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My Journey with Victoria – The King of the Castle

King of the CastleThe next book I read was The King of the Castle (first published in 1967) and I was immediately intrigued by the Cinderella-like plot and heroine. Dallas Lawson has just lost her father, a famous restorer of paintings, art, and buildings. Having worked as his apprentice for so many years, she has no other skills and decides to answer a letter requesting her father’s assistance in restoring several damaged and priceless paintings at the Comte de la Talle’s Château Gaillard in the wine country of France. She decides to show up in her father’s place and either be given the job or immediately dismissed.

Thus, the reader is introduced to D. Lawson as a bright, modern woman, who has a skill set that she could utilize to make a living for herself if only the Comte will give her a chance to work for him. Like Cinderella, D. Lawson’s true beauty shines through as the novel progresses and she begins to restore not only the paintings, but the family to a place of love for one another. As she cleans the years of grime away from each painting bringing back their former glory, she also becomes interested in the broken lives of the people at the Château Gaillard. oubiletteDallas begins with the neglected, spoiled, and often violently unpredictable Genevieve the Comte’s only daughter who wickedly locks her in the oubliette – which literally means the forgotten place and can be defined as a type of dungeon accessible only by a trap door in its ceiling. Dallas is later rescued by Genevieve’s nurse Nounou, who holds the key to the mystery that surrounds young Genevieve’s unstable behavior.

As she continues her work, she soon learns that the Comte’s first wife died under mysterious circumstances and that most of the villagers, servants, and wine workers surrounding him believe he killed her, and those that don’t, believe his infidelity drove her to commit suicide. Holt allows these two mysteries to surround the reader while at the same time giving enough clues that the two are connected – Genevieve’s behavior is directly related to her mother’s death. Holt allows a romance to grow between Dallas and the Comte who, by his own admission, was a terrible husband in the past: moody, unfaithful, angry, and often unloving.

Holt adds one more mystery to this mix in the search for the Gaillard emeralds given to an ancestor who was once the mistress of King Louis XV and married into the family at his command. Before she left his court, he presented her with an emerald necklace worth a fortune. Her new husband not to be outdone by the King had a matching bracelet, tiara, two rings, a brooch, and a girdle all set with emeralds of equal value. During the Revolution, they were lost or stolen. However, the family believes they were hidden away somewhere in the castle and periodically searches for them. Of course, it is Dallas who solves this and all mysteries by the end of the book.

Dallas finds out that Comte’s father-in-law, Genevieve’s strange, pious grandfather, fell in love and married a ‘mad woman’. Upon this discovery, he vows to keep her confined in an upstairs room where she can’t hurt herself or others and never have children with her. He breaks his vow and they have Genevieve’s mother who later becomes the Comte’s wife. While she herself is not mad, her daughter Genevieve shows all the signs of the same hysterical and unpredictable behavior found in her grandmother. When her mother learns that she is pregnant again, her father warns her of the madness she is ‘breeding’  and in her already unhappy state she takes her own life. Dallas vows to set  the record straight and clear the Comte’s name, but he persuades her to keep silent to spare Genevieve’s already fragile psyche any further trauma.

King of the castle GaillardThus, Holt’s Cinderella story ends with Dallas becoming the Countess of Gaillard married to a flawed Prince with a daughter in need of care. The reader is not left with the traditional and they lived happily ever after statement; instead, the reader assumes that life will be lived with all of its happy and unhappy moments. Dallas ends the book  with a quote that sums up Holt’s twist on a fairy tale ending,  ‘I was never afraid of a challenge’ reminding the reader that life is challenging, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be lived.

My next journey with Victoria will be The Time of the Hunter’s Moon. 

 

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My Journey With Victoria: The Bride of Pendorric

This will be the first of many posts regarding the novels of Victoria Holt. Her novels would be called cozy mysteries today, but she is just as often classified as a writer of romance novels. Not romance in the Harlequin sense, where each passionate kiss and sexual act is at the very least heavily alluded to and at the most vividly described. Instead, Holt follows in the footsteps of Jane Austen when she writes about matters of the heart, such as, love, sex, and marriage. Her works most of which were published in the sixties and seventies, saw a resurgence in popularity in the early nineties and have gone through several re-printings. I myself have been an avid admirer of her novels since the age of twelve. Now, twenty-six years later I have decided to return to her works to see if they stand up to the test of time, age, and maturity.

