The Tragic Non-Existance of Dolores Haze

This distinction between the two [Dolores and Lolita] must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

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Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s protagonist in his masterpiece Lolita, will rarely miss a chance to prove to the reader that he is as smart and well-read as they come. The references are vast, from Poe to Joyce to Freud… and one element that seems to plague the novel is the story of Adam and Eve. Humbert seems to be acutely aware of the fact that, yes, although Adam fell, it was all because of Eve, and so he constantly tries to push upon the reader the image of Lolita as a modernized version of Eve, and him as a modernized Adam. 

His Edenic fantasies are not even subtle, for on the morning when Lolita sits on his lap and she “gives” him an orgasm, he describes her as holding in her hand “a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple” (57-58)—and there it is, the clear and direct reference. They stay together, he takes the apple, she takes it back, they flirt and play, and on the exact same moment when she finishes the apple, he climaxes, creating a correlation between Eve biting the apple, and him climaxing. However, the way he describes having “stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor” (62), breaks the continuity with the biblical parable. Humbert believes that, although he has tasted sin, he has not been corrupted nor has corrupted Lolita. “Lolita was safe—and I was safe” (62) he proclaimed.

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Here it is evidently seen how this character goes out of his way to prove to the reader that he is, after everything, innocent of perverting and sexualizing her. Even if he does confess of having killed Quilty, he is never able to bring himself to accept the fact that he has broken the child.

What he must do instead, to be able to cope with the guilt (or whatever feelings this evokes, for arguably, he is never able to fully repent or feel remorse), is what Eric Lemay explains on his essay Dolorous Laughter: “To transform Dolores into Lolita, to seal this sad adolescent within his musky self, Humbert must deny her her humanity” (par. 2). And how he manages to do it, how he accomplishes the task of ridding this girl of her humanity is one of the most genius and artful features of the novel, and it shows how deep and complex Nabokov’s understanding of his work and his character was.

Put simply, it can be delimited to one strategy that Humbert creates and uses constantly: the language, the vocabulary, the words. Through this strategy, he dehumanizes her and exempts himself from any moral blame.

One must only remember how he sees her, how he defines her. By this it is not meant the way her physicality is described, or the way his feelings are explained, or the way he loves her, but the names, the brands that he gives her.

The first, and the most popular name, must be the infamous nymphet, which he so gracefully defines:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of 
nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travellers, 
twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not 
human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I 
propose to designate as ‘nymphets’ (7).

Here we see how, in a very literal way, he says she (or any other nymphet) is “not human”. Need anyone explain that nymphets don’t actually exist? This is a clear rationalization from Humbert’s part, similar to the one he faces after having his first orgasm by the child, which seems to absolve him (in his mind, at least) of any guilt of the truth, this being that he has raped a girl. This strategy he creates allows him to denude her of a self, to butcher her integrity and being, and absorb her, create her as his own.

Similarly, he calls her Carmen, a nickname based on a song which describes the toxic relationship between a man and a woman. Many see the woman in the song as an easy woman, some go as far as to say she is a stripper or a prostitute, especially because of the third line in the song: “And the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen” (61). Either way, the character of Carmen is far from the exemplary woman, and for Humbert to define the “love of his life” in that way is surely not romantic, much less something that shows his respect for her.

And thirdly, one usually forgets this distinction, he calls her Lolita, “my Lolita”, and not Dolores. He changes her name and rebrands her as he wills. He drowns who she is, and he makes her his; he not only abuses her physically but also breaks her person completely. When he renames her, he changes her, he destroys her.

Through these three simple labels, he decomposes her. He takes her away from the world, where she is real, and he encapsulates her in his words.

And this doesn’t only stop with the names he gives her, but with his whole lavish descriptions, his baroque vocabulary, his constant literary references and French phrases. “His artistry conceals her anguish. The magnificent veils of his masterful prose, wafting sentence after sentence over the readers’ eyes” (par. 4), makes one forget of what he is writing about. He hypnotizes the reader with his lyrical sentences, his silky rhythms, his mesmerizing, water-like prose.

