8. Lolita (1955): The Ethics of the Telling and the Ethics of the Told

  1. James Phelan

Published Online: 1 APR 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118512876.ch8

Reading the American Novel 1920-2010

Reading the American Novel 1920-2010

How to Cite

Phelan, J. (2013) Lolita (1955): The Ethics of the Telling and the Ethics of the Told, in Reading the American Novel 1920-2010, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118512876.ch8

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 APR 2013
  2. Published Print: 10 APR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780631230670

Online ISBN: 9781118512876

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Keywords:

  • ethics;
  • Lolita;
  • narration;
  • novel;
  • rhetorical design;
  • Vladimir Nabokov

Summary

This chapter focuses primarily on Vladimir Nabokov's handling of this “plot of narration” and its ethical consequences as a way to get inside the rhetorical design of the novel, Lolita, as a whole. It starts with the plot dynamics of the main action, since they provide the larger context for the plot of narration. Nabokov's communication to us becomes both more remarkable and more difficult to take in: Humbert's struggle becomes a significant part of our interest, even as it becomes increasingly painful to see what he sees about his past behavior. To put this point another way, this track of the progression affects the ethics of the told in one way and the ethics of the telling in another: the ethical dimension of Humbert's relation to Dolores is even more clearly exposed as vile, while his relation to his audience improves as his reliability improves.