As stated in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “the course of love never did run smooth. ” The majority have experienced hardships within relationships and are aware that, in many cases, it is these individualistic quirks that form the adhesives to a healthy and strong long-lasting love. The word ‘love’ itself could be seen as merely an umbrella term, which houses much unconventionality on many levels. However, something with such intense depth and hazard has many potential outcomes, and not all can be predicted.
Literature provides a creative insight into these whimsicalities, and makes for impelling and educational entertainment for literary enthusiasts. Love, by its very nature, is universal, yet the individual types are largely not, calling upon writers to introduce us to refreshing concepts within the love subdivision by using an array of effective literary techniques to aid our understanding. Dickens, Shakespeare and Nabokov all depict endemic versions of invigorating and taboo subjects by means of imagery, language and characterisation – all displayed in their celebrated texts.
Through highly original narratives and creative flare, readers encounter love in its most unconventional of forms, and these shall be examined in this essay. Lolita, written by Vladimir Nabokov was published in the 1950s, and has overriding theme of paradox. Nabokov delves into the concept of unconventional love with a sophisticated and flamboyant prose style as he tells the story of protagonist and middle-aged literature professor, Humbert Humbert, and his pursuit of twelve-year-old Delores Haze.
Tackling the unnerving subject matter of hebephila, Lolita attained a classic status after its publication, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial novels of twentieth century literature. Throughout the novel, Nabokov presents unconventional love through chromatic language, rich narratives and a colourful supporting cast, forming a contrast of adoration and immorality which causes even the most orthodox of readers to doubt their ethics.
Narrated by the indulgent Humbert, we are given a hedonistic and one-dimensional account of his life on the road with Delores, dotingly nicknamed ‘Lolita’ for the purpose of narcissistic mirage. A coherent technique that Nabokov uses to present unconventional love throughout Lolita is the use of names and personal identity.
He places emphasis on the importance of names from the very first paragraph of the novel, where protagonist Humbert Humbert recites each of Delores’ pet names in turn, relating each to a fantasy-like concoction of her: “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock…” This is the first hint the reader gets towards what is later revealed as a perpetual reverie created by Humbert’s imagination, which strips Lolita of any true sense of self, so that she has no input in her own identity, and instead has her selfdom designed and moulded to his preference. Humbert Humbert contrasts Lolita in that his name is solid.
Repetition within a name implies validity and therefore a true sense of identity, in comparison to Lolita with her various petty and ethereal names. In order to transform Delores into Lolita, Humbert must deny her of her humanity; “…but in my arms, she was always Lolita. ” This is a significant phrase because ‘in my arms’ indicates the level of control and emphasises Humbert’s mind-set that Lolita is a dream-figment made flesh.
‘Delores’, Lolita’s real name, means ‘delour’ – associated with sorrow and grief, whereas ‘Lolita’ is a light-headed, airy and somewhat seductive name, which later entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. That Humbert pursues this relationship reveals to the reader his indulgent and addictive personality, and coincides with the fundamental theme of solipsism, which is underlying throughout the novel. Humbert’s repetitive name also confirms his strong characterisation and self-assurance.
The protagonist is sure of his identity and has a firm sense of self, and this is expressed to the reader when he gives an insight into the history of his life; details about his first child-love, Annabel (described as a ‘nymphet’), in particular. Giving us a thorough analysis gains our trust and allows us, shockingly, to condone violation, as we permit our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting; offering sympathy to Humbert’s sincerity and love-sick depression.
Other references to the significance of names include character ‘Vivian Darkbloom’, an anagram of the author’s name, and the printed list of Lolita’s classmates which excites and stimulates Humbert (page 54). Nabokov incorporates an ongoing theme of melancholy throughout the novel: “I leaf again and again through these miserable memories” and “There is nothing more cruel than an adored child”. This technique causes Humbert to appear victimised by his condition, allowing the reader to sympathise with him.
This is reflected towards the end of the novel, when Humbert is finally reunited with Lolita after three miserable years of separation. The reader is touched by the solidarity found in his love for her, which was earlier only associated with physical attraction, possession and fantasy. The fact that Lolita is still adored by Humbert despite her inevitable adulthood, development of true identity and self-given independence proves to the reader that there were always genuine and concrete feelings towards her, which causes them to sympathise with Humbert, who clearly has tendencies towards universal and conventional love.