One forgets that Dolores and Lolita are two different creations: one by Nabokov and one by Humbert. Lolita is there to be eaten, to be deconstructed, to be dissolved. He even does it for the reader: Lolita; Lo-lee-ta; Lo. Lee. Ta. Demonically, he tears her name, preparing it for anyone who wishes to accompany him on his feast, “to forget his canine gnaw on the remnants of Dolores” (par. 5).

Humbert’s wizardry in writing creates a toy out of her, and when she is finally destroyed, then he has no emotional or moral obligation over her. This distinction between the two must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

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Then, who is Dolores? How can she be known?

In one of the most honest passages from Lolita, Humbert explains: “At the hotel, we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (142). She had absolutely nowhere else to go, one must repeat! For this heart-wrenching moment reveals something that, without it, the whole read of Lolita could change completely. One must have the realization, this above anything else, that Lolita is a lonely, lonely character.

I would dare say that this, and the ending sentence of chapter three (part two)—“…the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep” (176)—are two of the scarce passages where we actually get a glimpse at the character. And what’s interesting is that there is such indifference in how Humbert describes the moments, almost as if Lolita’s suffering were a burden or annoyance on him, and he describes them in such a passing and aloof manner, that one can almost prove how disinterested Humbert actually is in the real human he so proclaims to love.

So lonely is this character that, even being one of the most important and famous images of the twentieth century (either seen as a temptress, as a sex symbol or as a victim), she doesn’t even exist in her own book. Humbert’s Lolita and Dolores Haze are, for all intents and purposes, two different people, and there are so few real glimpses at the true Dolores that it is almost impossible to describe her; she is as elusive as Humbert is pretentious. To get to know why she does what she does, how her mind works, what her circumstances make her feel… it would be a treat. The only thing one can see in the character in a definite manner, especially after the ending of the first part (when she is told her mother is dead, and Humbert describes her as having no one), is that she is a terribly solitary character.

Even Humber himself accepts this distinction—“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita” (9)—however, he adheres this changes to Lolita, without realizing that it was him that gave these distinctions, not her. She is a rather constant character (with only one big change, this being after she is told her mother is dead), it is he who sees her as someone different depending on where she is or who she’s with.

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Most of the allure and attractiveness of the character is actually this exact indescribability, this multiplicity; who is Lolita? who is Dolores? What did she actually feel? what did she think? what is Humbert’s imagination? what is just an exaggeration?

In many ways, Dolores doesn’t exist. One could rarely find her without her sole defining attribute: her solitude. A solitude so profound, it transcends her ability or disability to elude the other characters in the novel, and is able to touch even the reader, and prevent him from grasping fully who she is. That is why, even if Humbert has fulfilled his dream by immortalizing Lolita, Dolores—the real Dolores—barely even existed.

Works Cited

  • Goldman, Eric. “Knowing Lolita: Sexual Deviance and Normality in Nabokov’s Lolita.” Nabokov Studies. Vol. 8. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 87-104. Print.
  • Lemay, Eric. “Dolorous Laughter.” Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

What Lies Behind the Theme of Sexuality In Kafka’s The Trial?

The Androgynous Mind and Sexuality

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes that art should only come from an androgynous mind; she asks that those who want to create art should be either “man-womanly” or “woman-manly”, for otherwise, their creativity would be blinded, porous. “It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine…” (Woolf, V. 1945, p. 81).

In relation to Kafka, many Feminists have regarded his work, especially The Trial, as a deeply misogynistic novel, meaning that Kafka’s gender affected or jeopardized his ability to write. In consequence, according to this reading, Kafka couldn’t achieve what Woolf believed a true genius should possess. However, in this essay, I will argue how there is an aesthetic and thematic justification on Kafka’s portrayal of sexuality and gender in his novel, for it all goes back to the same thing: power.

