‘Lolita’‘s narrator provides a furtively deceptive, unreliable account of the story, and through the use of his rich and complex prose, Humbert deflects the attention of the reader from his actions. James Phelan describes his theory of unreliability that enhances the relationship shared between the narrator and the reader as ‘bonding unreliability, by which (he) mean(s) unreliable narration that reduces the distance between the narrator and authorial audience’ , and Humbert appears to be a prime example of this.
Towards the beginning of the novel, Humbert writes that ‘you can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’, with his confessional tone manipulating the reader into trusting Humbert due to a false sense of intimacy, and as the novel progresses it becomes increasingly evident that he relies on his diversified language as a means of deception. Tyler Appel writes that ‘What is extraordinary about Lolita is… the way in which Nabokov enlists us, against our will, on Humbert’s side…
Humbert has figuratively made the reader his accomplice in both statutory rape and murder’ , and it is often that the most pedophilic and perverse scenes in the book are disguised by Nabokov’s distinctively ornate narrative, in an attempt to distract the reader from the true disturbing nature of his thoughts. Furthermore, his reference to figures such as Virgil, Petrarch and Queen Nefertiti are indicative of Humbert’s attempts to justify his wrongdoings, as they are all famed for their sexual relationships, unconventional in a manner similar to that of Humbert and Lolita.
Barbara’s desire to wield power over Sheba is reflected similarly in Humbert’s delusions as he imagines himself to hold immense power over those around him, particularly Lolita. He describes himself ‘sitting in the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or that strand. (His) web is spread all over the house as (he) listen(s) from my chair where (he) sit(s) like a wily wizard’, and this ‘luminous web’ provides a fitting metaphor for Humbert’s desire to touch and control those around him.
This employment of predatory imagery further emphasises his desire for control, cementing the image of Humbert as the perpetrator of a horrific crime, as opposed to the charming victim of Lolita’s sexuality that is often presented. However, this sense of control exists largely within his imagination. His desire to ‘solipsise’ those around him prevails within the first part of the novel, and his narrative is dominated by his imagination.
The novel opens with the infamous ‘Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.’, and as Lolita is reduced to little more than a rhythm of syllables, it is evident that there is no single aspect of Lolita that Humbert does not turn into an object to fetishise. Furthermore, the repetition of the ‘l’ sounds creates a slow, deliberate pace as Humbert savours the feeling of saying her name, further emphasising his perversion.