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Posted: 05 August 2017 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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aldiboronti - 05 August 2017 01:52 AM

I always try to put myself in the place of the contemporary reader. It allows one to enjoy the whole range of classic literature without being concerned about modern sensibilities. I just cannot imagine denying myself the pleasure of reading Pamela or Schopenhauer or Homer for that matter simply because of the sexist attitudes. At one fell swoop you remove half the corpus from your purview.

You can never actually put yourself in the place of a contemporary reader. If you think you are, you’re deluding yourself. Your modern sensibilities are still there.

But I made a couple of implicit distinctions. Not all sexist (to limit myself to one arena, but there are others) books are equal. Some, like Pamela or (in the opinion of some here) Lucky Jim, are irredeemably so. Others, while displaying sexist attitudes, don’t forefront them, and remain worthwhile reading. A good example is the aforementioned Joseph Andrews. It’s basically the same plot, only with the sex roles reversed. It certainly has misogynistic and sexist passages—all literature of that era does—but they are not central to the book. If you wanted a good epistolary novel to read other than Pamela, there are hundreds to choose from. There’s a sliding scale too. One might tolerate an artfully written misogynistic novel that presents other ideas, while choosing to pass by a piece of poorly written, misogynistic, pulp fiction.

The other was reading for pleasure vs. reading for study. What is tolerable in reading to understand literature is different from what is tolerable in reading for pleasure.

There are too many good books out there. We can’t read them all over the course of our lives. Why waste time on those that celebrate offensive ideas?

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Posted: 05 August 2017 05:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Logophile - 04 August 2017 10:09 AM

That’s a subjective opinion, many readers and critics sympathized with the character of Humbert. They don’t sympathize with his actions they sympathize with his agonizingly tragic fate and unrequited love.

No, it’s not subjective. The novel is about a man who obsessively pursues a twelve-year-old girl, takes her on a road trip, drugs her, and rapes her. The “unrequited love” that he expresses cannot be read without taking those actions into account. That one of the beauties of Nabokov’s writing, how he presents the dissonance between Humbert’s words and his actions. The book is deeply disturbing because of how it presents Humbert’s internal justifications for his horrific actions, but it does not celebrate them. And the novel makes clear in the final chapters, where we see Delores as an adult and the wreck her life has become, how destructive Humbert’s actions have been. Anyone who reads the book as a tale of unrequited love without taking into account what Humbert is actually doing is missing the whole point.

I tell my students that there is no right way to read a piece of literature, but there are wrong ways. And reading Lolita as a celebration of unrequited love is a wrong way.

[Edit: changed “has sex with” to “rapes"]

[ Edited: 05 August 2017 06:32 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 05 August 2017 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Dave Wilton - 05 August 2017 05:04 AM


There are too many good books out there. We can’t read them all over the course of our lives. Why waste time on those that celebrate offensive ideas?

Because, whether we like it or not, some of those books are a damn good read, Pamela included and especially Clarissa, one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. As for putting myself in the place of the contemporary reader I accept that I may well be deluding myself but if it gets the job done and allows me to appreciate an excellent work of literature then it’s well worth being deluded. Yes, there are many good books out there but to rule out any simply because their authors don’t have 21st century values seems to me a real shame. It’s quite possible we’d be missing out on a memorable reading experience. We shouldn’t condemn our forebears because they don’t think like us. One wonders how many of the works we enjoy today will be stamped by our descendants, “Warning: offensive values. Read at your peril.”

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Posted: 05 August 2017 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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We shouldn’t condemn our forebears because they don’t think like us.

Well said, aldi.

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Posted: 05 August 2017 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Let me expatiate a little, Dave, on my reply to you as I have more time now.

That was a good point about Joseph Andrews. Fielding is far more in tune with our age than Richardson and consequently his novels reflect that, as do his plays and periodicals. Reading Joseph Andrews or Amelia you don’t have to cast modern attitudes aside, some of the characters, certainly the heroine of Amelia, are far ahead of their time. Her husband isn’t but Fielding in his role as the omnipresent author takes every opportunity to show what a sexist ass Captain Booth is just as he shows in Joseph Andrews how Parson Adams is the very opposite of that, someone who would be quite at place in the present day.

I do see your point about sexism being distasteful in old works but I also strongly believe that condemning them on that account is unfair, although I grant that in some cases the book may be so poor that you lose nothing by turning away from it.

And thank you, Lionello, for the gracious compliment.

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Posted: 06 August 2017 12:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Rummage: (OED):
< Middle French arrumage arranging or rearranging of cargo in the hold of a ship (French arrimage , †arrumage ) < arrumer (French arrimer , †arrumer ) < Middle Dutch rūmen , ruymen rime v.2 + French -age -age suffix. Compare post-classical Latin roumagium , rumagium (from late 13th cent. in British sources), which may imply earlier currency of the French noun

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Posted: 06 August 2017 12:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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My attitude towards sexism or racism in literature will depend on how central it is to the story. The Sherlock Holmes stories contain plenty of racist references but they are not really crucial so I can make note of them and move on with the story.
I can’t really do that with The Horse And His Boy: the racism is basically half the point of the story. It’s hard to tolerate.

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Posted: 06 August 2017 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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ElizaD - 06 August 2017 12:03 AM

Rummage: (OED):
< Middle French arrumage arranging or rearranging of cargo in the hold of a ship (French arrimage , †arrumage ) < arrumer (French arrimer , †arrumer ) < Middle Dutch rūmen , ruymen rime v.2 + French -age -age suffix. Compare post-classical Latin roumagium , rumagium (from late 13th cent. in British sources), which may imply earlier currency of the French noun

Probably my eyes but that isn’t easy to read. (I may just need to adjust my text size.)