Bride of PendorricI chose for my first reading The Bride of Pendorric (first published January 1963) because I remember reading it all those years  ago, but the details of the plot and characters I’d quite forgotten. There were many things I enjoyed about Holt’s romantic, light mystery regarding the young Favel Farington and her devilishly handsome husband Roc Pendorric. Including the underlying sense of menace Holt moves the reader feel for the heroine Favel, who is referred to as only The Bride by the strange, secretive, and certainly supernaturally obsessed Pendorric clan. What came as a complete surprise to me, were Holt’s beautifully written setting details that create a true sense of place for her reader. Here are five of my favorite descriptions from The Bride:

  1. And there it lay – the most enchanting little village I had ever seen. There was the church, its ancient tower, about which the ivy clung, clearly of Norman architecture, and it was set in the midst of the graveyard. On one side the stones were dark with age and on the other they were white and new-looking. There was the vicarage, a grey house set in a hollow with its lawn and gardens on an incline. Beyond the church as the row of cottages . . . they had thatched roofs and tiny windows and were all joined together – the whole six of them . . . they were the same period s the church.
  2. There were no dust-sheets here. The huge windows gave me a view of the coast, with Polhorgan rising majestically on the cliff top; but it was not the view I looked at this time., but the room, and I think what struck me most was that it had the look of a room which was being lived in. There was a dais at one end of it and on this was a stand with a piece of music opened on it. Beside the stand, on a chair, was a violin, looking as though it had just been placed there; the case lay open on a nearby table. 
  3. The countryside seemed restful after the rugged coast views, and I was charmed by the greenish-gold of the freshly mown fields and the scarlet of the poppies growing here and there. I particularity noticed the occasional tree, slightly bent by the south-west gales, but taller than those stunted and distorted ones which survived along the coast. I could smell the fragrance of the meadow-sweet growing on the banks mingling with the harebells and scabious.
  4. The sky was a guileless blue, and the sea sparkled so brilliantly that it was almost too dazzling to contemplate. It was like a sheet of silk with scarcely a ripple in it. 
  5. The sun was shining but I could see the spiders’ webs on the bushes, and beautiful as the Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemum were they did underline the fact winter was on the way. But because this was Cornwall, the roses  were still blooming, and although the hydrangeas did not flower in such profusion, there were still some to brighten the quadrangle.

My next journey with Victoria will be in The King of the Castle. I look forward to more of her cozy murders, Austenesque romance, and vivid descriptions.

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A Response Worth Sharing

Image found on humanitiesunderground.wordpress.com

Image found on humanitiesunderground.wordpress.com

Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions. – Paulo Coelho

Last year, I was given the unique opportunity to read my essay “Lisa and Lolita, Le Viol de deux” for John King’s The Drunken Odyssey, since working on that project with him we have remained in touch (shameless plug: my reading is included in Episode 107 after Boris Fishman’s; check it out!). After sharing my essay on “Natural Born Killers” with him and our subsequent intriguing discussion on the my essay, the film, its director and Quentin Tarantino he has kindly given his blessing to share his comments on my website. Enjoy!

“Lisa, The most interesting part of your essay is about the couples who re-enact the wedding scene in NBK. While I don’t think there is a generation of NBK, which suggests a generation defined by the movie, seeing why people did like it and identified with it or became obsessed with it does seem like a fascinating subject to explore, and I don’t have to like NBK to find that odd cultural quirk revelatory and exciting. FYI: I was one of those viewers who was told by people who had seen Natural Born Killers that I would love it, as I like the weird and disturbing, apparently, but I deeply hated the movie, for reasons similar to the Rolling Stone critic. I wasn’t able to read this in the spirit you were hoping for, since you seem to be diligently dignifying what seems like a truly bad piece of art to me. Your claims about the film’s longstanding relevance fell a little flat with me. Quentin Tarantino was so horrified by the cheesy liberties Oliver Stone had taken with his screenplay that Tarantino insisted that he NOT be credited as a screenwriter, so the credit reads something like “based on a script by” or “based on the ideas of.” The dramatic context in the way that QT presents violence is so compelling, yet unnerving that we don’t quite cheer for it. For me, the loving way Oliver Stone made violence look cool and slick, often like a rock video, made him totally complicit in the critique he thought he was making against American media. I did like the “I Love Malory” sequence rather a lot; the satire there was effective, the laugh track disturbing (a trick used earlier, if I am not mistaken, in the Jungle Goddess episode of Mystery Science Theater). Some of the parts of NBK were good I thought, but the few good parts were worth far more than the tiresome whole, in my opinion. I found the story so stupid, the satire so gigantically self-unaware, that I wasn’t asking any big questions at the end other than why, oh why, does Oliver Stone have a messianic ego and who keeps green-lighting his films? Don’t even get me started on Baz Luhrmann or Steven Spielberg. With me, OS hits a nerve, apparently. Sigh.

