Monday, June 8, 2009


Lolita, or the Confession of an Unlikely Killer, such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note received the strange pages it discusses. "Humbert Humbert," their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start. His lawyer, my good friend and relation, Clarence Choate Clark, Esq., now of the District of Columbia bar, in asking me to edit the manuscript, based his request on a clause in his client's will which empowered my eminent cousin to use the discretion in all matters pertaining to the preparation of Lolita for print. Mr. Clark's decision may have been influenced by the fact that the editor of his choice had just been awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work ("Eye for an Eye?") wherein bizarre cases of parental and pseudo-parental revenge had been discussed.

My task proved simpler than either of us had anticipated. Save for the correction of obvious solecisms and a careful suppression of a few tenacious details that despite "H.H."'s own efforts still subsisted in his text as signposts and tombstones (indicative of places or persons that taste would conceal and compassion spare), this remarkable memoir is presented intact. Its author's bizarre nickname is his own invention; and, of course, this mask--through which two hypnotic eyes seem to glow--had to remain unlifted in accordance with its wearer's wish. While "Haze" only rhymes with the heroine's real surname, her first name is too closely interwound with the inmost fiber of the book to allow one to alter it; nor (as the readers will perceive for themselves) is there any practical necessity to do so. References to "H.H."'s crime may be looked up by the inquisitive in the daily papers for September-October 1952; its cause and purpose would have continued to come under my reading lamp.

For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow the destinies of the "real" people beyond the "true" story, a few details may be given as received from Mr. "Windmuller," or "Ramsdale," who desires his identity suppressed so that "the long shadow of this sorry and violent business" should not reach the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, "Louise," is by now a college sophomore, "Mona Dahl" is a student in Paris. "Rita" has recently married the proprietor of a hotel in Florida. Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller" died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. "Vivian Darkbloom" has written a biography, "My Cue," to be published shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk.

This commentator may be excused for repeating what he has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that "offensive" is frequently but a synonym for "violent;" and many a great work of art of course often uncovers a corpse or two. I have no intention to glorify "H.H." No doubt, he is has briefly (though murder is always so relentlessly brief—it is a well-trod irony that our life’s most significant moments are just that, moments, while boredom stretches on endlessly) given in to a rage that clearly prohibits. And yet what parent (or adopted parent) would not at least entertain the idea of such a revenge upon a daughter’s abductor. In “H.H.”’s account, the reader is met with a disturbing mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this country are ludicrous. A defensive honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from his sin of vengeance. But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a compassion for his adopted daughter that makes us entranced with the book while questioning its author!

As a case history, Lolita will become, no doubt, a classic among retirees, housewives, and prospective adoptive parents. Even children will be drawn in for the promise of blood, but addicted for the purity of the parent-child relationship found within. I predict that Lolita will be remembered as a gold standard among tales of selfless love and selfless revenge, all the less resistible because it is true. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the vengeful maniac--these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils as well as the way to redemption. Lolita should make all of us--parents, social workers, educators--apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.

John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.
Widworth, Mass