I was listening to a radio station the other day, and one of the morning show hosts was talking about warm spring weather and all of the high school girls starting to wear short shorts like a bunch of “Lolitas”.
Oh, the literary rage.
It bothers me to no end that the term “lolita” has somehow been transformed in our society to mean a young girl who dresses and acts intentionally suggestively for her age. A girl who is “tempting” to older men despite being completely off-limits. That is what Lolita now seems to mean.
I imagine it goes without saying that most people throwing around the term have never picked up the book that created the character they’re now casually referencing.
The most frightening thing about the misappropriation of “Lolita” isn’t the actual content of the book – disturbing and dark though it is – it’s the fact that society has taken that content and twisted it into something desirable. And more to the point, something that places the blame of the temptation on the young girl. And I mean young. It should be noted that the Lolita of Nabokov’s novel is 12 years old. Yes. Twelve. In film versions, you’ll find her portrayed at least as a young teenager, as if that somehow makes the story more palletable. More believable that maybe she had some part in seducing Humbert Humbert. That it was not 100% the result of a fully-grown adult man kidnapping ,drugging and maintaining a sexual relationship with a 12 year old child, but that surely she must have done something to provoke his desires.
The Lolita Effect is worsened by almost (but not quite) every book cover you’ll find in existence. Nabokov’s specific original instructions for all covers of the book were that they were not to include any rendering of a romantically-depicted young girl. And what do you find on almost every cover of every copy of Lolita? An image of a young girl – just her lips, just her legs, some portion of her that hints at the content within. Because that’s what sells. And that’s what’s disturbing.
Lolita is a fantastic novel, and well worth reading. But the point of it isn’t to walk away thinking that what Humbert Humbert did is acceptable. The book is not a love story, and it’s not the story of a young girl seducing a grown man. There is not one single romantic aspect of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita – also called Lo, also called Dolores.
And what does it say about our society that the most widely-recognized aspect of such a novel is the misused but universal understanding of the term “Lolita”?