Brevis 2014 Lolita

Title Information

Author: Chad Brevis

Title: Taboo Topics in Fiction

Subtitle: The Case of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Thesis: M.Ed. Thesis, University of Western Cape

Year: May 2014

Pages: x + 158pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 20th Century | U.S. History | Representations: Literature / Vladimir Nabokov; Types: Child Sexual Abuse

Full Text

Link: UWC Electronic Theses and Dissertations Repository (Free Access)

Additional Information


»Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita (1955) is set in the 1950’s U.S.A. It tells a story about an aging literature professor from Europe, Humbert Humbert, who obsessively pursues his sexual passions for underage girls he calls nymphets. He undertakes to tutor a young girl, Dolores Haze, who he refers to as “Lolita”. He lodges with the widowed mother and daughter and agrees to marry Lolita’s mother, Charlotte Haze, in order to better pursue his sexual desires for Lolita. The novel takes the form of a monologue in which Humbert, who is at this point on a frantic search for Lolita after she escaped with her former drama teacher, Clare Quilty, from hospital where she was admitted with a bad case of the influenza, attempts to justify his love and obsession with the pubescent Lolita.
An important aspect of my thesis is the discussion of the various narrators in the novel; Vladimir Nabokov, John Ray Jnr. and Humbert Humbert. The novel, or Humbert’s memoirs, is only published after Lolita has died in order to preserve her dignity. John Ray Jnr. is the psychologist who is charged with editing Humbert's memoirs to ensure that no lewd details are published. This brings problems of their own, as we find that John Ray Jnr. has clear moral perceptions of Humbert as a person. This effectively creates a fiction within a fiction, which is already set in the fictitious genre of the novel. Vladimir Nabokov arguably informs the novel with his own ethics and ethos. This interrogates the reliability of the narrators and calls into question the truth-value of fiction and the inappropriateness of the law to ban fiction that discusses taboo issues.
The main aim of my thesis is to discredit Humbert as a reliable narrator and character by analysing the taboo issues of paedophilia, incest, rape and murder. This will be done in order to show how Nabokov proposes alternative morals by deconstructing traditional morality using taboo topics in fiction.
The particular focus on paedophilia, incest and rape within the novel prioritises child sexual abuse as Humbert’s main transgression. However, my thesis further suggests that this is not his only crime. The narrative of the novel, being in the first person, gives Humbert the power to effectively erase the voice of Lolita, a power which he exercises with impunity. Humbert can tell his version of a story in a way that elicits the reader’s sympathy. The reader is left with a sense of confusion as they at once are seduced by Humbert's charm, yet abhor him for the crime of child sexual abuse. This internal moral struggle by the reader has lead to the novel being read with confusion or with preconceived expectations.
My thesis further looks at the banning of the novel in developing countries under totalitarian rule. Tehran under strict Islamic rule and South Africa under the Apartheid regime are analysed. Chapter two looks at how approaching a reading of the novel with preconceived notions of morality, particularly under the totalitarian rule of these two regimes, has affected the free publishing and distribution of the novel.
My thesis proposes that writing fiction is a self-conscious artistic action that can transgress socially acceptable morality. Using the fiction as a catalyst, it can propose alternative morals and does not simply promote the taboo issues it discusses. By doing this, my thesis discusses how the novel deconstructs traditional morals using taboo topics without making the novel undesirable or objectionable.
My thesis concludes that fiction can use sensitive and taboo topics to discuss and teach alternative perceptions and worldviews, and that no fiction should be banned unless it violates and impinges on fundamental human rights.« (Source: Thesis)


  Abstract (p. iii)
  Declaration (p. v)
  Acknowledgments (p. vi)
  Dedication (p. viii)
  Introduction (p. 1)
  Chapter one: An Introduction to Lolita and Paedophilia (p. 4)
    1) A brief Synopsis of the Novel (p. 4)
    2) A Brief Biography of Vladimir Nabokov (p. 8)
    3) A Brief View of Paedophilia: a South African Case (p. 11)
    4) Nabokov's Ethics: A View of Paedophilia in Lolita (p. 14)
    5) Lolita Banned: A Look at the Controversy of, and Contestation over, the Novel (p. 21)
    6) Defining the Taboos in Lolita (p. 31)
  Chapter two: Paratext and Authoritarian Responses to Lolita (p. 48)
    1) Critical Essays Commenting on the Resistance to Lolita (p. 50)
    2) Lolita As Artistic Expression and Cultural Phenomenon (p. 69)
    3) Authoritarian Responses to Lolita: The Tehran Case (p. 75)
    4) Authoritarian Responses to Lolita: The South African, Apartheid Case (p. 84)
  Chapter three: Humbert: An Analysis of Deception (p. 95)
    1) Humbert's Unreliability: Deception (p. 95)
    2) Humbert's Request for Reader's Participation in Abuse (p. 111)
  Chapter four: Lolita and Nabokov: Taboo Topics in Fiction (p. 121)
    1) The Taboos in Fiction: Lolita's Paedophilia, Incest and Rape (p. 121)
    2) Nabokov's Taboos: The Afterword Worldview (p. 137)
    3) Taboos: The World of the Text and the World Outside of the Text (p. 147)
  Conclusion (p. 150)
  Bibliography (p. 155)
    Primary Texts (p. 155)
    Archival Material (p. 155)
    Fiction and Theory (p. 155)
    Reception of Lolita (p. 156)
    Critical Essays on Lolita (p. 157)
    Biography and Critique of Vladimir Nabokov (p. 158)

Wikipedia: Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita

Added: December 6, 2014 – Last updated: December 6, 2014