“Your was written. One specific quote where

“Your love for beauty has been
perverted, repressed and savaged by hateful and controlling elements in the
world.”

Compare how John Fowles in ‘The
Collector’ and Vladimir Nabokov in ‘Lolita’ present the theme of obsession. In
what ways have the novels’ social contexts affected this presentation.

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In John
Fowles’ 1963 novel The Collector and Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita,
the theme of   obsession and perversion run consistently
throughout, with the controversial topics being addressed in many different
ways. In The Collector, Fowles’
wanted to push back the glamorization of the flawed, uneducated and maladjusted
hero that he thought had often been misused as a literary motif; thereby
exploring social changes and class in England. Clegg’s moral corruption is an
extreme example of the sudden uprising of lower-class wealth that Fowles
observed throughout the nation at the time his novel was written. One specific quote
where Clegg displays the changing class landscape of England in the 1960’s is
“I was rich, a good spec as a husband now”. Clegg grew up beneath the wealthy
social scene of London, yet is adamant he can buy his way into the upper class.

Throughout the novel Clegg realises that his financial prosperity is in
conflict with his uneducated upbringing. In Lolita’s
context, Nabokov denied that his novel was in any way an allegory of the Old
Europe symbolised by the character of Humbert and the 1950’s Young America culture
symbolised by the character of Lolita, however the reader is able to extract a
lot about America from their relationship.

The reader
quickly infers the fact that Humbert is a deeply disturbed character; due to
the fact he can undoubtedly be held responsible for a large variation of
crimes, ranging from kidnapping of children to cold-blooded murder. He admits
to having an infallible memory, referring to himself as a “murderer with a
sensational but incomplete and unorthodox memory”, which he overplays by
emphasising his alleged insanity through several mentions of visits to
sanatoriums and a passage including a mental breakdown. He directly addresses
the audience as “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” in order to gain sympathy
and understanding from the reader, and also his judges, in order to draw the
reader’s attention to his argument and making them a participant in the story
rather than an observer. Thus, it can be said that Nabokov has written Humbert
as an unreliable narrator who speaks in first person throughout Lolita, as a review by The Guardian states,
“Humbert was not a reliable narrator at all”. Say more on the critics view.

Similarly,
Fowles makes it clear that the reader is dealing with an unreliable narrator in
the very first sentence in the novel, which states “When she was home from
boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes”. Clegg speaks of
“she” rather than telling the reader his victim’s name and speaks as though
both himself and the reader share the same assumptions. This instantly places
the reader as one of his confidantes, as he assumes the reader is equally
conniving and sympathetic. As a result of this, he reveals all the spitefulness
and malice he might otherwise hide from a stranger, meaning his manipulative
personality becomes apparent within the initial sentence of the novel. This is
evidence of Humbert being an unreliable narrator as his thoughts have been
altered by his own idealistic views and are clearly being told in his own
words. In the introduction, Clegg makes a statement about his mental health:
“But forgetting’s not something you do, it happens to you. Only it didn’t
happen to me.” This introduction shows evidence of Clegg’s extreme disconnection
from normal human patterns of emotion and behaviour; therefore, foreshadowing
his disturbed, obsessive mind-set throughout the story.

Humbert Humbert has a narrative voice that has an ironic
tone, alongside dark humour and seduction; thus many discussions have been made
as to whether he is a sympathetic character or not. His humour and intelligence
are appealing aspects of his character to the reader, meaning the character is
not entirely appealing but is still unexpectedly charming. As a result of this,
Nabokov manages to create a protagonist whose actions are consistently
repulsive and cowardly, yet he still successfully keeps the reader distracted
from this each time by following closely after with one of Humbert’s clever
allusions or jokes throughout. Throughout the entire book of Lolita,
Nabokov gives a fancy, prose style that distracts the reader from the “inappropriateness”
of Humbert’s story; therefore Lolita
is a successful example of lyricism in prose.

Both novels are
a paradox between the search for long-lasting pleasure and the inevitable short-lived
and shameful nature of the erotic experience these characters have. However, I
think at its core, Lolita is in fact a tragic love story; Humbert says, “She
was only the dead-leaf echo of the nymphet from long ago – but I loved her,
this Lolita, pale and polluted and big with another man’s child. She could fade
and wither – I didn’t care.” His speak of a “nymphet from long ago” is in
reference to the girl he fell in love with, both at the age of 12: Annabel
Leigh. This was a pivotal occasion in Humbert’s childhood as he had a youthful
passion for the young Annabel Leigh until she passed away at a young age from typhus.

