Let’s Get Into Character

Think about a paedophile’s daily diary: yellow stained pages (or stained yellow pages, if you must), scrawny handwritten accounts of disgusting pleasure, half-baked buns of fantasy smeared with rotten butter, and similar. It will invoke revulsion, loathing, and maybe even sympathy towards such madness. But, would such a diary invoke literary mirth and intellectual satisfaction in the reader? Probably not.

Think about the paedophile’s victim: a pretty 13 year old. Innocent to the point of being naive; at least in most matters. Dainty, reciting poems from memory, sobbing, throwing pebbles at the caged dog, slightly sadistic – as only children can be, charming in spite of muddy toes, and sprinkled with other Nobokovian adjectives. Think of the child’s Dear Diary: pages stained with salty drops of tears, fantasies of sand castles, running in parks, convoluted stories with toy characters (no adult toys featured in the Dear Diary; those are reserved for real life), candy cravings, a lot of loved loving and a lot of hated loving, and similar. Such a Dear Diary would invoke grief, pathos, hatred, helplessness, love, bitterness, and maybe even murderous rage. But, would it make you chuckle at its wit or marvel at its genius or exasperate you with its self referential cleverness or make you wish that there was an annotated version somewhere? Probably not.

Here is what I think Nabokov did while writing Lolita. He picked a situation, infused some characters, and become one: Humbert Humbert. It might have been difficult to look at the scene from just one set of eyes, in case he had created the scene “objectively.” But he did manage to pull it off, and it has become the first person narrative classic. How do I know all this? Humbert told me so. There lies its charm (chasm, I might add). I will never really know what the “objective” scene was. Now, is it possible to go beyond Humbert’s viewpoint and extract the “objective” situation from his description: just the facts? If so, is it possible to go further and look at the situation from some other character’s viewpoint? If so, what would Lolita’s viewpoint be?

I know that Humbert’s diary was far from boring, and in spite of disgust, it did invoke literary mirth and intellectual satisfaction in me. Is it possible that Lolita’s diary would leave me with the same literary and intellectual high, despite the pathos, helplessness, and pain? I am not sure. Humbert insists that Lolita’s viewpoint would be boring. She didn’t have his exquisite European cultural tailoring; she couldn’t compete with his supreme romanticism; she was not diabolical enough; she just didn’t have his genius to write The Confession of a White Widowed Male. That’s what he insists, of course.

But for some reason, my gut insists that her Dear Diary, or, as as its alternate title would read: The Confession of a Nymphomaniacal Nymphet – would be as clever, as mirthful, and as stimulating (intellectually too) as his confession, if not more. Imagine Humbert never knowing that she was playing his own game with him. I wonder if Nabokov ever thought about it. He must’ve; and if he had, did he ever want to write “I, Lolita.”

I will attempt it someday. I will get into character.

7 thoughts on “Let’s Get Into Character

  1. good thought.
    Do publish “I,Lolita” if u manage to start and finish flowing across the emotional trails of Lolita.
    I wonder, how it would shape up!
    another tragicomedy, another “Enchanted hunters” , another piece of nabokovism or may be another kubrick magic.

  2. I, Lolita may not have the lyrical qualities of Humbert’s diary but it will still have the connectedness to art (aesthetic bliss) which Nabokov claims to have been the purpose of the novel. Lolita, Dolly, Doloraz Haze, Mrs, Richard F. Schiller. While reading the novel, I desperately tried to look through the concave prism of Humbert Humbert to read into Dolly’s psyche. It is clear that she was no longer the twelve year some months odd little nymphet H.H. had met. With few hints from other characters (Miss Pratt – “She is still shuttling between the anal and genital zones of development…..All I mean is biologic and pyschologic drives – are not fused.” )- the numerous suggestions about real girl that she was – in the form of “she said” sentences – and the later confessions of H.H. (“it was always my habit and method to ignore Lolita’s states of mind while comforting my own base self”) – there is enough room to speculate that Lolita in her blaise manner could recount her own dreadful, complex, convoluted story keeping the reader intrigued and empathized with machinations of her own mind. I, for one, will read through it with the same ecstasy I felt with Lolita.

  3. As for the objectivity issue – I am tempted to quote something about art itself – not quite verbatim – but it said “the work of art need not have a relationship to the actual world…it is not a description or an illusion of that actuality, but rather it is in and of itself its own reality, a real thing.” May be thats what Nabokov meant by saying Lolita is an art piece. In the same way, we should treat “I, Lolita” or whatever you choose to call it.

  4. Though I am quite kicked by the idea of writing the alternate viewpoint in the Humbertesque style, I sometimes do wonder whether I would be doing it had I been in Dolly’s position in real life.

    When writers pick up themes for dark humour, be it murder, racism, rape, child abuse, or anything that provokes disgust, pain, sorrow, etc. do they have a choice? As in, choice to write something else/better? or is the aesthetic pleasure of indulging in dark humour by itself worth it?

    I don’t know.

  5. The question is perhaps what are you writing for? I believe writing is a unique way of giving others insights into a certain experience one can never have, or into the subjective experience of the writer. It exploits the mental constructs – imagined or unimagined. It can be phenomenal, empirical, aesthetical, libertarian, rationalist, idealist. But do we really have a choice is a larger philosophical question. And what choice the writer shall make is one of personal bias. I do doubt that the appeal of a work if it was written only to provoke certain sentiments.

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