How far can Freud and Nietzsche connected with the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov?
Where do we see Freudian and Nietzschean perspectives in Lolita?
Nabokov’s Lolita, one of the most controversial books of the 20th century, can be linked with numerous philosophical perspectives, including those of Sigmund Freud and Freidrich Nietzsche. Nietzschean philosophy is present in Lolita in the form of the debate around conventional morality: Nietzsche strongly opposed accepted moral values and championed the idea that binary ‘good’ and ‘evil’ did not exist. Through Humbert, Nabokov draws the reader into the centre of this debate, as his charismatic narration encourages us to sympathise with him. Throughout the text, parallels are present in the sense that “like Nietzsche, Nabokov can be seen to be effectively critiquing a schematic approach to good and evil – an approach which reduces them to mere social norms” (Rodgers, p.110). The Nietzschean approach forces the reader to question their assumption that Humbert’s status as a paedophile immediately renders him a bad person, since in all other ways he would outwardly be seen to be a productive member of society. While Nietzsche’s ideas are supported, Freudian psychology comes under fire in Lolita. Nabokov vocally detested Freud, as he described in a 1966 interview: ‘I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me’ (New York Times Books, 1966, n.p.). Within Lolita, he overtly mocks the field of psychiatry: Humbert enjoys lying to practitioners, and heaps scorn upon one who tells him that Lolita has been deemed ‘sexually immature’ given his knowledge of her active sex life with him. Humbert resists classification throughout, trying to force the reader to see him as a unique – if flawed – individual, not a ‘textbook case’. Nabokov weaves prominent discourses into the story to evidence his perceptions of Humbert, and further, of the world and its hypocrisy.
Nabokov, V. (2000). Lolita. London: Penguin Classics.
New York Times Books. (1966). ‘Why Nabokov Detests Freud’. [Online]. Retrieved 16.09.2016 – available online.
Rodgers, M. (2011). ‘Lolita’s Nietzschean Morality.’ Philosophy and Literature 35.1, pp. 104-120.