Lolita: Reading ‘Lolita’ in France

Lecture time for 'Lolita: Reading Lolita in France' is approx. 7-10 minutes. If you prefer to listen to me reading this article, find the audio for 'Lolita: Reading Lolita in France' using the search tool in The Sorting House group on Telegram. * Correction: Nabokov published Lolita in 1955, not 1954.
Lolita: Reading Lolita in France
‘Young Girl and Her Kitten Reading by a Fireside’ by James Pelham (1800-1874)


A little backstory; I’ve been consuming one of the random publications that I found amongst a pile of English language books once gifted and subsequently living in my house. It’s called ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nifisi. Apparently, a NY Times bestseller, I know not of the author, the acclaimed book or the subjects within and it certainly wasn’t my first choice. After smashing through the most visually appealing of this freebie bunch, I was left with the stragglers that I had to decide between by actually studying the blurbs on the back. Yes, initially I heavily judged these books by their covers. Come on, even if we technically shouldn’t, who actually doesn’t?

After some years of reading almost exclusively in French, the ease of reading again in my mother tongue always delights, especially compared to the clunkiness of my comprehension en Français. As an aside, you may or may not have noticed there is a new tab up on the Menu bar of this website named ‘Resources’. I mention it because I’ve decided to start listing the books available in English (as well as podcasts, playlists, artists etc.) that I enjoy, in no particular order, so that other anglophones looking for inspiration might peruse them, and maybe even enjoy them too. AND, if feeling particularly bold, might even wish to discuss with me further, on The Sorting House telegram group or IRL.

Anyway, upon greedily consuming the most appealing of these few books that had by way of “coincidence” found themselves in my library amongst a sea of many read, half-read and unread French and English language titles. There I was, floating in a ferocious desire to continue digesting these new, second-hand books written in a language I feel most comfortable in, I finally decided to start ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nifisi. The issue being that it’s a biographical book by an English literature professor, and it discusses many great works – many of which I haven’t actually read. Hmm, turns out this choice was not so comfortable after all.

Although the author, Azar Nifisi, has a très agréable writing style that made me want to keep turning the pages, many parts of the first section were lost on me due to my unwitting literary ignorance. Specifically, in this case when Nafisi is referring to the Vladimir Nabokov book ‘Lolita’ which features importantly in the first section and title ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’. Duh, obviously it seems with hindsight, but prior to that, I’d innocently thought I could progress without my literary ignorance being too much of a hindrance.

Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

Part of me knows all about the twisted concept of the infamous ‘Lolita’ even if I never read, or knew details directly about this book and later, the controversial Stanley Kubrick ‘Lolita’ film (1962) that it inspired, and the ‘Lolita’ (1997) rework by Adrian Lyn. Which I haven’t seen either. After some light research, and subsequent disdain at seeing some critics defend a “fictive” paedophile, opting rather to shame the “fictive” girl-child for her provocative demeanour! Clearly, victim blaming is still deeply codified and consequently anchored into our society. Even if the book is somewhat “old” having been released in 1955 and the subject matter only “fictive”, albeit more or less loosely based on true events, the revolting reality of our so-called modern civilisation seems to me still just as dire.

Admittedly I could have just watched the films, listened to some of the interviews and read some of the written discourses. I’d probably have been to some extent informed without ever opening a page of the original Nabokov title. However, as an avid traditionalist in many respects. If I can impartially read a book to ascertain and develop my own choices prior to seeing the motion picture it inspired, even after hearing the various positive or detracting views upon it, then I will always stay faithful to that order of proceedings. Quite frankly, watching the motion pictures of any book and saying you’ve seen it as a reason NOT to read the book is such a cop-out IMO. Films and series are NOT the same things and are NEVER substitutes for the art of good storytelling via print regardless of how faithful they may remain to the original source.

Lolita (1997)

Indeed I was reluctant to read something so tragically sick, but intrigued as to why the book and author might have received such kingly status in spite of this. Especially, how it was found to be referenced in that random Nafisi book I’d hesitantly started reading from its improbable place on my shelf. There it was, a book essentially about paedophilia being compellingly discussed therein by a somewhat secret roomful of daring Iranian women, despite the real dangers and censorships of the ruling religious Republic they found themselves within.

Curiously I wondered, was the wild worldwide buzz just because ‘Lolita’ had been censored so heavily across time and space? Drawing much attention and opinion but maybe not being genuinely read quite as much as the twisted subject matter actually plays out in our tangible world. Dare I posit, maybe the book had been misunderstood by those blaming the victim, or misunderstood by the censors, or maybe I was the one that had misunderstood? Really, the only way to find out how I felt about it once and for all, would be to read it myself and come to my own conclusions.

