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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

When I first read ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov, I went in thinking it was a love story due to the many references I’d seen of it in pop/modern culture. I remember seeing the first paragraph of the book that starts with the famous, ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins,’ everywhere from Tumblr posts to Pinterest quotes. It was a truly romantic declaration of love, that paragraph. However, only when reading the whole book does one realize how disgusting it really is when you take it into context. The problem is that it is not seen as disgusting by modern society. The relationship of Humbert Humbert and Dolores is so romanticized by people that the intention of the book has lost itself in a world that sexualizes pre-pubescent girls.

The biggest reason why people romanticize Lolita is undeniably because both the movie and the book do so. Nabokov used a special literary device that made the romanticization of the relationship inevitable. It was, after all, written from the perspective of Humbert Humbert who was a monster but a poetically smitten one at that. He never villainized himself and hid the truth from the reader through beautiful language and his seemingly internal struggles of morality. He sexualized Dolores and accused her of initiating things. The nickname he gave her, Lolita, also proves that he never saw her for who she really was. He had his own idea of her right from the beginning and projected this fabrication of her onto reality.

I also have mixed feelings about the 1997 movie adaptation of Lolita. One cannot deny that the book was a great piece of literature but does every book need to be made into a movie, especially one like Lolita? The film was beautiful in its cinematography and production but when you expose it to viewers who do not have a preconceived idea about his character, they might sympathize with him instead of seeing him for the monster he really he is. You do not see the fantasies he played out in his head or other internal struggles like you can in the book, so a viewer’s discretionary advice should have at least been provided in case viewers think the relationship should be normalized.

It doesn’t help that a celebrity like Lana Del Ray has referenced the book many times in her songs which has led to her fandom romanticizing both the book and movie. I’ve watched fan-made edits on YouTube which showcase erotic clips of the movie with the singer’s songs as the background music and it made me very uncomfortable, to say the least. The truth is that behind the aesthetics of the cinematography and the evocative tunes of Lana’s music, there is the horrific story of a 12-year-old girl who had a traumatic childhood because a grown man took advantage of her. Looking at the relationship they had through rose-colored glasses and vintage aesthetics does not change the fact that it is a story about pedophilia and sexual abuse. Whatever Lana’s artistic views may have been, it is important for us not to change narratives or twist our perceptions of the story.

Madison Beer is another celebrity who recently went under fire for romanticizing the book. She was criticized for viewing the sexual abuse present in the book as ‘taboo’ but later on issued an apology. She stated, ‘I discovered the book several years ago and honestly, I should revisit it and read it through a new lens. After thinking about how the book is perceived amongst critics and how it remains a compelling piece of work despite its controversies, I think I have allowed that to color how I have viewed it up until this point.’

Vladimir Nabokov himself stated that the book is not a love story and that the sexualization of Lolita and young girls was the last thing on his mind. One might wonder how Nabokov would react to our present culture’s interpretation of his book and characters, especially when images of young girls are the focal point in the covers of new publications, which he would never agree to. He didn’t want people to sexualize young girls, but the modern-day interpretation of Lolita serves as a juxtaposition to his intentions.

Lolita is supposed to make us judge our moral character. By sympathizing with Humbert, we become the henchmen who overlook the story of Dolores. No amount of Humbert’s persuasion can change the fact that she was a 12-year-old girl who got kidnapped just after her mother died. Even though her character was complex and hard to grasp sometimes, her age gives full clarity on where our moral ground should stand. That was the whole point of the book. It wasn’t a tragic love story or a beautiful literary take on two complex characters. It was about a sick man who sexualized and romanticized a young girl, trying to make himself look as innocent as possible. Even if Dolores had a little crush on him like he made it seem, the fact that he acted on it should never be normalized. A 37-year-old man took advantage of a 12-year-old girl in grief, kidnapped her, and sexually abused her multiple times and society is romanticizing that. It only goes to show how little we choose to delve into the reality of the book and movie, and how lightly we take it when we should be disgusted.

In the end, Lolita was not a real character, Dolores Haze was. She had her own story of tragedy and it was not the one her groomer was telling. Their relationship was not at all natural, and should never be seen that way. The beautiful presentation of the perverse subject matter should not be the only perspective we see. The romanticization of Lolita is indeed very dangerous, and we should do better as a society to not take part in it.

Chawngthanpuii ‘Thani’ is a student of LSR, who apparently is not very good at writing a proper bio. The irony is that she loves writing, and she hopes you like hers.