I adore Tarantino, who could do no wrong … until the last act of Django. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece in so many ways. Not since Sam Peckinpah has someone shown us the violence we crave, and then make us feel uneasy with our cravings. The questioning of race and gender politics is also pretty wonderful. The way he takes the most basic pulp fiction plot tropes and makes them deviously interesting. Oliver Stone was a good writer (Midnight Express, Conan the Barbarian, Scarface) before he became a director, and then he became intolerable, to me at least. Here’s a link to an article I wrote on MST3K.”

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Another Published Essay!

Special thanks to Suzy Hazelwood for publishing my essay “The Never-Ending Journey” in The Writing Garden – Issue 4! It is such an honor to have my piece alongside so many other talented writers and poets. Thanks for the opportunity!

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2nd Essay Published!

I am pleased to announce that another of my essays has just been published! Marathon Literary Review has published ‘Let There Be Healing in Defense of Confessional Literature” in Issue 7 (Feb. 2015). This piece discusses the need for stories that offer ‘cathartic suffering’ as a part of the healing process. I want to thank Marathon and Arcadia University for this opportunity to share my work!

Link to Essay: http://marathonlitreview.com/

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lolita-book-cover

Lisa & Lolita, Le viol des deux

I have published my first essay! I am very excited to announce that Dark Matter, A Journal of Speculative Literature has published the essay I wrote on “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov entitled “Lisa and Lolita, Le viol de deux”. I want to thank Brad Hoge and the staff of Dark Matter for this opportunity!

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June 20, 2014 · 4:15 pm

In Defense of Confessional Literature an Essay by Lisa Korthals

This essay was written as a response/imitation of William Giraldi’s ‘In Defense of Darkness’

LISA KORTHALS

LET THERE BE HEALING

IN DEFENSE OF CONFESSIONAL LITERATURE

 

I. CATHARTIC SUFFERING

The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world.” – Marianne Williamson

 In the summer of 1989, my final summer before junior high school, I was voraciously reading anything I could get my hands on. My favorite books always had dark themes involving young women in extreme situations. Teenage girls fighting to survive sexual abuse, prostitution, drug use, or even being institutionalized were always on my radar. A few of these books stand out in my memory: Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld; Born Innocent by Bernhardt J. Hurwood; I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green; Randy by Jack W. Thomas; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Phoebe by Patricia Dizenzo; Cindy by John Benton; Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews; Lovey by Mary MacCracken; Daddy’s Girl by Charlotte Vale Allen; Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber; and One Child by Torey L. Hayden. All of these books portray neglected and abused children living through traumatizing and sometimes horrifying situations.  I would cry my way through all of the horrors experienced by these troubled, abused, and above all, neglected young girls feeling everything I imagined they felt i.e. fear, pain, hopelessness, and heart break. It was safer to let my heart break over the pain of these fictional girls, because by the end of their books they would be rescued by a friend, teacher, social worker, or some other Good Samaritan. I could weep over their suffering, because it would end; even if mine wouldn’t.

Even though I felt shaken, disturbed, and sick-to-my-stomach drained during these readings, this was, I believed, cathartic suffering. There was a camaraderie and outlook these characters and I possessively shared. Setting aside my personal connection to their circumstances, I knew I was learning something valuable about human depravity, abject hope, and chosen survival. This was not the kind of teenage angst portrayed in serial books like Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter’s Club, or even The Nancy Drew Files; this was true misery penned by people who understood what it meant to be victimized and lived to tell the story. This was something I needed in my life, if only I could find a way to move the hope I found on the printed page to my own flesh and blood heart.

My parents cringed at my strong identification with the anguish of these fictional characters. If asked, they would patently deny any personal connections to the subjects of: incest, verbal/emotional abuse, and childhood trauma. My father believes (and has always believed) that I am an overly sensitive, emotional woman who cries more than she works; and that is a cardinal sin for him – crying. For him, crying over one’s emotional pain is unacceptable, because it is not physical pain. Therefore, it can and should be controlled.  

My father is an admirer of silence. I secretly suspect that he hated my youthful love of these books because the authors’ were shouting openly their personal struggles. From his point-of-view the protagonists in these confessional novels should have just shut-up and dealt with life: Phoebe should just have told her parents she was pregnant and dealt with her situation; Lisa should have kept her mouth shut about her schizophrenia; the teachers in Lovey and One Child should have minded their own business; Sybil should have kept her delusional, attention-seeking lies to herself; and the author of Daddy’s Girl had no right to share family secrets with others. If I had my choice my father would have been teaching a special education class in an urban area, filled with troubled boys and girls in need of help, talking them through their personal traumas, giving himself wholly to the nurturing of others, stopping only to raise his own children with love and compassion. Unfortunately, there are other ways to be a parent.

