I think it would be useful to add a topic specifically on the early novel. While “The novel to 1749” is included in our list, that leaves a rather large gap to be filled, and the novel as we know it was not the same throughout all those years. Specifically, I think it would be interesting to look at The Tale of Genji, which is usually given credit as the first full-length, written novel in history. Many times, we get wrapped up in “novels” from the 17th century and on, as that is where many of our most canonical works in the form come from. But The Tale of Genji dates back to the 11th century, when it set the grounds for modern characterization and plot, using psychological and literary prowess many would not expect to find so far back in literary history.

(Nov. 10 – Dec. 15)

Last credit update!

There isn’t much to report on due to Thanksgiving, being sick, and then staying home due to finals… but I have been writing from home and helping with research. I got to see my picture in the magazine on the “Ink Well” page, which features the editor’s note preceding the issue and pictures of contributing writers/photographers on certain pieces. My story came out nicely, too, which is very exciting.

My internship is technically over today, since it is the end of the semester, but I have been invited to return for some more experience over the break / next semester. I am really excited about getting some more work published with Inked and seeing where it takes me.

Stage Three: Annotated Bibliography

Revised Thesis Topic Description

When first working on my bibliography, I had revised my topic from the “Novel as Hearsay” argument to what I called the “Counter-Unreliability Argument.” Sticking with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, I planned on making a case for the main character Humbert being, contrary to popular theory, a rather reliable narrator. However, as a result of needing to narrow my thesis down further, I have focused upon the exploration of Social Knowledge and its manipulation in the novel.

Throughout the story, Humbert plays a type of playwright—he manipulates his neighbors, Lolita, and even the reader. In my thesis I propose to explore how he does so and to what effects, as well as visit his motives for doing so. Reliability, although no longer a focus in my topic, will also take part: whether or not Humbert intends to make certain “mistakes” in his narrative and lead the reader astray (as well as why he would do so) will be also briefly touched upon to delve further into his motives for manipulation.

Two of our keywords from the course will be discussed, “babble” and “secret”. Babble is a sort of enemy of secret, the vehicle with which a secret is divulged. It is important to recognize how Humbert tries to extend his control to Lolita’s speech and presence in the novel, ensuring she keeps their secret and avoids babbling, so that his narrative remains untainted by any other sides to the story. The obscene, in the context of its etymology in “off-scene,” will also be discussed in relevance to such omissions made in order to mold the reader’s perception. But, despite his intentions, Humbert’s narrative is not perfect and leaves room for speculation. As mentioned, whether or not this is intentional will be discussed, in the scope of psychological guilt and shame. As the narrative gets deeper and deeper into his crime, he becomes more ashamed, and his own carefully constructed manipulation turns into babble—a type of babble that divulges more than it might intend.

The narrative’s imperfection is highlighted by the examples of the duped reader, one being the book’s fictional editor and author of the foreword, John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., who seems to have read the narrative exactly as Humbert intended. The first film adaptation of Lolita, the 1962 Stanley Kubrick version, is also a manifestation of the fooled reader’s view. It is the story as Humbert would like to present it, the film version of what the story would look like if Humbert were to have executed his narrative perfectly and achieved total manipulation. This is an interesting point I’d like to tie in, as well, as the omissions in the film and foreword—the off-scene obscenities—serve to further highlight Humbert’s mistakes.

Works Cited

Kendrick, Walter. “The Unfilmable.” Salmagundi 121/122 (2009): 47-62. JSTOR. Web. Kendrick uses this article to explore the increasingly popular book-to-film adaptations of literature. He spends considerable time with Lolita and provides some interesting information as to the background of the movie: why certain details had to be changed for the film to be produced, for example. This is a helpful source for at least beginning my research on the film, as it is important to know what changes were stylistic details versus which ones had to be made for the big screen; this way, it can be surmised which details were changed to benefit Humbert’s narrative and which were unavoidable. The film is a pivotal point in my thesis in which I explore how the story would look—exactly how Humbert would want it to look—as a result of someone succumbing to his manipulation.

Moore, Anthony R. “How Unreliable Is Humbert in Lolita ?” Journal of Modern Literature 25.1 (2001): 71-80. JSTOR. Web. Moore’s article will be a great help in placing my argument alongside and in opposition to some other arguments on the topic. My thesis will undoubtedly call into concern the reliability of the narrative, although indirectly: I will be focusing on what Humbert intentionally changes and what he unintentionally lets onto and how that affects the social knowledge of those around him as well as the reader. Moore argues that there are two sides to Humbert, the pedophile and the artist, and that is the source of the contradictions and confusions in the text. Like Patnoe’s article (below), there are both claims my topic aligns itself with and claims it stands against. I plan to argue on this point that, while the pedophile sloppily begs for the reader’s pity and trips in several points of his narrative, the artist cleans it up and arranges it to help guide, or manipulate, the side characters and reader.

Patnoe, Elizabeth. “Lolita Misrepresented, Lolita Reclaimed: Disclosing the Doubles.” College Literature 22.2 (1995): 81-104. JSTOR. Web. In this article, Patnoe discusses the evolution of the modern term “Lolita” from the name of the character in Nabokov’s novel, stepping out of the work into contemporary events as well as spending significant time within it to pick apart Humbert and Lolita’s actions and reactions to the particulars of their relationship. She makes interesting claims on the hints that Nabokov and Humbert drop as to Lolita’s resistance to the sexual relationship, some of which line up with my central argument. A large part of Humbert’s manipulation is his insistence that Lolita is the conniving seductress, rather than the other way around, so it will be interesting to look at how the term evolved from this character and how Humbert’s narrative had an effect on that.

