Original publication date: MONDAY NOVEMBER 30TH, 2009. Republished with kind permission from John Williams.
His Sin, Her Soul
By Natalia Antonova
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The luster of scandal wore off Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a while ago. Anyone reading the testimony of Roman Polanski’s teenage victim on The Smoking Gun must have little capacity to be shocked by Humbert Humbert’s fictional crimes. I’m willing to bet that for the modern reader, the only shocking thing about Lolita is how the writing transforms the subject matter into a thing of startling beauty, and how effortlessly Nabokov avoids prurience in order to create something more chilling.
But while the scandal of it may have faded, the book’s vocabulary continues to live a life of its own. When a young girl is called a Lolita, we imagine a knowingly hyper-sexualized child, one who wears too much of her older sister’s make-up and lets her underwear peek out as she wanders into the peripheral vision of some man. If “Lolita” isn’t always code for “she was asking for it,” it’s at least a suggestion of some impropriety or mitigating factor, an indication that an older man’s younger victim wasn’t exactly a gentle-faced virgin — or she certainly didn’t look like it, Your Honor.
In light of this cultural appropriation, I wasn’t surprised when a fairly good friend asked me why on earth I — a stridently vocal survivor of sexual abuse, someone who screams her head off every time someone shrugs that “boys will be boys” — would profess so much admiration for Nabokov’s most famous book. Don’t I realize that Lolita the book and Lolita the term feed off one another in the public sphere? And that even if it were possible to separate it from the hiss of cultural static that has amplified around it over the years, Lolita is still a book that takes an extremely ugly story and makes it extremely gorgeous? Implicit in these inquiries was the real question, of course, which emerged after my replies failed to satisfy: “How can you stand reading it, with everything you say you have been through?” Continue reading “His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)”
For some reason (possibly because I’m very lucky or because I have the habit of ignoring the world around me), I get surprised when men say sexist stuff to me about my work. I was in a Moscow bar recently on a dark and stormy night, and a typical twatty overpaid British expat man of the sort that should be displayed at the zoo with a plaque reading Typical Twatty Overpaid British Expat Man told me it must be “quite nice” to have “such a fashionable hobby” as writing plays – with zero irony, of course, because I must be a bored rich girl (ahahahaha) who must go through a phase of thinking she’s the next Beckett before moving on to pottery or adult coloring books or whatever it is that bored rich girls do. Oh, and he “used to have a girlfriend who wrote plays” but “she’s in marketing now.” I do hope that “in marketing now” is a euphemism for “slept with his best friend.”
Anyway, although sexism with regard to women writers surprises me every time, and although I rarely pay attention to whether or not the author I’m reading is a woman, it must be said that not everyone thinks like me. So here’s a list of some of my favorite female writers, and their books and plays, because it’s IWD, and because whatever. They are great not because they are written by women. They are great because they are great. Continue reading “International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire”
When I was fourteen, I bought a copy of “Human Croquet” after reading about it in a magazine for girls (unexpected choice by the editor, I’ve come to realize). I had the original receipt for a while and jotted down the exact time, down to the minute, and place where the book was purchased.
I came back to that inscription in my senior year at Duke, when I was writing my (let’s face it, terrible) honors thesis on “Human Croquet.”
“Acquired at 7:33 p.m., May 17, 1998, Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Charlotte, NC.”
There wasn’t much I understood at twenty, but I did understand why I wrote down the contents of the receipt. I was recording a life-changing moment. I met Michael Cunningham once when he came to give a talk at Duke, and he jovially discussed having his life upended by Virginia Woolf, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I wasn’t weird. Kate Atkinson just happened to split my particular atom.
Her work has changed over the years, gone both wide and deep, but some familiar themes have circled back this year: the handsome RAF pilot, the complete disaster of men and women, the cruel and lovely ambivalence of nature, the question of death and stepping sideways out of time, the tedium of children and how there’s nothing more important, Englishness (and how observing it changes it), the strange way men separate passion and love (like unspooling threads), the importance of getting on with it even when you’d rather lie down and melt back into the landscape again, lying down and melting into the landscape at a later date (though perhaps having helped someone in a way, so as to not have your existence be entirely without point), the fact that we are all so fragile as to almost be fiction. Continue reading “On the work of Kate Atkinson”
Amanda apologizes. Racist images will, at the very least, be removed from future printings of the book.
I am glad to employ my “Good News” tag today as well. It needed to be dusted off.
Should I even use the word “healing” at this point? Well, is it my place to do so? No. But I do hope that something good will end up coming from this.
“I have no fate, I have no will,
All that remains is hope.”
– Lesya Ukraiinka
… And then I saw this on the “Dear White Feminists” blog whose sub-headline reads, appropriately, “Quit goddamn fucking up.”
I think my occipital lobe just broke.
Jonathan Swift this ain’t. The images are racist and both author and publisher ought to have realized that. I sincerely hope that they will engage people on this subject.
Holly has more.
Here’s the contact page for Seal Press. Tell them this is unacceptable. I know I will.
Seal Press has issued an apology.
Amanda’s comments on the Feministe thread are… to put it mildly… well, just look here:
If there’s a concern about how quickly I responded, I would like to point out that I was unaware until this morning of this latest dust-up that has a point to it. As I responded as soon as I knew, I can’t see that I could have done anything else.
Not even an “I’m sorry guys, a major f#ck-up has occurred.” Just dismissive language about a “latest dust-up” that does, egads, have “a point.”
Not cool. Not cool at all.