Contextualizing the Medieval Tradition of Courtly Love in Nabokov's Lolita


Using modern terms of morality to evaluate the sexual attitude of Humbert towards Lolita, which constitutes the central subject matter of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (2005), most readers view the novel as erotica, a piece of literature that glamorizes amoral sexuality and rebels against humans' morality. This view feasibly condemns the sexual relationship between a forty-year-old male and a twelve-year-old girl-child nymphet; nevertheless, it overlooks the insistence of the novel's fictitious narrator and editor that the narrative is ethical and heavily loaded with pro morality messages. To resolve this perspectival dichotomy, this article revisits Humbert's love of Lolita contending that the relationship between Humbert and Lolita constitutes a form of courtly love, not rape or pedophilia. Relying on the medieval definition of courtly love, the article argues that Humbert is better viewed as a medieval lover whose love-based sexuality towards Lolita is ennobling and transcendent. By so doing, the article discharges Humbert’s love of Lolita from any modern connotations of animalistic carnality, thus maintaining the narrative’s obsessive involvement in the medieval culture.


Malek J. Zuraikat


courtly love, erotica, Lolita, Nabokov, pedophilia


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