Romantic children, brazen girls? An exploration of the girl-child’s representation in and around Nabokov’s Lolita and three derivative novels

Visser, Sandra (2010-12)

Thesis (MA (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts at the University of Stellenbosch

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Since 1995, three female authors have published novels narrating the events of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita from Lolita’s point of view. What is it about the character Lolita that prompts writers to rework Nabokov’s text? In an attempt to answer this question this thesis explores reader-responses to Lolita. The grand narrative of girlhood is illuminated, and it emerges that, influenced by the discourse of Romanticism, girls’ subjectivity in the Western world is governed by an ‘innocent-or-corrupt’ dichotomy. As a result, Lolita, who seduces her stepfather, Humbert Humbert, has been vilified by readers through the decades, so that very little further critical attention has been given to her representation in the text. However, in recent years rising concern over the representation of girls has seen renewed interest in Lolita from feminist quarters, with Lolita’s non-representation being critics’ main concern. These derivative novels work towards compiling a body of feminist criticism on Lolita. A secondary function of the derivatives is the restructuring of the grand narrative of girlhood: in other words, the erasure of the ‘innocent-or-corrupt’ dichotomy in favour of a wide range of conceivable subjectivities. This is necessary because the sexualised images of girls in the media are in danger of representing girl-children as one-dimensional sexual objects. Both feminist critics and critical theorists are calling for a new form of resistance to these hegemonic media forms, so that a collaboration between the two fields seems useful. This thesis argues that the existence of the derivative novels point to the emergence of a new form of feminist resistance to the oppressive representations of advancing technological society. Consequently, the thesis performs a reading of Lolita and three derivative novels to ascertain how the girl-child is represented. Issues of interest include the Romantic discourse of childhood, the representational practices of advancing technological society, and girls’ agency. Finally, conclusions are drawn about the effectiveness of each derivative novel in terms of their contributions to both the Lolita-discourse and the feminist endeavour to restructure the grand narrative of girlhood.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Drie vroueskrywers het sedert 1995 romans gepubliseer wat die gebeure van Vladimir Nabokov se roman Lolita uit Lolita se oogpunt oorvertel. Wat is dit omtrent die karakter Lolita wat skrywers aanspoor om Nabokov se teks te hersien? In ‘n poging om hierdie vraag te beantwoord verken hierdie tesis leser-reaksies op Lolita. Die meesternarratief oor jongmeisieskap word blootgelê en dit kom na vore dat meisies se subjektiwiteit in die Westerse wêreld, onder die invloed van die Romantiese diskoers, regeer word deur die digotomie van ‘onskuldig-of-korrup’. Gevolglik is Lolita, wat haar stiefpa, Humbert Humbert, verlei, oor die dekades heen deur lesers sleggemaak, sodat baie min kritiese aandag verder aan haar gewy is. Toenemende kommer onder feministe rondom die uitbeelding van meisies het egter in die afgelope klompie jare tot hernieude belangstelling in Lolita gelei, met die gebrek aan aandag aan Lolita se uitbeelding as hoofbekommernis. Die Lolita-verwerkings dra by tot die saamstel van ‘n versameling van feministiese kritiek oor Nabokov se teks. Die sekondêre funksie van die verwerkings is die herstrukturering van die meesternarratief aangaande jongmeisieskap: met ander woorde, die uitwissing van die onskuldig-ofkorrup digotomie ten gunste van ‘n wye reeks denkbare subjektiwiteite. Dít is nodig omdat die geseksualiseerde beelde van meisies wat in die media voorkom, die gevaar loop om meisies as een-dimensionele seksobjekte uit te beeld. Beide feministe en kritiese teoretici beywer hul vir ‘n nuwe vorm van teenstand teen hierdie verdrukkende uitbeeldings, so samewerking tussen die twee is nuttig. Hierdie tesis doen dit aan die hand dat die bestaan van Lolita-verkwerkings bewys is van die ontluiking van ‘n nuwe vorm van feministiese teenstand teen die verdrukkende uitbeeldings van die vooruitgaande tegnologiese samelewing. Gevolglik analiseer hierdie tesis Lolita en drie verwerkings om vas te stel hoe die meisiekind uitgebeeld word. Sake van belang sluit die Romantiese diskoers van kindwees, die uitbeeldingspraktyke van die toenemend tegnologiese samelewing, en meisies as agente in. Uiteindlik word gevolgtrekkings gemaak oor die effektiwiteit van elke roman ten opsigte van hul bydraes tot beide die Lolita-diskoers en die feministiese poging om die meesternarratief aangaande jongmeisieskap te herstruktureer.

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