You are on page 1of 3

The Double Standard Judgment in Nabokovs Lolita and Duras The Lover

Is there a double standard among the readers when it comes to female narrators in
contrast to the male narrators regarding a similar pedophilic situation? To answer that question
we must first see what exactly makes the discrepancy real in what concerns us as readers and
what tickles our minds. For example, if we look at the narrators point of view in Lolita, we
clearly go into the mind of a madman with a cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow
boyish smile; in that case, does the fact that the narrator is a man influence us as readers in
judging his pedophilic acts towards a pubescent girl? On the other hand, the narrators point of
view in The lover is projected by the pubescent girl who is having the same pedophilic
relationship with a much older man; is that not frowned upon? Maybe Humberts story-although
full of metaphors and elaborate imagery descriptions of his relationship with Lo- isnt as
romantic as the female narrators story in The lover. Perhaps the female narrator offers a
different perspective in terms of willingness when it comes to intercourse, even though it is
relatively the same situation, i.e. a very young child has sexual relations with a much older man.
Whether the gender of the narration plays an important role in the double standard or the
narration itself changes the whole context, we should be able to determine by taking a closer
look to a few aspects.
First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, as John Lennard mentions, Humbert admits
repeated statutory rape of Dolores Haze... and further admits to a lifetime of pedophile
desire(2008: 30), which obviously makes us-the readers- judge Humbert and see him as he
himself claims to be: a pedophile with vile thoughts that has not one remotely close idea as to
what a true love affair sounds like because he seems to be twisted. His description though can be
read differently if we ignore the age difference factor.
There my beauty lay down on her stomach, showing me, showing the thousand eyes wide open in
my eyed blood, her slightly raised shoulder blades, and the bloom along the incurvation of her
spine, and the swellings of her tense narrow nates clothed in black, and the seaside of her
schoolgirl thighs.
The intricate ways to the narrators feelings, physical descriptions and sumptuous vocabulary
seem to trick us and the more we continue to read into Humberts mind, we could get the
impression that this man is doing nothing wrong. Every little aspect of his narration that leads to
his deceiving confession seems perfectly planned. This could be the main reason why we pity
Lolita and we feel appalled by what Humbert is doing to her.
Second, the pubescent female narrator in The lover never implies that she has been raped,
on the contrary, she explicitly says that the Chinese man had wanted to stop from having
anything to do with her but she insisted, he says its not right, that shes too little, that he cant
do such a thing so. So shes the one who does it. Her eyes closed. She undresses him. Duras
manages to write, via the narrator, from a more distant angle, but just as laboriously descriptive
of every aspect because he doesn't know he carries within him a supreme elegance, I say it for
him, this may be one of the reasons why we see the situation differently. Nevertheless, we seem
to forget that this is also a child, a 15 year old girl that is neither physically nor mentally
prepared for an intimate relation with a 27 year old man. Freud stated that children do possess
sexuality, however oppressed or unfamiliar with it they may be (2012:60) but how come we
dont acknowledge that in this text as we do in Lolita? Rivkin and Ryan argue that there is no
doubt that the girl is not capable of distinguishing between a playful situation and a serious
pedophile case where she is touched, grubbed and penetrated (2004:300). Even if her words say
yes, how could her hormone infused brain have said no when it didnt know any better?
They stop smiling at each other. He dresses her. And then looks at her again. She, she is already
part Chinese. She knows that, the child.
We may also look at the text from the aspect of point of view and angles. At one point, in The
lover, the narrator becomes the one who possess the power in their relationship. She is the one
who starts this and she is the one who ends it he lacks the power to understand such
perverseness. And that he can never move fast enough to catch her. This can demonstrate that
her perspective can be seen as one that is not for the purpose of pity but for the purpose of
admiration. At first, the narrator tries to hide feelings of love, as not to appear vulnerable. In the
end we dont pity her, not even after we see that the Chinese man was supposed to break up with
her for the social discrepancies. She has made the story already in the form of a love story,
whereas Humbert starts with a guilty plea.
If we consider the differences between the texts, there arent so many in terms of style
and story, but when it comes to purpose and context, the differences clearly make us put
everything into perspective. While Humbert loves Lolita in an obsessive manner: Lolita, light of
my life, fire of my loins, so does the narrator girl love the Chinese man: suddenly she wasnt
sure she hadnt loved him with a love she hadnt seen. Humbert seems to be seduced by Lolita
slowly, although guided by his sick mind, but so does the Chinese man feel as soon as he sees the
girl on the boat to Saigon and furthermore he has strong feelings for this child. In The lover we
are shown this weak man with poor judgment but sensitive and loving, he says hes lonely,
horribly lonely because of this love he feels for her and in contrast, in Lolita we read about this
sly middle-aged man that is trying to defend himself because he fell in love with a 12 year old
and had intercourse with her Gentlewomen of the jury! Bear with me! Allow me to take just a
tiny bit of your precious time. The alternative scenario might be the only way to understand the
double standard phenomenon in these two cases. If the narrator in Lolita had been Lolita herself,
we could have read the entire story from a very different angle and maybe the same would have
happened if the narrator in The lover had been the Chinese man. Imagine if those graphic sex
scenes were described from the Chinese mans perspective. What would have they been like in
our heads? Would we have seen it as an act of love, as a romantic situation or would we have
pitied the pubescent girl trapped in his bed as another one of his many lovers? In Lolita the
narrator is very delicate and evasive about the actual sex act. Nothing is very revealing or
pornographic, as John Lennard explains there are no verbal obscenities ... in Lolita, only the low
moans of ... abused pain.(2008:95), which seems unfair to Humbert in the sense that he doesnt
have this angle like The lover has. There isnt any romance between Lolita and Humbert, there
are just the pedophile and the little abused girl who happened to coexist in this story where the
pedophile is caught and he does not have the right to feel sad that he lost his Lo, he is seen just as
this perverse man that takes advantage of the recently orphaned girl in many, many motel and
hotel rooms. Is this not the same case in The lover? The Chinese man also takes advantage of
a little girl with no father, of a girl that has no money, lives in a boarding school and is the same
age stage as Lolita. He takes her in a place that resembles a hotel room and he also feeds her in
restaurants, taking delight in seeing her eat rakishly and yet, his relationship with her is not seen
as disgusting or as inadequate as Humberts with Lolita. The female narrators point of view
seems to have made the reader be more sympathetic with the idea that sexual relations between a
pubescent girl and a 27 year old man are a normal thing as long as the girl has given her full
consent. On the opposite side stands the male narrator that tells a similar story but he openly
admits that the girl has not given him her consent and that she is not old enough to refuse him.
With that in mind, we could conclude that both Lolita and The lover are stories about two
pedophiles who are shown from different perspectives but they dont make one guiltier than the
other. This just demonstrates that a jury, given other angles of the story might give the wrong
verdict in what can be seen as a similar if not identic case.


1. Lennard, John. Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita. Humanities-Ebooks, LLP, Penrith, Cumbria

2. "Marguerite Duras." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Literature Resource Center.
Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, NJ. 21 Apr. 2009
3. Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. "Introduction: Strangers to Ourselves: Psychoanalysis."
Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 389-96.
4. Online- Internal journal of English and literature Vol. 3(3), pp. 60-70, March 2012