15 September 2005

Glib Service

      The feteing of Nabokov's Lolita -- on the occasion of its fiftieth year, as regular readers here should be aware-- continues today with a piece in the NYT that unfortunately seems more pap than meat.   The article's tendency towards glibness I find bothersome, to say nothing of misleading. Take, for example, this rather smug characterization of Nabokov's first genuine supporter, Graham Greene:

Only at the end of the year did Graham Greene, in London, relieve "Lolita" of her obscurity. Greene was not always good to little girls; he had lost a lawsuit for having proferred a few remarks about Shirley Temple and her "dimpled depravity."
"Not always good to little girls."   Oy vey....   The reductionism here makes it sound as if Greene had written about Temple as some kind of real life Humbert Humbert, when, in fact, he criticized 20th Century Fox for deliberately marketing Temple (in GG's words) with "a certain adroit coquetry which appealed to middle-aged men."   It's also worth observing that in most critical circles, GG's observations are now accepted as accurate-- and, to an extent, astutely prophetic.   (One shudders to think what hay Greene would have made from the Olsen Twins.)   It is, however, this sort of deliberately flip characterization that sends me right up with wall -- especially when it's easily remedied with a little prudent editing and intelligent research.   But-- gronk!-- nay, nary, and natch, it's easier and more provocative to suggest that Greene was luridly objectifying "little girls."   Frankly, this is one of the weaker pieces on Lolita I've seen this year, and it makes me wonder if we've learned anything at all from that book and how we approach issues of desire and objectification.   I suspect that if either Nabokov or Greene were still around, they'd read this article with mildly-profane expressions of indignance.   Actually, Greene would probably have laughed-- loudly and heartily-- at such priggish earnestness.   Perhaps best we should react the same way.

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