Nabokov touches upon convention itself by including brief commonplace relationships within Lolita, in order to contrast and highlight the main theme of unconventional love. Our narrator describes first his relationship with Valeria (pre-Lolita) and then his artificial relationship with Charlotte Haze, who he uses to get close to the child, and then finally his fleeting and false association with Rita towards the end of the novel.
The descriptions of these women significantly lack passion and close observation, which is a stark contrast to the depiction of Lolita which is present throughout the novel, always heavily incensed and acute. Adult females develop a sense of anonymity as the only characters that are described in great detail are adolescent girls, who are appealing to our narrator, and the males that could be seen as a threat to him. For example, Humbert’s neighbour is passively dismissed as ‘old Miss. Opposite’ and Charlotte (who later becomes his wife) as ‘the Haze woman’.
This contradicts the way in which he refers to Lolita (‘my Lo’ or similarly, ‘my Carmen’), which not only shows a committed interest but also an extremely possessive type of love, which links back to the aforementioned erasure of independent identity which objectifies Lolita. Abiding to the consecutive theme of naming, Nabokov appoints the adult female characters with bland and conventional names, such as Charlotte and Jean, whereas girl-characters are named beautifully and exotically, such as ‘Delores Haze’, ‘Grace Angel’ and ‘Rose Carmine’.
This is a simplistic and effective method of making puerile characters appear more attractive. Nabokov’s colourful choice of language and imagery portrays unconventional love throughout Lolita. It would appear that the author uses imagery to appeal to the reader’s moral instincts, as on page 21 where Humbert speaks of his ‘mossy garden’ and ‘the mirror reflecting our (his and Lolita’s) small Eden’.
By incorporating Christian connotations, Nabokov touches the intrinsic moral compass of the reader, which allows them to acknowledge the unconventionality of Humbert’s infatuation with Lolita, but to sympathise with it as opposed to condemning it. This doesn’t cause Humbert’s infatuation with a young girl to appear less conventional, but, rather, brings the reader to an understanding of how love of such an uncustomary nature can be brought about. It also symbolises the inner conflict that accompanies Humbert’s dark desires. By relating his corrupt relationship with Lolita to a pure and divine paradise, Humbert is seemingly comforting his own conscience.
The much debated legitimacy of religion also correlates with his disillusioned lifestyle; by introducing global conflicts such as the religion verses science debate, Nabokov skilfully associates something extremely large-scale to Humbert’s intimate virtuous doubt. Regarding language, words such as ‘magic’, ‘spell’ and ‘enchanted’ provide evidence for the illusionary and dream-like nature of the protagonist’s fascination with Lolita.
Humbert invents an exclusive and stylistic form of language, including words such as ‘girleen’ and ‘nymphet’; further enhancing a normless form of love of which cannot be maintained with standard English. In addition to this, a wide variety of the French language is utilised for the purpose of expression. Although French is widely known as a romanticised language, arguably implying convention, the combination with English and its interjection at casual intervals causes it to appear ununiformed and therefore somewhat eccentric. He also uses words such as ‘delicious’ and ‘gorge’ when describing Lolita, as though she feeds his soul.
The novel, in part, also involves a degree of surrealism, as the inspiration for Lolita was prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal. The sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage, reflecting Lolita’s entrapment throughout Nabokov’s novel. The ape was dominated by something with a superior and compelling force, denying it of its right to be an animal, just as Lolita is denied of her right to be a child.
This is not the novel’s only link to surrealism, as Nabokov has referenced the work of Lewis Carroll in relation to Lolita, noting similarities with the juvenile Alice in Wonderland. Nabokov has accredited Carroll “the first Humbert Humbert” for his characterisation of pubescent Alice and her involvement in a dream-like world, every inch the nymphet. He has also associated his work with that of Edgar Allan Poe of the Romantic Movement, for his poem, ‘William Wilson’, about a man haunted by his doppelganger, drawing parallel to Humbert Humbert and character Clare Quilty (Lolita’s kidnapper) and also to his double name.