II. THE BIG FESTIVAL OF ABUSE

         “Most of the pain we feel is nothing more than a story that needs telling.” ― Ashly Lorenzana        

Many literary agents, editors and publishers refuse to invest in confessional stories and novels on the subjects of abuse and mental illness because they are considered white noise. Sadly, this leaves a vast number of countless abused men and women without a voice, while insulting those who have chosen to pen their tales in the process. The notion that readers have grown bored with stories of survival or do not consider the issue of abuse in its many forms important is contemptuous. If that were the case, Sylvia Plath would never have published The Bell Jar; Ken Kesey would have thrown One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the fire; much of Nabokov’s work would never have made it out of Russia; Dave Pelzer’s stories would be collecting dust on a book shelf; and Hayden’s lost children would have slipped through cracks vanishing into oblivion. And these are just a few examples from more recent literature. If you add in stories and novels now considered classics—it’s one big festival of abuse.

Readers in search of healing, however, do not set the market standard, many as they may be, since they are far outnumbered by the sexual-seeking and lascivious fans of E.L. James. Popular culture has always set the publishing standard and Americans have begun turning an apathetic eye to any writer who does not offer sex, violence, and a happy ending. Stories of survival and healing, pale in a publisher’s eyes when compared to the top-selling seedy worlds of teenage angst-ridden vampires or contract toting sadomasochists. Thus, the space for confessional realistic fiction is shrinking a little more each year.

When the average reader does manage to tear themselves away from the sci-fi/fantasy and erotica landscapes so prevalently published, they are not likely to focus their attention on anything or anyone other than themselves. When I was in seminary, a fellow cohort expressed utter frustration and contempt for women who shared their stories of abuse and healing. This female student wondered why victims of abuse had to bring it up at all; she believed it was her job to ask someone sharing their story of healing why they chose to do so in the first place. She concluded this rant by asserting that people who share these things most likely did it for attention; attention she did not feel they deserved. She was not alone in her feelings; the majority of the class agreed with her. Talk about indifference.

III. A REMAINDER OF HEALING

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” – Hippocrates

When Neufeld published Lisa, Bright and Dark in 1969 it was immediately noticed by critics and readers alike, and it has remained a best seller for over forty years. Some considered it no more than a cheesy, after-school special waiting to happen, while others saw it as a raw, honest look at mental illness among the suburban classes. Neufeld’s own thoughts on his now internationally acclaimed novel reflect these two viewpoints:

What I wanted to do was write a short book, full of emotion and detail and excitement, for readers of all ages. I didn’t know that Edgar Allan would be regarded as a children’s book. It was. And when it was, everything fell into place. The minute Edgar Allan was launched successfully; I sat down to write Lisa, Bright and Dark. It, too, was a success so there was no turning back.

Neufeld’s novel and others like it are the presentation of humanity, the presentation of a human choice: we can choose suicide or healing. Many experiencing the reality of the themes present in confessional literature will choose suicide; only a small remainder will choose healing. The presence of confessional literature does not determine whether or not an individual will choose suicide, but many who experience cathartic suffering through this genre of fiction find an opportunity for healing.

My father would say that these books offer nothing more than blame. He laments the fact that many survivors of childhood abuse have begun to tell their stories laying blame at their parents feet. This opinion has been forged in the scars left from his own traumatic childhood: he was beaten, sexually abused, and abandoned through indifference and death by those he loved. First by his mother whose departure caused him to hate, and second, by his grandmother whose death killed any love that had begun to grow within him. To this day, he sees no need to discuss, let alone, write about things that he has already survived; things that cannot be changed. My own experiences have shown me that healing is possible through knowledge and identification. The knowledge gained through reading confessional literature is that no one is alone and healing can begin through one’s identification with the fictional characters that make up these novels. This is not my father’s way, but it is mine.

All healing is internal, and due to this, the various characters, plots, and themes found in confessional literature are as diverse as pain itself. If the story is realistic, filled with suffering and chastened hope, best to allow it to be what it is: an opportunity. Like the characters that fill the pages of these books that I have come to treasure, we feel we can’t go on, but we find a way. Our fathers will carry on in their way, our friends will support or leave us, we will be schooled by contempt in our communities and then, against all statistical logic, we will survive and remain to tell a healing tale.

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Bookish Thoughts

Bookish Thoughts.