If there is a central theme in The Trial it is surely this. However, the analysis of power in the novel has usually been restrained to the way Kafka portrays the government’s corruption, the law’s dehumanization and the faulty bureaucratic system of the twentieth century. Yet, I would argue that there is a second and parallel thematic line to this previous one, also in relation to power: sexuality.

Kafka’s portrait of the eros is as unique as it is bizarre, and strangely enough, he does it in a way that it becomes intrinsic to the theme of power and oppression. Sure, observed separately, as Feminists often do, it would easy to see K.’s dominant sexual behavior as a misogynistic trait. However, the way Kafka draws sexuality isn’t for sexuality’s own sake, but for the sake of these games of power that exist in the novel. Everything is always compared in relation to something else: arrestor and arrested, kisser and kissed, whipper and whipped, dominant and dominated, killer and killed. Kafka suggests how balance and equilibrium between human relations, whether this is between human to human or human to state, cannot be obtained.

Neither A Hero Nor An Antihero

In essence, The Trial seems to be profoundly Homeric, and Josef K. is nothing more than a modern-day Ulysses. Similarly to The Odyssey, The Trial has a loose plot; it is a novel more sustained by episodes than by a cohesive, straight line. K. is equally trapped by his destiny, even if there are no Gods here to exert it on him (although one could argue that the image of the Gods is replaced by the government). And in every part of The Trial, K. encounters a new character (usually one that doesn’t reappear) who is supposed to help him in his search for answers and absolution.

In a similar way than with the Odyssey, there is a large number of female characters who can “help or hinder the hero, [but never] be an active participant on the quest” (Beck, E. 1983 p. 3). We have Fraülein Burstner, Frau Grubach, Leni, the usher’s wife and Elsa. And strictly speaking, none of these turn out to be really important to the plot of the novel, none affect K.’s destiny, none really aid him, or harm him; and yet without them, the novel would’ve been completely different. These female characters make the difference between The Trial being simply a political statement, and being one of the most profound and complex reflections on what it is to be human.

In the five relationships Josef K. upholds with women in the novel, there is always a clear dominant character, four of the five times this character is K. himself (the only exception is with Fraülein Burstner). Three of the five women mentioned above, want him in a sexual way: Elsa, his lover, who he doesn’t even give time of the novel to; the Usher’s wife, to whom he is indifferent towards; and Leni, who he judged for her openly sexual in her behavior. Then comes Frau Grubach, his landlady, who although never explicitly speaks of any sexual desire for K., has him in the highest esteem possible. She seems distressed when he doesn’t talk to her, and seems to really care what he thinks of her as a person. This may be because she is attracted to him, or because she owes him money—“She is also dependant on me, I may say, for she has borrowed a fair sum of money from me.” (Kafka, F. 1995, p. 28)—but either way, he knows he is more powerful than her and doesn’t mind proving it with his arrogance and disdain.

Finally, comes Fraülein Burstner, the only female character K. seems to respect and desire; ironically, she is the only one who seems not to want him, or even respect him that much. She doesn’t grant him the “interview” he wanted from her, and doesn’t tell him in person she doesn’t want him; asking her friend, Fraülein Montag, to do so for her.

  How Josef K. uses these women is why many attribute a sexist mind to the novel—being a contemporary Hamlet or Heathcliff—for as Taylor Klingensmith writes in his essay The Nature of Man and Joseph K.: “the reader sees the nature of Joseph K. to be almost evil in his attempt to accomplish his goals with the constant use of means that undermine the women he is involved with.” (Klingensmith, T., 2016). However, more importantly than the moral integrity of K., is the strong subtext of bondage and domination in his relations with women, a theme which is hidden but perceptible. K.’s connections to women are usually charged with erotic desire, either platonic (as with Frau Grubach, where nothing happens) or concrete (as with his lover, Elsa), and he is constantly using this desire to his advantage. That is why, although many see K. as a victim in the novel (because of his arrest), the way he treats women proves what only a few can see (as for example, Orson Wells, with his magnificent interpretation in his movie of The Trial): K. is no more a victim as he is a collaborator of these games of power.

