita is fully aware of her sexual power over man Kubrik’s Lolita is a brat
and not self aware enough to fully utilize her “nymphet” abilities.
Another difference we can identify between the movie and the book is the
way in which Lolita is portrayed. In the book Humbert described Lolita wearing
tomboy, oversized and messy clothing.It was only after Charlotte’s death that
Humbert picked Lolita from camp and bought and dressed her in more feminine
clothing. In the movie, Lolita wears dresses and more feminine clothing in the
beginning plot. In this way, I think Stanley was trying to make Lolita appear more
alluring.He was trying to present a more attractive Lolita than was portrayed
The greatest weakness of the Stanley Kubrick version is that it’s forced to
skip around certain details that are important in the novel and it doesn’t
always capture the tone of it’s writing .
In regards with Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov and Stanley Kubrick are complete
opposites. Nabokov is poetic with words while Kubrick is blunt with his vision.