From this moment on, Humbert becomes obsessed with “nymphets”, who are young
girls that he believes possess a certain precociousness that sets them apart from
their contemporaries, and he explicitly confesses: “I am convinced, however,
that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel. Humbert sees
Lolita as a reincarnation of this original nymphet. In all, this sentence
stating “but I loved her” shows Humbert would care for Lolita unfailingly even
when Delores is no longer a “nymphet” but simply a tired, pregnant
woman.

Perversion
is a key theme throughout the novel and an earlier review by The Guardian
states the novel was even “too repellent for pleasure”. Say more on the critics view. Critics have accused Lolita of being pornographic because of its
direct reference to paedophilia; however this portrayal of explicit sex was not
Nabokov’s intention. Humbert’s descriptions of his encounter with Annabel Leigh
are as sexual as the novel gets, and even still he sticks to describing the
details before and the satisfaction afterwards. Instead, he finds great
fascination and fixation upon the smallest details of Lolita, such as her shoes
or skin, and ensures her “darling” existence is not limited to merely the
sexual act.

Nabokov’s
intertextual incorporation of Poe’s ‘Annabel Lee’ in his novel Lolita was intentional as Annabel Leigh
is named after the woman in the poem ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe, with some
aspects of Humbert and Annabel’s young love being described through phrases
borrowed from Poe’s poem. For example, in chapter one of Lolita Humbert says, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit
number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs,
envied. Look at this tangle of thorns”. This line refers to the poem’s line
“With a love that winged seraphs in heaven / Coveted her and me.” Nabokov
includes a number of allusions throughout the book in reference to Poe’s poem,
‘Annabel Lee’, such as Poe’s “loved with a love that was more than love”
elaborated into “We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a
fierceness that so often destroys adult lives” in Nabokov’s Lolita. Nabokov does this by taking the
obsessiveness of the speaker in ‘Annabel Lee’ and extended it so significantly
into Humbert’s paedophilic fixation on Lolita.

On the other
hand, I think The Collector is a story about the banality of evil. A
major reasoning for this is the fact that Clegg brutally allows Miranda to die
and then straight away moves onto his next victim and starts “looking into the
problems there would be with “the girl in Woolworths”. Whereas, Humbert feels
the tragic heartbreak of Lolita’s death and admits through a metaphor that “if
a violin could ache, I would be that string”. Nabokov’s uses of a metaphor when
comparing Humbert’s heartache to a violin’s strings adds emphasis on the
sentence’s reference and allows the reader to greater envision the character’s fragility
and true pain.

Fowles also
uses an intertextual reference, but one of Shakespeare’s, ‘The Tempest’. In ‘The Tempest’, Ferdinand and Miranda are seen as the
perfect couple, while Caliban acts as the villain whose purpose is to cause
havoc. Fowles is successful in incorporating these three characters into his
novel. Clegg, in his mind thinks he is the Ferdinand to Miranda, however she
disagrees entirely and after asking twice in disbelief, continues to call him “Caliban”
instead. Miranda in ‘The Tempest’ was a mentioned victim to Caliban at one
point, similar to the way Miranda in The
Collector is a victim to Clegg: In ‘The Tempest’, Caliban tries to rape
Miranda, and similarly Clegg’s kidnapping of Miranda in The Collector signifies how he wants to possess her. Both Calibans
are antagonists in the stories and are not well-liked character. However,
Miranda is like Prospero in that she attempts to civilise Clegg and sees him as
inferior to her. An example of this is that Clegg does not know much about art,
so he chooses Miranda’s painting that “looks like a bowl of fruit” instead of
the one she believes truly captures the fruit because it doesn’t look like an
exact replica. Miranda’s superiority is similar to the type inflicted on
Caliban in The Tempest as Caliban is
a slave and unintelligent except for the fact that he can speak their language.

In all, I think Fowles chose these character names in order to get the reader
to actually look back on great literature and to have the reader view his
characters from a different perspective.

Nabokov uses
the medium of touch and words; which mean his subjects are expressed verbally
in long mediations that are used by Humbert as justification of his perversion.

