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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
As Bennett and Royle assert in their book, An Introduction to Literature and Theory, there are myriad of ways to perceive the beginning of a text. In particular, this essay will focus on the notions that the beginning is when, ‘the author puts his or her first mark on a piece of paper’ and ‘the first idea about a story or poem’. I will assert the argument that Vladimir Nabokov, in his novel Lolita, plays with such ambiguity of the beginnings of stories by having various displacements of them within the text and in doing so forces us to question our ways of reading and in following a narrative.
If we are to perceive the beginning of a text as when ‘the author puts his or her first mark on a piece of paper’ then this would draw our attention to Lolita’s verisimilar foreword, penned by the fictitious editor, John Ray, Jr., who frames the our opinion of the protagonist and subsequent narrator, Humber Humbert, as ‘horrible’, ‘abject’ and guilty of ‘moral leprosy’ (p. 5). This attack on Humbert through the use of a verisimilar foreword could be seen to consolidate societal notions of disgust towards actions of paedophilia, and thus, by starting the text in this way, it can be seen that Nabokov tries to reaffirm our morality before coming under the seduction of Humbert’s prose, his ‘singing violin […] that makes us entranced with the book’ (p. 5). However this interpretation appears too straightforward so as to have Nabokov invent a whole other character to merely entrench societal morality - why would Nabokov not have himself pen the foreword if that was the case? Perhaps it is because Nabokov has an admiration of Humbert slip through the cracks within Ray’s foreword. Not only does Ray admit to being ‘entranced’ by Humbert’s prose, as aforementioned, but he also states, ‘that had our demented diarist gone, in the fatal summer of 1947, to a competent psycho-pathologist, there would have been no disaster; but then, neither would there have been this book” (p. 5). John Ray thus suggests that the existence of Humbert’s ‘book’ counterbalances, or perhaps even outweighs, the immorality of the latter’s sexual intercourse with a young girl, the ‘disaster’, leading one to argue that despite his attack on Humbert as being guilty of ‘moral leprosy’, Nabokov uses John Ray Jr.’s foreword as more of an illustration of the success of an intoxicating prose style in clouding entrenched moral values, not an affirmation of them. Nabokov has already stated his repellence about preconceived notions of a text: ‘If one begins with a ready-made generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it.’ Thus, by starting a novel with a flawed framing of the main text, Nabokov makes a parody of starting with ‘ready-made generalization’ and in turn forces us to question the way in which we not only see beginnings of text (does it really start with the text, or do we already have any preconceptions before reading it?), but also such preconceptions attributed to texts.
Image Credits: newbeginning.org.uk