Honestly, I wrestled with the idea of just moving on. Reflecting that I’d prefer a lighthearted subject given I’ve read too many disturbing things recently… Plus I’m already half-started in a handful of other books, and surely, I’d do better to keep reading and finish some of those rather than start any new ones. Avoiding adding to the half-read literary gang on the shelves of my abode, ominously judging me and my intermittent deficits of attention… Still, this conundrum presented itself ardently. The particularity of having started a book, that can’t possibly be finished. At least not if I wished to also comprehend and benefit from the majority of it without first reading the other classics being cited in ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’… So I faced a choice; was I to treat Nafisi’s bibliographical work as a personal, solo reading club of sorts? A way to discover and absorb some of the classics of our literary history. A prompt to evolve and grow through great texts as if I, myself, was one amongst her students, or do I just close the book by this author I know nothing of, pretend I didn’t finish the first section and get back to the other half-started ones silently pressuring me from the shelf? A weird predicament that I imagine none of you actually care for.

Lolita (1954) Nabokov

Yet, here I am now reading a contentious book about a horrific “love affair” between an adult and a child. Yes, Nabokov’s style of writing is worthy of acclaim, that much is true. Yes, his writing has generously contributed in part to removing my blogging block after months of scorched inspiration, dried up in the heat of summer “Climate Change”. (The other part is thanks to rediscovering a short book of delightful poems about cats that my mum sent me. Entitled, ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Eliot. LOL, much more lighthearted, I suppose it’s all about balance, ey?)

Nevertheless, I just can’t shake the distaste in the back of my throat for the sensitive subject matter of a title like Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’. Knowing that in reality, unfortunately too many children (as well as adults) still face these veritable ordeals and perversions at the hands of predators just like Nabokov’s “character” Humbert Humbert. I’m not even finished but the level of repugnance I am feeling must be exteriorised. The triggers I’m experiencing in reading ‘Lolita’ in France must be looked at, digested, unpacked and shared or risk submerging me in a fit of nihilistic doom that seems entirely useless even if comprehensible, all things considered.

Having far too much awareness for the level of abuse existent on this earth, I feel, like many, entirely powerless, downtrodden and yet somehow spurred to do something, anything. Considering carefully my options, words flow freely from my being to elaborate my fuming position that any of this still goes on in our world. I have not much power in the global sense of the word. Still, one must recognise how powerful we truly are!

We, mere specks, to be able to freely convert ideas into matter, through thought and sound, verb and art and somehow be able to alter the perceived fabric veiling our truly messy world. Some amongst us may choose good and others bad. Ugly or beautiful, or beautifully ugly. Some are misguided, mistaken or cheated in their choices. Others willfully and en toute connaissance de cause choose the violence, destruction and depravity we must bear witness to.

An able trick of the light, certain lurkers in the dark, and many still think not of any foul play. No matter, received or not. At least I can move forward knowing that I expressed my word when I had an opportunity to do so. No matter how big or how small. Forever absorbing, learning. Digesting opposing positions avidly. Wisely working to see the fatal flaws in it all. And so with whatever energy I can muster, I shun shameful practices adamantly and speak my opinion out into the world.

Thank you for reading me,

Natacha ‘Cha-Cha’ Neveu.

Unbelievably inspired, moved as much as disgusted by the state of it all.

As regular readers of my words will know, I shy not around all manner of subjects. 

Sadly this impromptu article about books, fact and fiction is only alluding to horrific real-life situations that merit deeper discussion and careful considerations. Especially if we hope to protect our children and kin in an increasingly hostile modern world where predators and psychopaths effectively hide in plain sight. ESPECIALLY as it is not nearly enough talked about or considered by those who CAN have a positive impact.

Having direct experience, unfortunatly like many others, this subject is close to my heart and I will no doubt continue to discuss this difficult matter, lightly and in more detail whenever I feel called to. Simply because currently, that is one of the only things I can do to take position in the hopes of living to see another, less fucked up world.

You can find me active on Instagram and Telegram where I always appreciate interactions, discussions and cordial disagreements, as well as the basic "likes, shares and follows", that of course motivate me to keep sharing.

To be notified of new blog posts on here please use the subscription form on the sidebar or further down on this page.

Until then, if you wish to continue reading on how prevalent aka relevant this subject is amongst us, check out the Reddit feed below (TRIGGER WARNING) 13,510 comments... WTF:

Enter your email address to subscribe to The Sorting House blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply