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Wanted, Wanted: Dolores Haze

She’s young, that much is certain. Lolita is eternally somewhere between the age of 12 and 17. She’s precocious, but worse, she’s also persistent. She wears heart-shaped sunglasses and licks heart-shaped lollipops. And popular opinion seems to be that she deserved everything that was “coming to her”.

For me, Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita was love at first read, at last read, at ever and ever read. All at once I was madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with it, and it persists to this day as my favorite novel.

I think the book itself continues to be a highly relevant portrait of obsession and abuse of power. For years I have been fascinated by the character of Dolores Haze; rather, the glimpses of her that claw their way out of Humbert’s warped imagination. In a way, that’s the incredible thing about Lolita; Humbert is really the one in the rose-tinted, heart-shaped glasses. Metaphorically speaking, at least.

Thus I care to argue that Dolores, a character so simultaneously glorified and disliked, is the true, tragic, misunderstood hero of Lolita. As Lana Del Rey would say…

A Quick Plot and Reputation Summary of Lolita

While the plot and reputation of Lolita are vast, from Reading Lolita in Tehran to Amy Fisher to The Lolita Effect to Chasing Lolita, it seems only reasonable to attempt a summary.

Lolita centers on and is unreliably narrated by one Humbert Humbert (“an assumed name”). His coddled and well-educated upbringing is enabling to his naturally inward-looking, brooding nature. As a young teenager, Humbert’s world of picnics and pleasures on the banks of the French Riviera are disturbed by the sudden death of Annabel, a young girl he has fallen in love with.

Fast forward. At approximately 37-years-old, Humbert is a good-looking, socially charming, and devastatingly European dilettante critic. He is also only erotically attracted to girls aged 9 to 14, which he refers to as “nymphets”. When Humbert ventures to New England in 1947, he boards with Charlotte and Dolores Haze, a mother-daughter duo who are happy to have him… at least at first.

In the rest of the novel, 12-year-old Dolores undergoes incomprehensible horrors. Humbert marries Charlotte so that he may drug Dolores once she returns home from summer camp. Soon, however, Charlotte is killed in a freak accident, leaving Dolores fully in Humbert’s care. He kidnaps her, an orphan, and spends the rest of the novel tormenting and raping her all over the United States.

When Dolores eventually escapes, it is with a man who tries to involve her in child pornography. She refuses and has to scrape by on her own from thereon out. Eventually, she meets with Humbert again; she is 17-years-old, pregnant with another man’s child, and in need of money. When Humbert urges her to run away with him, she refuses. The prologue reveals her fate after all; Dolores dies in childbirth and does not survive to her 18th birthday.

Lolita has become infamous for being a sweeping erotic, incestuous novel, which is somewhat ironic. Lolita does contain some explicit sexual content, but as contemporary reviewer Elizabeth Janeway wrote in 1958…

“As for its pornographic content, I can think of few volumes more likely to quench the flames of lust than this exact and immediate description of its consequences.”

What’s in a Name?

Another common misconception about Lolita is that Lolita is the name of the main character of the novel. Lolita is, in fact, not even Dolores’ nickname. None of the adults in her life, nor her peers, call her Lolita; they call her Dolly, Lo, or Lola. “But in my arms,” Humbert writes, “she was always Lolita.”

Humbert reveals, right off the bat, that Lolita is a sexually objectifying pet-name, one reserved for the bedroom. It is a dehumanizing term Humbert employs in his own fantasy life, and not a term Dolores would ever associate herself with willingly.

There is irony in Lola and Lolita having sensual connotations, seeing as they both stem from “Dolores”. The name Dolores is a plural of dolor, which is Latin for “pain” or “sorrow”. In Spanish-speaking parts of the world, Dolores likely originated from Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, or Our Lady of Sorrows; a title of Mary, Mother of Jesus. Lola ranked as the 27th most popular name for baby girls in Spain in 2016.

However, Lola existed as a sensual name by brand before Nabokov. Nineteenth-century courtesan Lola Montez, mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, remained in memory when Lolita was written, and still to this day her legends persist. Mexican film star Dolores Del Rio also brought the name to public consciousness.

Since Lolita, the name Lolita is much rarer. Nabokov, too, was likely familiar with the mixed connotations of the name; it implies virginity, sensuality, and sorrow. Moreover, he was probably intrigued by its already tight ties to pop culture.

Pop Culture and Lolita

Songs about women and girls with these names include “Lolita Ya Ya“, Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana“, The Kink’s “Lola“, The Veronicas and Suzanne Vega’s respective songs “Lolita“, and many more.

“I studied Lolita religiously.” – Katy Perry, “One of the Boys” (2008), in which the protagonist of the song suddenly becomes a fully sexualized woman.

Lana Del Rey gets special mention for the sheer amount she has referenced Lolita in her music and aesthetic. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, she described herself as “Lolita got lost in the hood.” Her 2012 album Born to Die was in many ways an ode to the novel; “Off to the Races” included the lyrics “light of my life, fire of my loins”, while “Carmen” is a nod to one of Dolores Haze’s favorite pop songs. She even has a track on the bonus version of Born to Die called “Lolita“. Her unreleased material is even further saturated with Nabokov.

Lola and Lolita, as names, have persisted as pop culturally significant for many years. Damn Yankees, containing the song “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” has a character named Lola who is described as the Devil’s “best homewrecker”. Yankees was first performed the same year as Lolita‘s publication, 1955, causing a surplus of sorts in fictional Lolas. The name is commonly associated, therefore, with pop culture of the 1950s.

Much of the popular iconography of Lolita thus falls into the “Americana” category; coca-cola, daisies, old muscle cars, and heart-shaped sunglasses, many of which never appear in the book itself.

Fictional characters named Dolores and its derivatives tend to fall into two categories: sexy and conservative. These characters include Lola Bunny from Looney Tunes (sexy), Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series (conservative), and Lola Lola, Marlene Dietrich’s character in The Blue Angel (sexy).

Dolores Haze has become an icon of sorts in the fashion world as well.

Her likeness was recently used for online fashion retailer Dolls Kill’s 2018 summer line, Lolita.

In 2013, a sexually provocative Marc Jacobs ad starring Dakota Fanning was pulled.

Even Kate Moss, supermodel of the world (in the 1990s at least) had her own Lolita spread.

Lolita has also been adapted into two films; one by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and one by Adrian Lyne in 1997. While I don’t think either are bad films, necessarily, I think aging Dolores up from 12 to 15 dodges the initial, original discussion of pedophilia. In a strange way, making Lolita “less shocking” only makes it more shocking; it reveals how comfortable we are sexualizing teenage girls. I’m hoping that someday a screen adaptation will cast an age-appropriate actress (or at least an actress who looks more age-appropriate) to really drive the point home: pedophilia is never, in any way, okay. Little girls should never be sexualized.

It is almost gratifying to see Lolita become a staple of pop culture considering that pop culture might just be the thing Humbert Humbert hates most.

The Issue of Iconography and Aesthetic

Whether made flesh by Sue Lyon, Dominique Swain, or simply your imagination, Dolores Haze has a certain look to her; probably a sexy schoolgirl, with some Americana elements thrown in for good measure. However, Vladimir Nabokov would likely be unhappy with this aesthetic. In a letter written to the American publisher of Lolita on March 1st, 1958, outlining his wishes for the novel’s jacket, he specified the following design wishes:

“Pure colors, melting clouds, accurately drawn details, a sun-burst above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts after rain. And no girls.” – Vladimir Nabokov

It is easy to see why it’s tempting to put a girl on the cover of Nabokov’s novel. After all, the fragility of beauty itself is a motif within the novel well established. Beauty is a powerful force, and Lolita acknowledges this. After all, the beauty of the prose is one reason many readers don’t entirely hate Humbert Humbert. He loves language and employs it to high degrees of success. Through his humor and vivid description, it is easy to see the world in which Lolita takes place; rather, the mental scheme. Humbert hides his ugly actions behind pretty words, and his use of words is also an assault of sorts; when his language is harder to unravel, the intent behind it seems murkier and therefore more forgivable.

Much like Nabokov himself, Humbert has an obsession with butterflies. Dolores, too, undergoes a metamorphosis in the book from caterpillar to butterfly; at first, she is a young, naive, enthusiastic consumer of life. Post-isolation, she becomes an emotionally fragile mother-to-be. Much like Dolores Haze, butterflies undergo permanent changes when inflicted with isolation; a butterfly enters a cocoon and emerges in many ways more delicate. Much like Dolores, too, butterflies are beautiful and subtly intricate.

Nabokov’s biological, procedural study of butterflies is much like Humbert’s observation of Dolores; she is a specimen to him, a nymphet. She is less than human, and she is beautiful.

The most famous image of Dolores Haze is almost undoubtedly Stanley Kubrick’s original poster for the 1962 film adaptation.

Most covers of Lolita have been outwardly scandalous and sexualized, something that designer John Bertram attempted to fix with his 2013 book Lolita: the Story of a Cover Girl. Within, Bertram examines the relationship of Lolita‘s outrageous sleeves and the perception of the book in general, as well as.

“However iconic it has become, this popular image of lascivious Lolita licking a lollipop in the manner of an experienced porn star is a blatant misrepresentation of Nabokov’s novel, its characters, and its themes. Not only does it betray the nature of the child featured in its pages, it disregards the way that the narrator, Humbert Humbert, comes to terms with his role in ruining her life.” – John Bertram, Lolita: the Story of a Cover Girl

Thus, Bertram decided to showcase covers of Lolita that were truer to the book, and absolutely creative. Some of Bertram’s commissioned covers are nothing short of stunning.

She's young, that much is certain. Lolita is eternally somewhere between the age of 12 and 17. She's precocious, but worse, she's also persistent. She wears heart-shaped sunglasses and licks heart-shaped lollipops. And popular opinion seems to be that she deserved everything that was "coming to her". For me, Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita was love…

On “Wanted, wanted” in Nabokov’s Lolita

Kat C.
Sep 28, 2020 · 6 min read

In Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, protagonist Humbert Humbert employs full poetic license in his recount i ng the tale of his love story with 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Humbert insists, at the start of his narration, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” His artistic talent with words is artifice. Literary references — to Carmen, Catallus, Poe, Dante — combined with precise diction, modulation of prose, and the privileges of first-person narration, enable Humbert to compel readers to empathize with his perversions and tragic story. When Dolores disappears, he pens a poem beginning “Wanted, wanted…” The poem is a microcosm of Humbert’s manipulative tactics: casting himself as the passive victim, abstracting reality, using the power of nomenclature. However, the poem is also Nabokov’s creation, and captures the key complexity of Humbert’s character: his guilt for the tragedy he has made of Dolores’ life, the tragedy that he himself safeguarded with evil actions — the first action being his marrying Charlotte, to secure better opportunities to take advantage of Dolores. This essay will endeavor to show how this poem strengthens both Humbert’s and Nabokov’s goals.

The poem, constituting thirteen, four-line stanzas, begins as a wanted person advertisement: “Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze.” This choice by Nabokov injects a dose of tragicomedy-irony to the start of this very serious composition by Humbert. The phrasing — “wanted”, not “missing” — invokes the image of a wanted poster, distributed to let the public know of an alleged criminal whom authorities wish to apprehend: Dolores. In actuality, the criminal, the kidnapper, the pedophile, is Humbert. The repeated word, “wanted,” like the repetition in Humbert’s own name, suggests a throbbing obsession. Dolores is not only a wanted person because she is missing, but because she is very much the object of Humbert’s base desires. Then, Humbert moves on to describe the color of Dolores’ hair (“Hair: brown”) but instead of another helpful identifying piece of information, for example, the color of her eyes, he cannot resist but to insert a sexualized detail of her body: “Lips: scarlet.” To readers, the classic image of red lips connotes maturity, sex appeal, and the glossy covers of magazines — not the image of a young girl. Then, Humbert writes, “Age: five thousand three hundred days,” and in purposefully using days instead of conventional years, further masking his lover’s youth and innocence. This type of maneuver is attempted again and again by Humbert, most notably by his insinuation that Dolores was the aggressor in their relationship, that she seduced him at Enchanted Hunters hotel. In the last line, Humbert describes her profession, “none, or ‘starlet’”. While this is clearly a reference to Dolores’ love for American cinema and celebrities, Humbert is also applying a descriptor with the feminine/diminutive use of the suffix “-et”, which appears most prominently in Humbert’s main description of Dolores: “nymphet.”

