Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Scepter of My Passion...hehe

Picking my excerpt was easy; this was one of the first passages that really blew me away:

“I have reserved for the conclusion of my "Annabel" phase the account of our unsuccessful first tryst. One night, she managed to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family. In a nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards--presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs, her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half-pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features. She sat a little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she was led to kiss me, her head would bend with a sleepy, soft, drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again; and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails, I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion.”

This section is chronologically odd. Why did Nabokov, or Humbert rather, conclude the “’Annabel’ phase” with their unsuccesfull attempt? Why not tell us about it before enlightening us about the sucesfull one? I think that the entire Annabel section is a microcosm of foreshadowing. If Nabokov had Humbert end on the (somewhat) happy note of his consummation with Annabel, the two stories wouldn’t be congruent. Nabokov wants us to know that his relationship with Lolita won’t end up any better than him and Annabel’s.
Let’s evaluate the language. Humbert has a fantastically unromantic way of describing the things he finds particularly romantic. You wouldn’t know it at the time, but going back and reading this passage again I notice that it’s very evocative of Humberts first sexual experience with Lolita. Humbert says that Annabel “trembled and twitched,” which aren’t exactly physical signs of pleasure. He goes on to discuss how she reacted to the “pain of love,” and how she would grab his hand between her legs in order to stop him, only to let him go again. Nabokov is brilliantly using Humbert to let the reader see, for the first time, what makes up a large part of his sexual appetite: masochism and power. Nabokov also leaves fairly subtle hints to suggest Humbert’s own egotism. He describes his effect on Annabel as that of “some mysterious potion,” and ends by giving her the gift of his….well…”scepter of passion” to hold. This passage is interesting in the context of the whole book because it’s one of the very few times that Nabokov actually describes anything sexual in detail. The only other comparable example is the passage that this excerpt evokes: Humbert’s first sexual encounter with Lo. I think it’s excerpts like these that make Lolita the “most convincing love story of our time,” because it’s realistic. Sure, it’s between 2 13 year olds, one of whom will grow up to be a pedophile, but the flight from the typical all-happy all the time model is refreshing. Nabokov illustrates that pain and pleasure are both intricate parts of love.

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