1. “Lolita” should make all of us—parents, social workers, educators—apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.
This quotation, from the end of the fake foreword to Lolita by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., sounds like a serious pronouncement. However, by the time the reader has finished the novel, its assessment sounds patently ridiculous. As an editor of psychology books, Ray is understandably attached to the notions that psychology can shed an illuminating light on Lolita and that the novel might become a notable book in psychiatric circles. However, Nabokov, an outspoken critic of psychology, writes Lolita from a romantic point of view, portraying Humbert’s impulses as emotional and artistic, rather than psychological or scientific. Themes such as lust and love were, for Nabokov, greater than the sum of their scientific explanations. As a result, Ray’s attempt to assert that Lolita has some “social significance” is comical, an indication that Nabokov intends to derail a psychological explanation of his novel, in favor of a more magical or emotional one.
This quotation also seems heavy-handed in its assumption that the moral of Lolita will be clear to the reader. While Nabokov does not excuse Humbert’s pedophilia or his controlling nature, and while he clearly outlines Lolita’s loss of innocence and corruption, Lolita is not a morally didactic novel. Nabokov makes Humbert speak in romantic, persuasive tones that convince a reader to sympathize with Humbert’s pedophiliac impulses, even as the reader is repulsed by those impulses. Humbert is not portrayed wholly as a villain, and Lolita is no deflowered virgin: thelines between good and evil are not clearly drawn. Even Quilty, who lurks behind the scenes as a malevolent shadow, is more similar than dissimilar to Humbert. The so-called moral impulses scattered through the novel, such as Charlotte’s religious tendencies and Pratt’s psychological analysis, are portrayed comically. Such moralizing often leads to absurd conclusions and blinds the characters to the truth of what is happening around them. As a result, Ray’s assertion that Lolita must have a moral lesson seems like a foolish attempt to justify the beauty of a novel that deals with such sordid, immoral subject matter.