Lisa and Lolita, Le viol des deux

An Essay by Lisa Korthals

One

I discovered Lolita in film at the tender age of 11. What I remember most about that summer was that I was always alone, but not alone enough as it turned out. My older brother was habitually out with ‘friends’ and my little brother had the unique privilege of being able to go to work with my mom (who worked at a day care center); this left me alone in our four bedroom apartment. My father worked for our apartment complex and he had the frustrating habit of coming home in between maintenance calls. I hated that.

We lived in Las Vegas and that summer was one of the hottest anyone could remember, with temperatures reaching a lethal 120 degrees at least twice a week. Trapped inside by the heat, I would watch movies. My favorites were old movies; anything black and white was of interest. And so it came to pass, that (quite by accident) I found myself one hot summer day watching Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 classic Lolita.

Two

In Lolita, Laughter in the Dark and Transparent Things Nabokov writes vivid prose regarding the agony that (both unrequited and requited) ‘forbidden love’ creates in the male soul and the violent impulses these couplings bring out in both parties. Nabokov’s themes are voyeuristically sexual; turning all of his readers into ‘accident gapers’ on the highway of life. The accidents Nabokov allows his readers to slow down and gaze at have old names: lust, cruelty, incest, torture, rape, betrayal, and murder. It follows that during Nabokov’s lifetime (and well after his death) his most popular work was Lolita – people love a blood smeared road.

Three

I cried through most of it. I was so confused.

Four

Synesthesia from the ancient Greek σύν [syn], “together”, and αἴσθησις [aisthēsis], “sensation“) is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. Though often stereotyped as a medical condition or neurological aberration, many synesthetes themselves do not perceive their synesthetic experiences as a handicap. To the contrary, most report it as a gift—an additional “hidden” sense—something they would not want to miss.

Five

Biographers and critics alike have analyzed and dissected Nabokov’s prose style, finding the artistry of synesthesia under their microscopes. However, this type of literary criticism feels reductive, sterile, and antiseptic. While Nabokov’s prose is richly textured and full of sensory details that capture all of the five senses, this tenant of his writing cannot and should not be explained away as the by-product of a medical condition. In the same way, critics miss the aberrant impact of his words when they are tagged, bagged, and shelved as high art. These types of diagnosistic criticism, while traditional, capture none of the distressingly painful content that fills the pages of his novels. Lolita is about the brutal and repeated rape of a child at the hands of her step-father. Laughter in the Dark details the descent of a man into fatal lust and tortured blindness. Transparent Things gives the account of a man who kills his young wife in a fit of rage and jealousy. All the flowery prose and untranslated French phrases (a signature found in most of his novels) in the world cannot change these sickeningly heart-wrenching themes.

Six

I called my grandmother and begged her to take me to the library. I wanted to tell her why I had been crying. I wanted to tell her so many things about her son, but I settled for a trip to the library. I was on a mission to find Lolita in print – the film would make more sense to me once I read the book. I gathered up my latest round of read books and met my grandmother at the wrought iron gate that separated our community from the rest of the world. She never asked me what was wrong . . . funny, no one ever did. Like all good betrayers, she ignored all signs that didn’t point toward her destination. She refused to see my puffy, red, eyes and emaciated figure (my anorexic attempt to control my beauty and therefore be too ugly for my father’s tastes). That anciently happy betrayer just drove me to the library and complimented me for being such an avid reader.

I checked out three books that day: Lolita, A Wrinkle in Time, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. The librarian hesitated as she flipped open Lolita’s cover, “Do you know what this is about young lady?” I responded with silence, hoping she would pull me aside and ask me why I wanted to read the book. The silence grew between us. Her face became quizzical and she appeared to be on the verge of saying something . . . I looked up at her with large, brown, pleading eyes, urging her to pursue her line of questioning. “You do know this is not a children’s book?” I was silently hopeful, this nosy librarian wasn’t going to stamp my book; instead, she was going to help me! “I really don’t know if you should be reading this. . .” was all she said before she pounded her ink stamp into the due date box and called for the next patron to step forward . . . due dates are important.

Seven

Readers don’t have to wait long for Humbert to find his soul, his sin, his Lolita. Just 38 pages into the novel, Humbert a cuckolded, newly divorced man is struck by her resemblance to his first love. It was the same child-the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair. The twenty-five years I had lived since then tapered to a palliating point, and vanished . . . yes, they [were both] beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The subtlety of this scene is horrifyingly focused. Nabokov does not mention her breasts or mouth (the obvious seats of sexual symbolism); instead, with an interweaving of words, colors, and textures Humbert’s budding compulsive obsession is revealed. The reader can picture the color of honey on her shoulders, her chestnut brown hair, and we can almost feel the silkiness of her back under the warm sun. Nabokov forces his readers to look at Lolita as Humbert does (a sexual being – a nymphet). In doing so, he pushes us to explore our own apathy and self-imposed blindness toward child molestation, rape, and incest. Nabokov paints child rape in an array of blindingly bright, artistic hues – but, like a valuable masterpiece that has been painted over, the true painting, the one most people will not see, is hidden underneath. Conceivably, what lies beneath the surface of Lolita is the most shocking; for me, it certainly is the most terrifyingly personal depiction of evil I have ever read.