The skewed description of Dolores is followed by Humbert asking: “Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze? Why are you hiding, darling?” The effect is frightening and ominous, as figuratively, one gets the impression of a childhood game of hide-and-seek, interrupted by the queries of a pedophile. The playful, innocent game is ruined by the cadences of hunter and prey. Nabokov’s use of this image is also a reminder that Humbert has ripped from Dolores her childhood. Later, Humbert writes, “Where are you parked, my car pet?” Describing Dolores as a pet connotes complete dominance — she is not a partner or lover, just a small pet. The secondary effect is the reduction of Dolores’ humanity by Humbert, an ignorance towards her inner life. Later in the novel, after further reflection, Humbert writes, “Quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichés, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate.” In combination with Humbert’s wanted poster descriptions, readers are exposed to the vacillating and opposite influences that are Humbert and Nabokov’s literary machinations — Dolores’ age and innocence are disguised and exposed, in alternating moves. This dynamic in the poem is consistent with the rest of the novel.

After a few other stanzas, Humbert transitions to expressing outward guilt — slowly, then all at once. He uses French in one stanza, that ends: “Lolita, qu’ai -je fait de ta vie?” This line translates to, “Lolita, what have I done with your life?” In this poem, this rhetorical question is the first hint of regret Humbert conveys in this poem, and it is slightly hidden and inaccessible, written as it is, in a language other than English. However, this is followed by a stanza in English:

“Dying, dying, Lolita Haze,

Of hate and remorse, I’m dying.

And again my hairy fist I raise,

and again I hear you crying.”

The repetition of “dying” as well as the phrase “and again” punctuate a scene portraying Humbert’s intense distress. Suddenly, Humbert reveals his full-fledged guilt for what he has done, and claims that the remorse is so great, that he may die because of it — which is also a device to induce sympathy in the reader. However, this is followed by a figurative violent confrontation, with Humbert’s adult “hairy fist” raised, Dolores’ crying, its backdrop. Notably, for the first time in the poem, Humbert refers to his love not as “Dolores Haze” — her real, legal name — but as “Lolita Haze,” an uncomfortable combination of her “given” names, her fake father’s fetishized title, and her real father’s last name.

After Humbert’s guilty stanzas, he returns to the law enforcement motif, which began with the wanted poster description. He cries:

“Officer, officer, there they are —
Dolores Haze and her lover!
Whip out your gun and follow that car.
Now tumble out and take cover.”

Once again, here readers can observe a faint hint of the farcical irony and double meaning. In this stanza, Humbert is the one appealing to law enforcement officers, so that they may retrieve Dolores and her lover. This is a kidnapper (Dolores by Humbert) reporting a kidnapping (Dolores by Clare Quilty), an absurd occurrence. The parallels between Humbert and Quilty — later summed up by Quilty’s calm retort, “We are men of the world, in everything — sex, free verse, marksmanship” — indicate that this stanza may be about either Humbert or Quilty. There is ambiguity here, Nabokov suggests to the reader. One may interpret this stanza as a coded admission of Humbert’s extreme guilt, that he is identifying himself as Dolores’ lover, turning himself over to the authorities, and sentencing himself to death. One may also simply interpret it as Humbert’s simple wish for the capture of the mysterious man who helped Dolores escape. There are two interpretations, each “helmed” by either Humbert or Nabokov.

The last stanza of Humbert’s poem is designed to globalize his desires, and allow readers to empathize with his plight. It is also the most lyrical and romantic stanza of the poem:

“My car is limping, Dolores Haze,
And the last long lap is the hardest,
And I shall be dumped where the weed decays,
And the rest is rust and stardust.”

Humbert puts a poetic spin on his dejection, his life without his Lolita by his side. He writes that he is not looking forward to the road ahead, and the last “long lap.” The last line of the stanza, however, is the most significant achievement of the poem. More than half a century after the book’s publishing, people still quote, “And the rest is rust and stardust.” In writing this phrase,

Nabokov strung together seven words that are still widely circulated (and misattributed) online, and often completely disconnected to the Lolita, the novel. They are words that can be used to describe any romantic relationship, any life event — past, present, future. The globalizing sentiment of the last line, the beauty of its imagery, and its simplicity, end Humbert’s poem powerfully, and contribute to the impression that the “love story” between Humbert and Lolita is just another story that, like all others, will eventually be “rust and stardust.” The poem, in its entirety, its shifts and deceptions, jointly penned by Humbert and Nabokov, vividly illustrates the complex character of Humbert Humbert, artist and madman — simultaneously manipulative, sincere, guilty, and revengeful.

In Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, protagonist Humbert Humbert employs full poetic license in his recounting the tale of his love story with 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Humbert insists, at the start of his…