Archive for November 5, 2009

Writing Humbert Humberts

Posted in Crafting on November 5, 2009 by Lizzie

This is something I’ve struggled with for years: is a character always reflected in the author?  And even more precisely, is a morally starved character always a mirroring of the author’s own subconscious?  In the past, I’ve written characters who have startled those closest to me.  Those same nasty fictional beings put to page caused a widespread probing into my morals, my inner life.  But was that fair?  Is it common knowledge that a character will be a direct reflection of the author?

Consider Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  In “Lolita at 50,” Stephen Metcalf poses the poignant question, “Why did Nabokov choose to inhabit Humbert Humbert, a pitiable half-mad émigré suffering from acute nympholepsy, in the first place?”  Here is a character tormented by his consuming lust for a twelve-year-old girl.  Did Nabokov himself harbor pedophilic tendencies because he was able to so completely inhabit the mind of a sexually perverse man?  Metcalf argues for the writing genius:

To inhabit a pedophile—and not just a pedophile, but a European pedophile, on an American soil Nabokov had himself grown to love!—was to torture in extremis his faith in the sanctity of the exquisite inner life.

Nabokov was nothing more than an accurate recorder of life’s dirty realism, and Humbert Humbert was a creature independent of his creator.

Not everyone feels the same with this topic.  What do you think?  Can authors separate themselves from their characters?