Alfred Appel, Jr.
Nabokov regards with profound skepticism the possibilities of autobiographical revelation. When Fyodor shaves himself in The Gift, "A pale self‐ portrait looked out of the mirror with the serious eyes of all self-portraits"; Nabokov does not abide such portraits. "Manifold self-awareness" is not to be achieved through solemn introspection, certainly not through the diarist's compulsive egotism, candid but totally self-conscious self-analysis, carefully created "honesty," willful irony, and studied self-deprecation. Nabokov burlesqued the literary diary as far back as 1934. Near the end of Despair, Hermann's first-person narrative "degenerates into a diary"—"the lowest form of literature"—and this early parody is fully realized in Lolita, especially in chapter eleven, part one, when Humbert incorporates into his narrative a diary "destroyed" five years before. His entire prison "journal" seems to be written before our eyes. "I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but please do not correct it, Clarence" [his lawyer and caretaker of the manuscript], Humbert remarks. Several other "mistakes" are left intact, thus creating the illusion that Humbert's manuscript is a first draft, unaltered, written in great haste but with passion, and the hapless literal-minded reader may embrace it as the most "sincere" form of self‐ portraiture possible. But of course all the worst propensities of the diarist are embodied in Humbert's rhetoric, parodying the first-person singular's almost inevitable solipsism and most tendentious assumptions about self, and the reader who is late in realizing this has had his own assumptions parodied.____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Contributors: Harold Bloom - Editor. Publisher: Chelsea House. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1987. Page number: 35.
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