'The word is incest': Sexual and linguistic coercion in Lolita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

The structure of Lolita offers readers an apparent Hobson's choice betweena moral reading that acknowledges the depravity of Humbert Humbert'ssexual relationship with 12-year-old Dolly Haze but denies all pleasure,and an aesthetic reading that scrutinizes the text's gratifications alone,requiring readers to sidestep the incest theme. Humbert's narrative controlimplies that readers have no option but to choose between these tworeadings, just as Dolly would seem to have no option Other thanacquiescence to Humbert's erotic overtures. Yet the reader, like Dolly, canrefuse Humbert and Nabokov's terms and step outside their mirrored hallby creating a counter-narrative in which recognizing incest and enjoyingthe text are not contraries but instead exist simultaneously and in collusionwith each other. Thematic incest in Lolita helps to create the dilemmareaders feel, but incest also has a narrative structure that provides a way outof Lolitds double-bind. Incest is central to Nabokov's text as a conceptualframe that, by creating and denying the pleasure of the text, links Lolitdstheme and its narrative structure. Incest comprises a physical dimension,in which an adult makes sexual advances to a child, and a narrativedimension, in which child and adult offer competing and mutuallyexclusive stories. For purposes of this article, incest describes narrativecontests of control and resistance, contests of meaning that structure theinterplay of erotic transgression, accusation and defence which pervadesLolita.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-294
Number of pages22
JournalTextual Practice
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1999

Keywords

  • Child sexual abuse
  • Incest
  • Lolita
  • Nabokov
  • Narrative structures

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of ''The word is incest': Sexual and linguistic coercion in Lolita'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this