112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Little Girls Lost: Exploring the Presence of Carroll’s Alice in Nabokov’s Lolita

Vana Derohanessian, California State University, Northridge

In “Little Girls Lost”, the theory of intertextuality will prove crucial to the reader’s comprehension of ways in which Vladimir Nabokov creates a sympathetic reader for such an unsavory, unsympathetic character like Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Reader responses, as well as a critical intertextual approach, will be integrall to understanding the connection between the familiar, comforting images from Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and the consenting reaction the reader has towards Humbert Humbert. 


My research revolves around the question of how the influence of Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland aids Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita in generating a sympathetic and forgiving audience to such unsympathetic circumstances as the narrative of a middle-aged professor kidnapping and continually sexually assaulting a twelve year old girl while traveling across America. Because new literary theories have emerged since Lolita first appeared in 1958, now is the opportune time to revisit these two allusive novels and view them from a critical, intertextual perspective, thus furthering existing scholarship beyond the perfunctory list of Alice references in Lolita. I will explore why Humbert Humbert deploys images and themes (such as mirrors and wonderland) from a popular children’s text throughout his defense of his deplorable behavior and how readers received Lolita with its erotic treatment of a young girl when it was first appeared.

In this paper that I propose to write for PAMLA’S 112th Annual Conference, I will be examining the essays of the founders of intertextuality theory, including Bakhtin, Kristeva, and Barthes in order to deepen our understanding of Alice and Lolita in a way that has not been done before. When Lolita was published in English in 1958, audiences immediately expressed an aversion to the sexual content in the book. Whether readers were offered a manuscript or a brief synopsis of the novel itself, the extent to which the author pushes against the sexual taboo of a middle-aged man participating in explicit, sexual acts with his twelve year old stepdaughter sounds troubling. For students and scholars of textual criticism, intertextuality theory has significant implications for the roles of the author, the reader, and the text itself. For scholars of texts that are obviously influenced by other texts, codes, and traditions, I believe that intertextuality theory brings an original perspective that is long overdue.

Applying the theory of intertextuality to Alice, as well as to Lolita, and exploring how their textual dependence guides readers of Lolita down a specific path of tolerance towards Humbert Humbert will further the research conducted about these texts, which has become stagnant and repetitive. Reader responses, as well as an intertextual approach will prove crucial to understanding the connection between the familiar images from Alice and the consenting reaction the reader has towards Humbert Humbert. Eventually, the reader associates Humbert Humbert’s charming allusions to Alice with nostalgia for the beloved text, easing their sense of morality, and rendering the reader an accomplice of sorts for Humbert Humbert, advocating for his eternal reunion with his beloved Lolita. My paper will move beyond what critics and scholars have produced regarding these two texts thus far, and into a fresh approach towards Lolita, specifically, which deepens our understanding of the sympathetic response that readers have towards the text in a way that has not been seen before.