For example when he describes an intimate moment with his Lolita, he says “She
trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot
lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us between the
silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was
under her light frock”. However, Fowles uses the visual element and complete
silence through the use of a simile, as he perceives Clegg as an almost mute character,
who lacks nearly all forms of ability to express his emotions within any real
relationship. This shows the different natures of both male characters’
obsessions, but yet also the strong similarity in the fact they both suffer the
impossibility of communication with themselves and others. A critic from New York Times stated the book comes
under the label of “one of the most agonizing chapters in the whole literary
history of obsession”. Say more on the critics view.

In all,
however, both characters suffer the impossibility of communication with
themselves and in others due to paranoia and fear that overcomes them. For
example, Humbert is less obvious because of his keen ability to hide his real
personality and his constant attempt to relate his distorted, erotic,
“perverted” desires to an ideal aesthetic context. In contrast, Clegg
is very obvious and this shows in many aspects of his behaviour – the way he
dresses, Give example his inability to
communicate, his constant self-awareness of inferiority Give example, and his emblematic silence.

In The Collector, Fowles uses an extended
metaphor comparing Clegg’s capture of a butterfly to his capture of Miranda.

For example, he states on page 41, “It was like not having a net and catching a
specimen you wanted in your first and second fingers”, and “it was twice as
difficult with her, because I didn’t want to kill her, that was the last thing
I wanted”. By doing this, Fowles shows that Clegg sees Miranda purely as a
specimen, just like a dead butterfly – meant to be enjoyed from afar but not
really interacted with once collected. Miranda later confirms this with the
paradox “he wants me living but dead”. Miranda also further reveals Clegg’s
view of her as an extension of his collection of butterflies, as she states in
page 203, “It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant
to be dead, pinned, always beautiful.” At this point in the novel Miranda is
not a dead butterfly, yet this quote reveals with sinister foreboding that she
might end up that way.

Clegg’s
mental state is similar to Humbert’s in the way of them both putting more
emphasis on not wanting the sexual aspects of their relationships to be the
only aspect. However, Clegg is far more extreme in this decision as when
Miranda “unfastened her house-coat” and “had nothing else on beneath”, it
brought pure hatred to Clegg and he states he “never respected her again” and
it left him “angry for days”. This quote reveals how Clegg finds Miranda
beautiful as an object, but when she does anything “nasty”, such as give an
opinion, or kiss him, he realises she is an independent person with feelings
that he does not wish to share. From this, it become clear that Clegg is simply
obsessed with the preserved image of Miranda, not her as a living, breathing
individual. The quote in page 20, “I can’t really say what intention I had …
What you do blurs over what you did before” is an example of Clegg’s split
personality, as he tricks himself into thinking he has decent intentions for
his prisoner, Miranda, and is therefore a good person. However, the quote ends
with ominous foreboding, indicating that Clegg ultimately knows that he is
doing something wrong. Critic Simon Dan said “On a psychological level,
the book presents Fowles mastery in conveying profound meanings to the words he
uses” and in reference to Clegg, “we realise he has a psychotic mind”. Say more on the critics view.

The motives
for Humbert in Lolita are based on
his cravings for the person and image of Annabel Leigh, his past lover as a
child. Despite Nabokov not excluding Humbert’s paedophilia or controlling
nature, Lolita is not a morally
didactic novel. Humbert is not portrayed wholly as a villain due to the fact
his romantic, persuasive tones convince the reader to sympathise with his
paedophiliac impulses, even if the reader feels repulsed by them. As well as
this, a loss of innocence and corruption is outlined in Lolita’s character;
therefore, the lines between good and evil are not clearly drawn. Within the
novel, Nabokov has Lolita run away with Clare Quilty, almost mirroring what she
once did with Humbert and the similar moral impulses of the two men. This shows
her naïve and impressionable character is taken advantage of by both men, which
is arguably to be a representation of how men often took advantage of women in
the 1950’s – Lolita ends up pregnant at just 17 and dying at home during childbirth,
but otherwise would have been expected to live the rest of her life as ‘merely’
a housewife.

Both novels
present a gripping, well-written story, including controversy and concluding
that we all have objects or subjects that are dear to our hearts. However both
novels evidently show that when such passions are turned into obsession, the
human mind will build a new reality that suits the actions that one undertakes
in order to sustain this false and unacceptable reality as much as they can. Obsession
can in fact become “perverted, repressed and savaged” as a result of “hateful
things in the world”, as stated by Bryant McGill in his book ‘Simple
Reminders’.