One of the most (in)famous – and, to this day, still controversial – novels of all time features this first line: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
It’s (obviously) from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
Considering the rest of the book is about an older man raping a child as he takes her on a forced road trip across the U.S., this is a pretty bold opening line, wouldn’t you agree?
Please don’t mansplain to me why this is, indeed, “the only convincing love story of our century,” as Vanity Fair had the balls to say about it. (And how the publisher seems to delight in placing on the book’s cover, right next to the taunting nymph-child image…) Instead, I suggest reading this Brain Pickings article about the cover art and Nabokov’s own feelings about it.
Here is a much more telling moment from the book, when Humbert seems to actually, finally acknowledge his own monstrous behavior:
We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.
But does he really admit to anything? Any guilt, any ownership or responsibility for his own actions?
He seems much more troubled about the way he has treated America than his young victim, Lolita.
If you still need more incentive to read (or re-read) this book, you should know that it contains a thoroughly unreliable narrator, with whom you will wrestle if you have any conscience at all, as he is a slick sadist, a rapist, an unrepentant child molester. It’s a piece of literature that must be read with a critical eye, and a finely-tuned bullshit detector – preferably in the company of women, so you can also hear their side of this story, which almost always prompts stories of their own abuse at the hands of men just like Humbert, and a debate about whether this book should be considered art or just pornography.
Indeed, you may also wonder whether the telling of Humbert Humbert’s tale is truly necessary, in a world where rapists are still considered “victims,” where a rapist’s father would dare to print an open letter suggesting his son was the victim in a trial with a quite open-and-shut case of assault on an innocent (and unconscious) woman, where the true victims of such assaults must stand trial as if they are the ones who have committed crimes – yet the perpetrators are never even once questioned about their motives, intent, or actions.
Hopefully, you have already read the Stanford victim’s letter to her rapist, which provides a stark contrast to Humbert’s purple prose. You may have also read John Pavlovitz’s open letter, a fellow father’s response to Brock Turner’s father.
These are far more important pieces, in modern-day America, because they shine a light on exactly what is wrong with our country, in plain and simple terms.
Read Lolita, and think about rape culture in our country.
What’s YOUR favorite first line?
Leave a comment below and your favorite first line could be featured in an upcoming Friday post!