Eight

Throughout Lolita Nabokov hints at the seedy underbelly missed by readers who get caught up in his clever use of the English language. It is noteworthy that Lolita is the first person to define clearly what is happening to her. She does not evade the subject with flowery prose (as Humbert does throughout the novel) instead, she states calmly, clearly, and quite correctly the word is incest. In his choice to have Lolita use this word, Nabokov has skillfully revealed her true feelings about Humbert’s ‘love’ for her and the unreliability of Humbert as a narrator. The reader knows that Humbert, like all narrator’s, is telling his version of the truth. And yet, Nabokov makes it wonderfully and appalling clear that his protagonist/narrator is looking through the glass darkly of a sexually disturbed man.

Humbert describes his sexual appetite as that of an artist or madman, a creature of infinite melancholy. He justifies his attraction to children with revolting passion and unchecked forthrightness very early in the novel. At times, Nabokov allows Humbert to speak of himself in the third person. For instance, his heart beat when, among the innocent throng, he espied a demon child, [charming and deceitful] . . . he was perfectly capable of intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for. Nabokov’s syntax here is precise and deceptively eloquent. The casual reader, who picks up Lolita in the hopes of finding a catalog of erotic perversions, misses Nabokov’s ingenious equation of pedophilia with demonology.

This important analogy is found by the reader seventeen pages into the novel, long before Humbert finds Lolita. Here, Nabokov skillfully invokes the mythology surrounding the Lilith tradition in his depiction of Humbert’s sexual desires. To explain, Eve represents subservient adult women of beauty and strength, who most Adam’s (unlike Humbert) find sexually attractive. Humbert’s yearning for a Lilith symbolizes the contrary nature of what he calls his ‘love’ for nymphets.

Nine

Lilith, a demon goddess, was birthed from the dust of Eden and married to Adam. However, unlike Eve, she refused to lie underneath Adam during sexual intercourse. According to the myths and legends that surround her, Lilith’s refusal came from her desire to control the amount of sexual pleasure she received from Adam, while simultaneously controlling the amount of sexual pleasure Adam received from her. In the same way, Humbert refuses to accept conventional sexual relationships and instead desires to be sexually dominated by a childlike demon-goddess of his very own.

Ten

Nabokov’s early mention of the Lilith myth also acts as foreshadowing. To explain, the mythical Lilith leaves Eden and journeys to the desert caves peppered along the shores of the Red Sea. Once there she daily gives herself over to her insatiable sexual desires with lascivious demons; the result is the production of a litter of demonic babies. Comparatively, Humbert takes his Lilith aka his Lolita and flees to the deserted roads of America to pursue his own sexual desires. He also desires a marriage in a mountain state [and] a litter of Lolitas. Several times throughout the novel, he and Lolita find themselves exploring the dark realms of physical and symbolic caves. To the bitter end, Humbert rationalizes his perverse dream that with patience and luck I might have her produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, Lolita the Second . . . when I would still be [in the strength of my age]  . . . practicing on a lovely Lolita the third the art of granddad.

Eleven

Vladimir Nabokov was asked on numerous occasions why he wrote Lolita. Loath to answer this question, he would respond differently almost every time. Sometimes he might quip that it was not the love affair between Humbert and Lolita that interested him; no, it was his own love affair with the English language. At other times, he would state that the whole novel was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel. Nabokov’s evasiveness toward this question only fueled the novel’s mystery, causing critics and literary scholars alike to draw their own conclusions. One of the most popular is that Lolita is the greatest love story ever told. Take it from a real-life Lolita: this is no great love story; quite the contrary. Perhaps, Nabokov is using the physical rape of his main character to illustrate a larger issue: the rape of the American female’s childhood.

Nabokov may have written Lolita to expose the fact that underneath the 1950’s American commercial veneer of happy marriages, white picket fences, and charmingly boisterous children lay the ugly rapes of generations of little girls – who were conditioned by a predatory mass media to leave innocent girlhood behind as quickly as possible and plunge head long into womanhood as full blown consumers of all products deemed feminine.

