A man of many talents, Vladimir Nabokov is known not only for his controversial work Lolita, he was also an avid lepidopterist – in particular, butterflies. There is no doubt that when penning Lolita’s character, Nabokov imprinted several butterfly characteristics on her. This essay however does not seek to investigate the parallels between Lolita and the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Rather, it takes the road less travelled and examines the parallels between Nabokov and Humbert Humbert, not as a pervert, but as a scientist.
Nabokov’s interest in butterflies stemmed from a childhood obsession as he recalls “chasing butterflies (Time) in Switzerland in 1964. While most people relinquishes their childhood hobbies, Nabokov pursued his interest in lepidopterology throughout his adult life where his passion for butterflies lead him to become a specialist in lepidopterist. As a scientist, Nabokov was acquainted to the clinical ways of science experiments and observations. While this is greatly illustrated in Humbert’s interaction with Lolita – in both cases, the former assumes the role of the scientist and the later the object of investigation – Humbert’s analytical nature is also reflected in relation to other characters and incidents – including himself – as Nabokov draws from his scientific persona in crafting Humbert’s character. In both cases, the former assumes the role of the scientist and the later the object of investigation.
Scientists have to approach an experiment in an empirical and rational way. An experiment is considered tainted if scientists becomes emotionally invested with the subject therefore they remain distant and clinical with their approach and their interaction with the subject. This is how Nabokov crafted the character and personality of Humbert.
Nabokov first hints at Humbert’s characterization in the opening chapter. He says, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one… (Nabokov 9).” As Humbert uses the clinical word “exhibit” here to refer to his childhood love, Annabel Leigh instead of Lolita, we detect the origins of Humbert’s clinical approach in his interaction with women. The word “exhibit” provides the idea that the girl is something that Humbert is proud to display to the world but forms no attachment like a display of a specimen at a convention. Furthering the idea of Annabel Leigh, we come to an understanding that Humbert could not have formed an obsession over Lolita if it were not his extreme dedication to his first love, the woman who was a “precursor” (Nabokov 9) to Lolita . Therefore, while Humbert appears to be emotionally invested in Lolita, it is her physical...