Lola & H.H. Yes, the surface level our fictional monikers is very easy to decipher. There is Nabokov’s Lolita, known as “Lo” or “Lola,” and his Humbert Humbert from the same novel. I am in awe of this Russian literary giant because his greatest works were written in English — his second language! — and not just English, but such English.
Pick up a copy of Lolita and read it through and you shall find that its language is as impenetrable as Humbert Humbert finds his Lolita the first time she gives herself to him. He writes a prose that is poetry. But whereas most poetry gains its power from the use of monosyllabic words and an immediate visual and visceral impact upon the mind, Nabokov’s prose employs some of the most rare, obscure, and multisyllabic vocabulary of any novel in English. And he does so without flaw. Each and every word, pompous and chock-full-of-syllables as they may be, fits perfectly and works toward fulfilling the thought rather than distracting from it. The true beauty of Lolita is not the story, the tragic plot, the characters; the true beauty of the book is the language. The main character is the medium through which the story is being told. This is an innovation on par with other modernists such as Joyce, Eliot, and Beckett. The language takes on a texture that is to the philologist what clay is to the sculptor.
But, beyond the sheen of the language, Nabokov seems to have also tapped into something hidden, dark, mysterious, and also ubiquitous. Jung would call it the collective unconscious. Following Jung, we could say that Nabokov’s two characters — Lolita and Humbert Humbert — are archetypes of this collective unconscious. Perhaps we have seen them before in various guises.
Lot and his daughters:
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children — as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.
Judah and Tamar:
When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.
“I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.
He said, “What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.
From the world of Greek myth, there’s Hades and Persephone, Aphrodite and Zeus as well as Aphrodite and her cuckolded husband Hephaistos. Approaching the mythic is the scandalous story of Pericles and his mistress, the hetaera, Aspasia.
In the medieval period we have the wonderful account of Abelard and Heloise. With this fine French tragic romance, we are fortunate enough to have the first person words of both the tutor and his love-struck pupil. Just listen to how the old, repentant Abelard recalls his youthful days tutoring his lovely pupil in the arts of philosophy (“love of wisdom”):
First we were joined in one house, then in one heart. Under the pretext of study, we had all our time free for love, and in our classroom all the seclusion love could ever want. With our books open before us, we exchanged more words of love than of lessons, more kisses than concepts. My hands wandered more to her breasts than our books, and love turned our eyes to each other more than reading kept them on the page. To avert suspicion, there were some beatings, yes, but the hand that struck the blows belonged to love, not anger, to pleasure, not rage — and they surpassed the sweetness of any perfume. We left no stage of love untried in our passion, and if love could find something novel or strange, we tried that too. New at the game, we went at it with heat, and it never grew old for us.
Oh, what wisdom (and carnal knowledge) our dear cleric imparted to his willing disciple! But those halcyon days were not unending. Soon enough the clever uncle caught wind of the lessons in forbidden topics taught to his nymph-like niece and he exacted his revenge. His hired henchmen visited the defenseless Abelard at night and removed the organ which contained the motivation for his transgression. But, what the fool Fulbert did not recon, what this insensate dolt could not for the life of him ever imagine was that — having removed the liquid by which the fire of lust is fed — Abelard’s love of Heloise would continue to glow brightly like the embers of a celestial conflagration. Their bodies may have been creatures of a day, but through their mortal flaws and the tragic dénouement, their love was to be remembered eternally and their story was to be immortalized.
Hear now how the outward paradigm of virtue carries within her breast the burning of her youthful indiscretions. In her letter to her beloved, Heloise rebukes Abelard’s proposal to make her a “decent” woman with the words:
I never wanted anything in you
but you alone,
nothing of what you have
but you yourself,
never a marriage, never a dowry,
never any pleasure, any purpose of my own —
as you well know —
but only yours.
The name of wife may have the advantages
of sanctity and safety, but to me
the sweeter name will always be lover
or, if your dignity can bear it,
concubine or whore.
And she confesses in her letter to certain acts performed in the dark chamber of her convent and the even darker hidden chamber of her mind when she says:
the pleasures we shared in love were sweet,
they cannot displease me now,
and rarely are they ever out of mind.
Wherever I turn, they are there before my eyes
with all their old desires.
I see their images even in my sleep.
During Holy Mass itself,
when prayer should be its purest,
unholy fantasies of pleasure so enslave my wretched soul
that my devotion is to them and not my prayers.
The closer we approach the modern period, the more frequent the accounts of these December/May relationships, as well as the more conflicted the public’s response to them. Such affairs gain the glare of the prurient public eye, only to be rebuked and condemned by the very same titillated purveyors of hypocrisy. Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Woody Allen are some of the luminaries and targets in the past century.
This is all to say that Nabokov tapped into a very deep, dark aquifer of the human psyche with his archetypes from Lolita. If the historical evidence of this were not enough to substantiate the claim, then even the most cursory of research will display how ubiquitous his archetype has become; “Lolita” now being almost synonymous with both “sex” and “forbidden.”
There is something deeply troubling about these tragic Lolitas and their fatherly figures: the way they have been depicted through the ages, how they continue to be depicted (often appearing to be underage, if not actually so), and I will impress upon the reader once more here that my Lo is not a hapless plaything, manipulated without consent or agency. A hundred times no. It must be very clear that Lo is not only fully consensual in our magic theater, but an active, intelligent, creative force in unlocking the mysterious depths of our various ruses.
But the choice of our monikers does not begin and end with Nabokov. No. Lola also conjures up a number of other figures and images. The double “L” consonant has reverberations of “Lila” — meaning “play” in Sanskrit and “night” in Hebrew. Lila is also evocative of its etymologically related name, “Lilith,” the primordial woman (the woman of the night) before Eve who left Eden of her own volition and has become a demon of unchecked female sexuality. Lila is related to the Biblical name, Delilah, whose sexual prowess was even greater than her powerful lover, Samson.
Lola also has overtones of “low” as in “going low down,” “on the down-low,” and “low-brow.” “Lo,” my affectionate abbreviation of Lola, is the first two letters of “love.”
H.H., though it can stand for Humber Humbert, also could be the initials of Harry Haller, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. Much like the literary creation of Hesse’s, I too am an erstwhile professor, a loner, a curmudgeon, a high-brow snob, and an occasionally suicidal stick-in-the-mud. Much as the lovely Hermine saved the nearly fifty Haller from himself, so too has my lovely Lo come to my rescue (on numerous occasions) and taught me about something that books can only communicate second-hand: Life. Furthermore, just as Harry Haller is a fictional projection of the author who goes by the same initials, viz. Hermann Hesse, so too is my H.H. an autobiographical first-person narrational stand-in for me.
Lastly, I find that all these H.H. characters and their nymphets are also reduplicated in the wonderful musical, My Fair Lady, in which the horrible humbug Henry Higgins creates his artistic masterpiece in the person of Eliza Doolittle, and then has the wonderful misfortune of falling in love with her.
So, there you have it, my curious companions — the story of how we became H.H. and Lola.
[From the blog: mysexlifewithlola.com]