Sure, one can argue that Kafka’s portrayal of women can call upon major archetypes from nineteenth-century literature—the madonna and the whore—which can be a bit misogynistic for the Feminist reader. The way K. treats women appears to be to be related to her moral status. But the new factor with Kafka, and the reason why I argue that he is not necessarily a sexist writer (or even if he is, he at least has an aesthetic purpose for it), is that for K. the important factor is not sexuality itself, as one could see it, but the power relation developed by that ‘sexual tension’, to give it a name. In every relationship described in The Trial, whether between men and women, men and men or men and state, there always seems to be a disequilibrium, there is always one side who has the power, one side who is dominant, one side who is in control. And the other is simply there, quiet, submissive, powerless.

One mustn’t forget that in the novel there are two strong sources of oppression and dominance, not only one: the law and sexuality. A Marxist or a Neoliberal might only focus on how the government exerts power on K,; a Feminist might only focus on how K. exerts power on women. And yet, they would both have an immense blind spot, created by their own ideals, that would prevent them from seeing the most important thing in the novel: the correlation between the two. If one reads The Trial as a parable for the law’s oppression over the individual, then sure, one sees K. as the victim; and if one reads The Trial as a man who got arrested for abusing women and continues to abuse women because he can’t even see that what he’s doing is wrong, then one sees these women as victims. And the problem is, there are no victims here. The tragic beauty of K. is that he is both an oppressor and an oppressed, making him neither the villain nor the victim, but an accomplice. He has created this world, he has created his downfall, he has created his destiny.

The Power of Homoeroticism

Probably, this is why many read a homoerotic undertone in the novel—a very possible theory, yet the reality of which is truly irrelevant—because, even in the relations described between men, there is a huge amount of power-play involved. For example, one can recall Block and his relation with Huld, and read it as a sexual and somewhat sadistic liaison; one can recall the scene with the whipper, who is clothed with a “sort of leather garment which left his throat ad good deal of his chest and the whole of his arms bare” (Kafka, F. 1995, p. 84), and see it as a sadomasochist scene, because of the whipper’s costume; one can recall chapter seven, where there is an overly homosexual passage involving Titorelli, and read it as an even further sexual perversion of K.’s character. What’s even more, as Richard Gray writes in his encyclopedia dedicated to Kafka: “In a passage Kafka deleted from The Trial, Josef K fantasies about offering ingratiating homoerotic advances to the painter Titorelli…” (Gray, R., 2005, p.130), which in a way, could confirm the bisexuality of the character. And yet to do so, to limit one’s reading to the interpretation and analysis of K.’s sexual orientation would be as wrongful as it would be to solely discuss The Trial in terms of K.’s relations with the state or with women; it would be to shelter one’s mind, to sabotage our reading by one’s biases and ideologies. 

What’s important is how Kafka still delivers and portrays unbalanced relationships between male characters (otherwise, the Feminist reading of misogyny could be a viable one), the power struggle is still there: Huld owns, in a way, Block, and Block lets him; the whipper is submissive to the Court, and that is why he has to whip the warders, both of whom are submissive to the whipper; K. is willing to do anything to Titorelli for information and aid. There is always someone in power, in each relation, and one who’s weak. That is a constant, it remains, and what’s more, there is never a power shift. Fraülein Burstner never wants K., Huld treats his clients badly all throughout, Leni always likes criminals, the guard never lets the farmer get in, and the Court does end up killing K.. Nothing changes; and even after the protagonist’s death, there is no hint that anything will.

Kafka’s view on humanity, then, is not really misogynistic, for the dominance and submissiveness is not in relation to gender or sexuality. He just portrays, through The Trial, a humanity where power (either to have it, or to be controlled by it) is intrinsic to life.

References

Beck, E. (1983, June/July). Kafka’s Traffic in Women: Gender, Power, and Sexuality. The Literary Review, (26.4).