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Posted: 06 August 2017 04:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Deliberately so, aldi, since the topic has been lost in the sea of opinions.

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Posted: 06 August 2017 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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No, it’s not subjective. The novel is about a man who obsessively pursues a twelve-year-old girl, takes her on a road trip, drugs her, and rapes her. The “unrequited love” that he expresses cannot be read without taking those actions into account. That one of the beauties of Nabokov’s writing, how he presents the dissonance between Humbert’s words and his actions. The book is deeply disturbing because of how it presents Humbert’s internal justifications for his horrific actions, but it does not celebrate them. And the novel makes clear in the final chapters, where we see Delores as an adult and the wreck her life has become, how destructive Humbert’s actions have been. Anyone who reads the book as a tale of unrequited love without taking into account what Humbert is actually doing is missing the whole point.

But that’s your interpretation of the novel. You articulate a very valid point and I partially agree, but the précis of the novel’s plot is about a tragic love story, not about a road trip and sex, which are ancillary to the main plot.  And many critics of the book agreed that it is a love story, as did Nabokov himself. Lionel Trilling, the famous literary critic, the English author, A.S.Byatt, and many others understand the novel as a tragic love story.

How do you intuit that it was Humbert’s actions that destroyed Lolita’s life? You fail to mention the sleazy pornographer Clare Quilty’s participation, whose motivation was to exploit Lolita so she could star in his pornographic films. She ran off with him and his motives were not engendered from love.

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Posted: 06 August 2017 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Good lord.  No, Nabokov didn’t agree that it is a love story (in the sense you presumably mean), and yes, of course it was Humbert’s actions that destroyed Lolita’s life.  Here‘s a brief summary of some salient points you may have missed:

Again and again, Humbert describes his violence against Dolores, and her misery and reluctance (‘…her sobs in the night – every night, every night – the moment I feigned sleep’). Relatively early in the book, after he first rapes her, he begins to develop a conscience: ‘an oppressive, hideous constraint as if I were sitting with the small ghost of somebody I had just killed’. In perhaps the saddest scene, he makes it clear that she only goes with him because ‘she had absolutely nowhere else to go’.

Yes, a lot of people have read it superficially and badly, especially when it first came out and there was no real critical account available (Nabokov, typically, provided no helpful analysis).  Try reading it again, perhaps in the annotated edition.  You’ve grievously misunderstood it.

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Posted: 07 August 2017 12:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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I find all this argument a little puzzling. Lolita is the story of the abduction and rape of a twelve-year old child.  Nabokov writes beautifully about it, but so what? That’s still what the book’s about.  If anyone like Humbert did something like that to a child of mine, I would cheerfully cut his heart out via recto, without anaesthetic. Humbert Humbert is an utterly loathsome monster, and no amount of brilliant writing (or brilliant criticism) could make him anything else.

I’ve read one other book by Nabokov, Pale Fire. It’s also a masterpiece of superb writing; but look at the subject matter. There’s something perverse about someone who puts so much talent and craftsmanship into writing about such a warped premise. After reading Pale Fire I’ve left Nabokov alone.

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Posted: 07 August 2017 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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I would urge you to read his pre-Lolita books, which are equally wonderful (especially The Gift, which I consider one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century) without the perversity.  I’ve long lobbied for people to pay more attention to his earlier work, which isn’t as flashy as the famous later ones but is (to me) more satisfying.  And the short stories, my God!  Such great stories!

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Posted: 07 August 2017 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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thank you. I have learned to take your recommendations seriously.

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Posted: 07 August 2017 11:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Good lord.  No, Nabokov didn’t agree that it is a love story (in the sense you presumably mean)…

The sense that I mean is that it is a love story. Is there another sense? And where is it established that Nabokov did not agree that it is a love story?

Yes, a lot of people have read it superficially and badly, especially when it first came out and there was no real critical account available (Nabokov, typically, provided no helpful analysis).  Try reading it again, perhaps in the annotated edition.  You’ve grievously misunderstood it.

Again, you’re submitting your interpretation and opinion, and the opinion of an author.

You said that Nabokov did not provide any helpful analysis. I do not know what specific analysis you’re referring to, but he did discuss Lolita in detail. He discussed the outline of his novel and its various construable permutations. See the link below where Nabokov affirms that his novel is not about sex, but about love.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-wcB4RPasE Number 415 in the film.

I can’t imagine that you’re going to counter Nabokov’s opinion about his own book.

Below is another link to A.S. Byatt’s interesting observation on Lolita:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8171K40pJho
Number: 55:09

As a quasi non sequitur, I’d like to relate a true story, which pertains to how people think they can properly evaluate a plot. I’m just relating the gist of the story; I don’t recall the precise wording.

A film critic was interviewing the great and imaginative Italian film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, about one of his films.
The critic was impressed by Antonioni’s radical and meaningful direction of the last scene in the film. He praised Antonioni’s inventive direction in the scene where the actor seemingly ends a relationship with a woman and walks out of the house, but leaves the door open, indicating that he might come back, leaving the audience speculating if the relationship is truly finished.  He asks Michelangelo how he came up with such an interpretive ending.

Michelangelo replied:  “It has nothing to do with my direction; the actor forgot to shut the door.”

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