Véra Nabokov Was the First and Greatest Champion of “Lolita”
The long-suffering wife who stands at her husband’s side, lending moral cover, reliably serves to blot out another woman’s agony. Véra did just the opposite. She alone emphasized Lolita’s plight from the start. In interviews, among her husband’s colleagues, with family members, she stressed Lolita’s “complete loneliness in the whole world.” She had not a single surviving relative! Reviewers searched for morals, justifications, explanations. What they inevitably failed to notice, Véra complained, was “the tender description of the child’s helplessness, her pathetic dependence on monstrous Humbert Humbert, and her heartrending courage all along.” They forgot that “ ‘the horrid little brat’ Lolita was essentially very good indeed.” Despite the vile abuse, she would go on to make a decent life for herself. Readers, too, ignored Lolita’s vulnerability, her pain, the stolen childhood, the lost potential. Lolita was not a symbol. She was a defenseless child. The subversive book, as Donald Malcolm wrote in his New Yorker review of the novel, in 1958, “coolly prodded one of the few remaining raw nerves of the twentieth century.” No less transgressive, shockingly more familiar, it strikes different nerves in the early twenty-first. Véra complained of Lolita, “She cries every night, and the critics are deaf to her sobs.” We hear her loud and clear today, when, finally, she has come to stand at the center of the story that bears her name."