Twelve

A comedian once said: My mother tried to kill me when I was a baby. She denied it. She said she thought the plastic bag would keep me fresh. My own mother tried to kill me when I was twelve. Like all good mothers, she denies this. She said she thought the fires of her indifference were keeping me warm.

Thirteen

All-in-all my mother was a good sport about things – she always drove me out of town whenever I caught a bladder infection. When I was very young, not more than four or five, I remember being driven forty miles away to a clinic where you did not have to have an appointment. This was done to keep me away from our family doctor, a wonderful, elderly, German gentleman, who had taken a special interest in me since he delivered me into this cruel world. Due to an abnormal amount of bladder infections for a child my age, it was ordered that I see our good German doctor once a week until ‘things cleared up’. He always brought his beautiful wife/nurse into the exam room with us and made my mother wait outside. He would carefully look over each childhood bump and bruise to ensure that all of them were received innocently during play. His wife would smile while he was doing this and ask me all kinds of questions about my parents’ overall treatment of me and my brother. These visits always ended with the same question, “Does it hurt when you pee?” At first I told the truth, whereupon he would gently pat my knee and tell me he would give me something to take care of that and not to worry. Then, his wife would smooth my hair and prepare the liquid pink antibiotic. By the fifth infection, I overheard him telling my mother that if I had even one more infection something more intrusive would have to be done. My mother cried all the way home, saying all the time that I might have kidney troubles and that she didn’t want me to die. After that, I lied to the good doctor and told him everything was fine, but when the pain got to be too much I confessed to my mother the truth. The doctors and nurses at the clinic never asked me any questions; they just examined me, wrote my mother a prescription and sent us on our way.  Thus, she became indifferent to my abnormal amount of infections; tossing them aside as ‘something I would grow out of’.

When I was older, the tumor of her indifference grew so large that it blinded her. She loved the darkness that feigned ignorance brings to the eyes. I hated her darkness, almost as much as I hated the hot, white light coming through our front door every day at 1 pm: his favorite hour of interruption.

Fourteen

Nabokov’s mothers fall into three categories: absent, dead, or complicit, all of which lead to their fresh-faced daughters being harmed emotionally, physically, and sexually. In Lolita, Charlotte (Lolita’s mother) conveniently dies, and in doing so, opens the way for Humbert: at first, when Charlotte had just been eliminated . . . one thing in my mind and pulse–namely, the awareness that in a few hours hence, warm, brown-haired, and mine, mine, mine, Lolita would be in my arms, shedding tears that I would kiss away faster than they could well.

Death is not the only way Nabokov’s mothers betray their daughters. In Transparent Things (one of Nabokov’s final novels), Armande’s mother acts as a complicit procurer for the obsessive Hugh when she states, Come, I want to offer you a nice cold drink and show you some albums . . .not only did the snapshots follow Armande through all the phases of the past and all of the improvements of an amateur photographer, but the girl came in various states of innocent undress. 

Laughter in the Dark (Nabokov’s tribute to the silent film era) shows Margot’s mother to be abusively absent: Her mother was still youngish, but rather battered too . . . a coarse callous woman whose red palm was a perfect cornucopia of blows. As a child Margot went to school, and there her ears were boxed rather less frequently than at home.

Nabokov’s own mother fits none of his categories; in fact, she is the polar opposite of these ghostly figures who float in out of the pages of his novels leaving trails of endoplasmic damage in their wake. His novels leave the reader begging to know ‘Where have all the good mothers gone?’ Nabokov does not present an idealized view of the bond between mothers and daughters. In stark contrast to any loving bond, Nabokov presents the mother-daughter relationship as an ongoing power struggle – where only one will survive. Lolita, Margot, and Armande find no comfort in their mothers’ arms. They are waiflike orphans forced to seek comfort and love wherever they can find it. They are vulnerable. They are preyed upon. They are predators. They are modern women in every sense of the word.

Fifteen

The average marriage among the Sami people of pre-industrial Finland showed young women marrying much older men; with an age gap between 15-25 years . . . the men lived longer . . .  love did not enter into it.

Sixteen

Every pedophile is a lover of history, art, and traps. They are regular encyclopedias of Greco-Roman history on the subject of sex with children. They will cite with barely veiled anticipation places around the globe where men are allowed to freely and openly copulate with children as young as nine. Paintings, sculptures, sketches, and photographs of children line their walls and fill their odious hiding places. Only the most well-known artists are seen by the public and only the most obscene are saved for private consumption. Predators want so much to be accepted and understood as tortuously artistic.