Bennet, E. (1998, June/July). Kafka and Girls: The Case of Leni. The Midwest Quarterly, (39.4), 390-408. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://search.proquest.com/openview/ecb16e9dce6ee9ce2fe312c1af572cd1/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=41210

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1986) Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota & London.

Gray, R. T. (2005). A Franz Kafka Encyclopedia. Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press.

Kafka, F. (1995). The Trial. Schocken, New York.

Klingensmith, T. (2016, October 26). The Nature of Man and Joseph K. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://www.kafka.org/index.php?aid=199

Lorenz, D. C. (n.d.). Kafka and Gender. In J. Preece (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion To Kafka (pp. 169-180).

Woolf, V. (2011) A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, London.

Mina and Lucy: Two of Dracula’s Most Revolutionary Characters

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The two main female characters in Dracula, the famous novel by Bram Stoker, are Mina and Lucy. Both of which are extremely important to the text. Not only are they great character, from a psychological standpoint, but they add and give many things to the novel, becoming intrinsic to it for the way the plot runs around them, for the changes in point of view and for the portrayal of femininity and friendship.

First off, plot-wise Mina and Lucy’s journals and letters begin a new route the author took in terms of the story. Before this, the novel had centred on Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula’s castle, and his paranoia; however, with this the story, Stoker stops Harker’s plot and opens one where Mina starts to narrate eerie and peculiar events: Lucy’s sleepwalking, the ghost boat, Harker’s possible disappearance, among other things. Also, if the author had decided only to let Harker tell the story, not only would he have had a huge gap in time (because this character is unable to write for a very long time), but could have had the whole story questioned, for the unreliability of Harker’s point of view.

Continuing that thought, regarding point-of-view, the letters and journals of these two friends give the reader a different voice and a different way of thinking than the way Jonathan Harker did. These change in voices and tones are one of the things that appoint this novel as a direct precursor of modernism. It is not the really the epistolary nature of the novel, for Samuel Richardson, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Jane Austen and many others were doing this, many decades before Stoker, but that for one of the first times ever an author was playing with reliability and credibility from the characters. This is not saying that this is the first time that it was done (Emily Brontë did this with Wuthering Heights fifty years before, for example), or that it is the best example of this tool (several texts come to mind, from Woolf to Nabokov to García Marquez to Roth to Oates and even to Brontë herself), but it is one of the first times in literature where we can notice an author deliberately creating unreliable narrations.

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In this case—although Lucy is more lively and immature than Mina, they both serve a more or less similar purpose to the general voice of the novel: they break off Harker’s irrational and shaky narrative (it is my belief that if the first four chapters of the novel were seen as a short story, nothing could be said for certain out of the true nature of Count Dracula, or the supernatural in general, for Harker’s writing is just plainly psychotic). The ending of that fourth chapter—being Harker’s last in a long while (that is, the last chapter that features a fragment of his journals or letters)—is very climatic; so the fact that Mina’s voice enters after that moment not only gives the reader a pause in the heavy plot but gives also a more reliable, calmer and objective view of things than our previous narrator.

Finally, Mina and Lucy’s voice gives the book a feminine and joyous touch. One very important thing to remember is that friendship between women was very rare in literature, by the time Dracula was published. Much like Woolf says in her essay A Room of One’s Own: “Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! […] How interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends.” (Woolf, V. 1928) Sure, Desdemona had Emilia, and Catherine (daughter) had Nelly, Elizabeth had Jane, but even in these cases, the friendship was sustained by either motherly feelings, family bonds, status, or other reasons. So for these two women—two equal women—to get along, for them to be friends and love each other so much, possibly even in a homoerotic way, gives the read an aesthetic and psychological pleasure. This novel pushes the boundaries of women in literature, even if in a subtle way, and it shouldn’t be unacknowledged.

These are a few of the reasons why Stoker’s female characters are groundbreaking characters: intelligent, independent, full of life. And although modernism wasn’t fully formed until the twentieth century, this gothic novel deserves a place among those who strongly influenced the future of literature.

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References:
Woolf, V. (1945) A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, London.