Humbert Humbert, a Lover, a Lunatic, and a Poet?
In retrospect to William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night-Dream, the labels “lunatic” “lover” and “poet” are interpreted to be of the imagination and all three are one in the same. It is specifically quoted as saying “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination, all compact (Act V Scene i).” Humbert Humbert, the protagonist in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1957 novel Lolita can easily be identified as a lunatic and a lover. The idea of equally indentifying Humbert as a poet is taboo but by using literary evidence, it is possible.
Humbert Humbert’s path to lunacy began with a childhood romance with Annabel Leigh, the daughter of a family friend. The couple’s failed attempts at consummating their love sparked his “nympholepsy”. The use of the suffix “epsy” indicates a neurological disorder but Humbert’s “nympholepsy” is not an uncontrollable neurological disorder such as narcolepsy or epilepsy. The day Humbert ventured to the Haze residence, 342 Lawn Street, Humbert the lunatic arrived instead. It wasn’t until twenty years after Annabel’s death from typhus that he got over her. Twenty years after her death, he met Delores Haze. At first he is unimpressed with the house and the matriarch of the household Charlotte Haze, but after noticing the beautiful “nymphet” Delores whom many called Lolita, Lo, and Dolly he eagerly accepts Charlotte’s offer of room and board. Only a lunatic would desire and lust after the body of a twelve year old girl. Throughout the novel there is an internal conflict between Humbert’s desire and his conscience. In Part II Chapter 3 of the novel after the death of Charlotte Haze he ponders if he is now Lolita's legal guardian. He even contemplates showing her “fatherly” affection and love but his lunacy driven passion takes over and the only affection Lolita is shown is the kind she is accustomed to; sexual. The sexual deviancy and disregard others of Humbert Humbert define him as a lunatic.
Unbeknownst to Humbert, his lack of genuine love and neglect is what drives Lolita away. Although it is not until Part II Chapter 22 that Lolita is physically gone, emotionally she left Humbert years ago. In Part II Chapter 7 her morals and her emotional attraction to Humbert started to diminish as she begins demanding money for sexual favors. Besides being a pedophile, Humbert Humbert grows paranoid over the years. He takes back the money she earns for the “favors” without Lolita's knowledge, forbids her to socialize with boys, and tightens his grip on Lolita. His actions classify his paranoia on a lunatic level. Irony is spread all over Lolita during the times Humbert thinks it is him manipulating Lolita. After the argument that occurred in Part II Chapter 14, Lolita picks the places they travel to. Humbert thinks nothing of it until Lolita runs off with a mysterious man who Humbert referred to as “Detective Trapp”. That mysterious man, Clare Quilty, had been following the duo since their encounter at the Enchanted Hunter’s Hotel. Also known as Cue, the famous playwright was “The only man she [Lolita] had ever been crazy about (Nabokov Part II Chapter 29).” Although like Humbert, Clare was a pedophile, Lolita was attracted to him since he didn’t hide his unnatural obsession. The reason Lolita stayed with Humbert for so long was because she yearned for the affection that only a parent can give. Lolita waited for four years that Humbert would be the one to show her it. While in prison Humbert reflects upon the failure of a job he did of fathering Lolita. In Part II Chapter 31 he recalled the time that Lolita burst into tears after witnessing the father-daughter affection she desperately craved. Eventually she grew tired of waiting and left him for Clare Quilty. Months after her disappearance, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita. The letter opens with “Dear Dad,” her last attempt to receive parental love. She writes to inform him of her pregnancy, new husband, and new life but her ulterior motive for writing him is revealed when in Part II Chapter 29 heavily pregnant Lolita receives a surprise visitor, Humbert Humbert. She offers him sex for money, an offer that Humbert turns down. He begs her to come with him promising a “happily ever after”. Still Humbert couldn’t comprehend the love Lolita needed. Lolita refuses harshly saying she would rather go back to Quilty than him. Their reunion was Humbert’s last chance to show fatherly love and he blew it. When Humbert promises that he will always love Lolita even after everything the two have been through, Humbert the lover is shown. Lolita, no longer a nymphet by any means, pregnant, and matured, is more beautiful to Humbert than she ever was. It’s ironic that in this scene of Lolita that it is her who is wearing glasses, but it seems as though Humbert needed his vision correct. Finally he saw the natural and moral beauty he spurned for so many years instead of the sexual beauty of “nymphets” he craved. It is when we see through sexual beauty and recognize natural beauty that we transition from lust to love. That is what Humbert Humbert did, and that is what makes him a lover.
Contrary to the common uses of the title “poet,” a more complex definition would be one who is a master creator and manipulator with expertise in matters relating to passion. William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and William Blake were well known poets. Their matter of passion was diction. Humbert Humbert’s was Delores Haze. Humbert Humbert manipulated Delores Haze until she was his epitome of perfection, his Dolly. The variation of Delores serves as a motif in Lolita. In a literal sense, a doll or “Dolly” is beautiful on the outside, and hollow in the head. Beautiful and mentally empty were the two characteristics of his ideal “nymphet”. Humbert spends a majority of the novel crafting Delores Haze into his prized possession, his “Dolly”. He preferred Lolita stiff and lifeless during their first sexual encounter so Humbert provides her with “Vitamin X”. In actuality “Vitamin X” was a sleeping pill. Humbert explains to us whom he refers to as the “jury” that he wanted to preserve her purity which gave him the idea to drug her (Nabokov Part I Chapter 28). Humbert’s plan was thwarted; he did not have intercourse with Dolly. He had sex with Lolita. Lolita was in control for the duration of the act, much to Humbert's dissatisfaction (Nabokov Part I Chapter 29). Eventually Humbert notices Lolita’s personality flaws. As stated in Part II Chapter 1, Humbert considered her to be a huge brat, unexceptional, and gullible. He ignored her personality flaws and tried to build his “Dolly” the way he wanted so he enrolled her in the finest all-girls school and kept her on a very tight leash. His strict rules and paranoia were simply because he did not want his prized possession, his Dolly, to crack. Dolly Haze was not a person, she was an idea. “It is not that Humbert finds his lover; it is that he creates her.” (Schuman 3) After the death of Delores Haze, the idea of Dolly lives on. Even while imprisoned Humbert is affected by his passion for his creation. His passion wasn’t nymphets, his passion was the idea of the perfect nymphet; Dolly.
The tragic combination of Lolita and Humbert was doomed from the beginning. Driven by the passion for his creation, Humbert Humbert descends into lunacy in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1957 novel Lolita. Humbert has lived simultaneously as a lunatic, a lover, and a poet. He was a lunatic lusting after the body of a young girl, a lover for seeing the natural beauty of Delores Haze, and a poet for the creation and manipulation of “Dolly”, his epitome of perfection. With each label his downfall was a result of his passion. Had Humbert Humbert lived up to only one of the three roles, his fate would still have been the same, life imprisonment. Shakespeare was right in indentifying lovers, lunatics, and poets as one in the same. Lovers are often so passionate that they can be identified as lunatics, lunatics are known for their strange love/obsession; poets love their creations and would do drastic things for them; and lovers create happiness with hopes of preserving that happiness and love. Humbert Humbert loved Lolita so much and was passionate for her that his paranoia got the best of him driving him insane; he was a sexual deviant for the way he lusted after her; and killed the very man he considered to be a threat to achieving his epitome of perfection, his Dolly. Humbert Humbert was more than a lunatic and a lover, he was a poet.
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