Whereas Lolita focuses its attention solely on one relationship, heavily emphasising the extent of a man’s infatuation with a young girl, other texts to set unconventional love among their main themes often incorporate a variation of abnormal romance throughout. Great Expectations, a bildungsroman of the Victorian literature genre, is Dickens’ thirteenth novel. Its colourful cast, which has remained in popular culture, displays conventional absence with regards to love, both subtly and ostensibly.
At the forefront of this is protagonist Pip’s pursuit of the beautiful and cold-hearted Estella, of whom he is affronted by on his initial visit to Satis House. Pip’s desire for Estella can only be categorised as unrequited love, however it appears somewhat more dimensional upon further analysis. Dichotomised with Pip’s yearning for Estella is his ambition to become a gentleman. Throughout the novel we follow the psychological and moral growth of Pip from youth to adulthood, as he reforms from one social scene to another, upon learning he has come into a large sum of inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.
It could be said that the relationship between Pip and Estella is fundamentally based on Pip’s passion for the upper-class, as gaining her hand in marriage would not only mean that he had won his true love, but would also be confirmation that he had accomplished his lifelong aspiration of becoming a gentleman. Drawing parallel to Nabokov’s Lolita, Great Expectations also presents the theme of unconventional love by placing significance on the meaning of names. Like Humbert Humbert, protagonist Pip initially introduces himself as Philip Pirrip.
However, instead of giving him a strong sense of self, in this instance, the similarities in Christian name and surname and the plosive single syllable replacement name, detracts from the notability of the character and reinforces his position in a low social circle. ‘Estella’, on the contrary, means ‘star’ in Spanish – traditionally a romantic language – and aids Dickens in his characterisation of a beautiful but cold female. Stars are unreachable and dreamy, and are universally seen as a guide in the darkness. Throughout the novel, Pip’s desire for Estella guides him wherever he goes and governs every decision he makes.
Furthermore, whereas Joe is always closely associated with the countryside and Mr. Jaggers with London, stars inhabit the sky everywhere, reflecting the fact that Estella is always at the forefront of Pip’s mind and clouds every judgement he makes. In addition to the emphasis on names, Dickens contrasts parental relationships to articulate unconventional love. This is done through Miss. Havisham’s relationship with Estella and Pip’s separate relationships with Joe and Magwitch, which are fundamentally different. Miss.
Havisham projects her resentment towards men, which stems from her abandonment on her wedding day, onto her adoptive daughter, Estella, who, consequently, becomes apathetic. Miss. Havisham’s revenge is personified in Estella, who seduces males with her exquisite beauty only to treat them with no affection or respect. Throughout the novel, Pip is drawn in by Estella’s cold allure, but it is an unrequited type of love which brings him no joy. Miss. Havisham seemingly experiences a thrill from witnessing Estella break Pip’s heart, and even encourages it; “She says many hard things of you, but you say nothing of her.
What do you think of her? ” (pg61). Towards the end of the novel, prior to her death, Miss. Havisham demands love from Estella, but Estella denies her of it, explaining that she is incapable of love; “I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me. ” (pg 306). This is not the typical relationship between parent and child, and the reader finds it difficult to fathom in comparison to the conventionality to which they are used. Pip’s relationship with Joe, which runs aside Miss.
Havisham’s relationship with Estella, contradicts this entirely. Although it is unconventional in that Joe is not Pip’s real father and that they confide in each other on an almost brotherly level, it is based entirely on mutual love. There is reciprocal respect between the pair of them, as well as a large quantity of loyalty. Constantly surrounded by deprecating adults, Pip always has the support of Joe, who is the simple voice of reason within his life. The tenderness of Joe is broadly what forms Pip’s virtues, which are what makes him a likeable character to the reader.
By contrasting these relationships, Dickens introduces the nature/nurture argument, to conclude that it is, in fact, nurture which forms a person. Magwitch also has an exceptional relationship with Pip, which forms after Pip demonstrates loyalty and courage on the marshes. Magwitch is rarely shown any kindness, so Pip’s generosity makes a tremendous impact on his morality, and he later becomes Pip’s benefactor. The relationship between Magwitch and Pip is also fundamentally based on love, and also gratitude on Magwitch’s behalf.