Their traps, like all good hunters, are camouflaged. They feign interest in childish things; they offer achingly soothing words to pre-pubescent angsts; they carefully place kisses and caresses on cheeks, foreheads, and hands; they offer eagerly developing brains philosophical bullshit about life, love, and death. Yet, these snares boil down to strategic attempts to hide their predatory nature. Ah but, these revelations come to the prey too late . . . much too late.

Seventeen

Nabokov’s work is not autobiographical and he loathed psychoanalytical criticism or what he called Freudian criticism of his work: My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Learn to distinguish banality. Remember that mediocrity thrives on “ideas.” Beware of the modish message. Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories. By all means place the “how” above the “what” but do not let it be confused with the “so what.” Rely on the sudden erection of your small dorsal hairs. Do not drag in Freud at this point. All the rest depends on personal talent.

This may due to the fact that there is almost nothing of Vladimir Nabokov’s personal life in his novels. He grew up in a healthy, wealthy family where he was educated, supported, and encouraged to pursue his creative passions. Moreover, Nabokov was known for thrashing literary critics who attempted to connect him to his characters: Neither can I do anything to please critics belonging to the good old school of “projected biography,” who examine an author’s wor…k, which they do not understand, through the prism of his life, which they do not know.

Eighteen

Nabokov is not Hugh, Albinas, or even Humbert and I am not Lolita, Margot, or Armande. And yet, we are drawn together by wisdom and experience on the painful journeys his novels take me on. His writing speaks to that part of my soul that was crushed, broken, and lost long ago, in the arid heat of Nevada. Perhaps, I return to Nabokov’s evil, deserts because, despite the pain they bring, they are familiarly real to me. Perhaps, I return to Lolita in an attempt to mend the broken pieces of my soul and retrieve those pieces of myself that have been lost. Or maybe, just maybe, I too love to gape at the blood-smeared highway that represents the rape of my childhood.

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Oreos and Homosexuality

As a Christian, I have become frustrated. Why has the issue of same sex marriage become such a lightening rod to bash those who believe that homosexuality is a sin? I blame the Church and the media. As a believer, it is too easy to say it is all the liberal media’s fault that Christians are getting a bad name. While there is some truth to the statement that Christians are often painted in the press as hating those they do not agree with, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First of all, the press never ask anyone what they think about rape, adultery, incest, orgies, or pedophilia. These are ALL listed as sexual sins in the Bible, and yet, the only questions ever raised have to do with one sexual sin from (what is obviously) a much longer list. Why wasn’t Phil Robertson asked about his views on rape? I have yet to hear one recent news story where believers are asked to discuss what the Bible says about incest? The only answer is, of course, the obvious one – these behaviors are still considered ‘wrong’ by our culture/society.

Second, it is time for all believers to stop creating a hierarchy of sin where certain sins (like homosexuality) are considered worse than others. Many modern believers have come to hold the sin of homosexuality as a ‘pet sin’. Why? Again the answer is the obvious one, the other sexual sins listed often hit a bit too close to home; and it is easy to demonize that which is different or outside one’s own experiences. To explain, the reason homosexuality has become a ‘pet sin’ is that most believers (certainly not all) have not experienced the desire for someone of the same sex. However, many (far too many) have committed the sin of adultery – so, they can forgive it because they understand the impulse and also desire to be forgiven.

Finally, Christianity is THE only religion that I am aware of that preaches faith, hope, love, and freedom. And yet, if believers do not agree with those who choose to live in sin they are painted as judgmental bigots out to bash those who are not like themselves.

Approval of sinful behavior does not equal love. As a parent, I see this truth played out on a daily basis. If my children are doing something wrong, such as, eating an entire package of Oreos. I need to tell them the truth – I do NOT approve of their behavior, but this does not mean that I hate them. In fact, I am telling them that I do not approve out of love for them and the desire to see them healthy and happy. However, I must speak truth in love. For instance, I do not call them ‘fat little pigs.’ Instead, I tell them the truth that this is not healthy behavior and that they will most likely get sick. Finally, I tell them not to do it again. None of these things are done out of hatred for them, instead, they are done out love.

Some of you reading this may be thinking that eating too many Oreos and homosexuality are not the same thing, but that is my point. All sin is the same before God and believers must speak truth in love regarding all sins not just the ones we have deemed worse than others.

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The Christian Feminist (Podcast)

I have been a panelist a few times for this podcast and I wanted to share this link with my readers! Please feel free to check it out, I am a panelist on the most recent episode 3.2 “I am not a feminist, but . . “! Happy listening:)

Here is the link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheChristianFeministPodcast

Note: Be sure to scroll down once the page opens up!

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