Phelan, James. “Estranging Unreliability, Bonding Unreliability, and the Ethics of Lolita.” Narrative 15.2 (2007): 222-38. JSTOR. Web. In this article, Phelan describes two types of unreliable narrative: the estranging and the bonding. He delves into each, discussing the relationship each forms with the reader, and argues that unreliable narration is another way of communicating information to the reader—something I plan on exploring as Humbert both intentionally and unintentionally contributes to the story with his unreliability. Phelan uses Lolita as an example in his work, and I plan on working alongside some of his claims to support my own. Although the reliability of Lolita is not my main concern, it does play a large role in Humbert’s manipulation of the reader and his fellow characters, both in narrative style and in the stories he weaves for his neighbors and Lolita, herself.

The end of Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour, leaves a lot of questions for the viewer.

Clearly the ending was well thought-out. It ends with Karen’s saying “Good-by” to Mrs. Tilford, who has already left the stage. The farewell is used often in the play, often as a dismissive gesture, such as when Cardin cuts off Mary’s “explanation” of the situation with “We’ll go now. Good night, Amelia, and good-by” (Act 2, Scene II). It has a sense of finality to it that never quite sticks; in that scene, for instance, Mary continues her hurried explanation to keep Cardin and the women from dismissing her. Likewise, at the end of the play, Karen’s feeble and late “good-by” follows Mrs. Tilford’s assertion that Karen will, in the future, write to her.

This sense of faltering finality leaves a lot of questions open that the play intentionally leaves to the viewer. It is pretty plain that Cardin won’t be back when he first leaves, and Karen doesn’t seem to attempt to rectify that after Mrs. Tilford’s visit, but one cannot be sure of what’s to follow. Perhaps Mrs. Tilford would contact him, or the situation would be left alone. But what happens to Mary? Does a child like that feel any remorse at her direct cause of a suicide? Does Mrs. Tilford keep her around as self-punishment, as she suggests in the final act, or does she send her away? Could Mary run off as she did from the school?

There are many other questions left unanswered, the largest being, what becomes of Karen? At the end of the play it very well seems that she’s resigned to sitting at the window, which seems to be the only source of light for her, for the rest of some unmeasurable amount of time.

Personally, I disliked the end of the play at first, because of these unanswered questions. They make sense to the true uncertainty of Karen’s future, however, yet the bit at the window still bothers me. Not that I wouldn’t want Karen to have an opportunity for hope in the future– I just feel it was too soon for that kind of symbol and the hopeful conversation between her and Mrs. Tilford before the curtain. With Martha lying dead in the other room, the entire last scene is played out a bit unrealistically; Karen’s emotionless reaction was done well, but the way everything seems to carry on despite Martha’s dead body only a room away doesn’t seem viable. Mrs. Mortar seemed to have the most appropriate, panicked reaction, but even she proceeded to go upstairs and walk out on the scene with a sense of calm that didn’t quite suit the situation.

In a way, though, maybe the unrealistic calm surrounding Martha’s death works. Despite the public apology and rectification Mrs. Tilford could have attempted, Karen and Martha’s reputations would have been forever soiled. They would have had to develop their own language, as Karen said, and things never would have been the same. They were dead to society upon the scandal; Martha’s death was regarded in the play as her reputation was in the society and is, at the conclusion of the play, the only finality the viewer can be certain of. Even the final gunshot matches her death: it isn’t loud enough to be sensational, but just so to assure the viewer of its definitiveness.

For my extra post, I’d like to call attention to a simple but powerful parallel in the three works (The Scarlet Letter, Summer, and Easy A). While Summer is a rewriting of The Scarlet Letter, it is a creative take on it by Wharton; Easy A, however, despite being a very modern take on the story, directly mentions the original novel as its source. This is shown in the movie when Olive decides to sew a scarlet A onto all of her clothes in direct imitation of Hawthorne’s novel, whereas in Summer, Charity wears the blue brooch bought for her by Lucius Harney in Nettleton.

What is interesting about the As and the brooch is that, despite being a symbol for the character’s being “tainted,” each of the women wears her own, or attempts to, with pride. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester does her best to bear the token shamelessly, both by embroidering it fashionably and appearing before the crowd with a smile:

she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

In Easy A, Olive mentions The Scarlet Letter and decides to sew the A to all of her clothes to show those speaking ill of her that they are not affecting her negatively—and that, in fact, they are only bolstering her ego. She even takes her reputation an extra step by wearing only risque clothing and sewing the A in bold, plain sight of her viewers.

In Summer, although the brooch was a romantic gift from Harney, it seems to stand as a symbol for the same kind of promiscuity the scarlet A stands for. She takes on the same haughty attitude as Olive and attempts to bury her shame like Hester by wearing it proudly for those in her village to see:

“when she had taken the blue brooch from its box and pinned it on her bosom she walked toward the restaurant with her head held high, as if she had always strolled through tessellated halls beside young men in flannels.”

Charity also pins the brooch to her clothing when she flees North Dormer to the mountain, as she feels it to be some kind of “protective force” – it is this kind of feeling that Olive displays in Easy A, as she is insecure in the rumors and social terrorizing at school until she wears the A and strolls into the building with her head held high.

With these examples of social defiance, the attempts to wear one’s shame with pride to display a façade of resilience, the complex nature of gossip and social knowledge is personified. Why is it so often the case that, rather than attempt to right the situation or avoid it, we often find ourselves needing to face rumors head-on? Why do characters such as Hester, Olive and Charity feel so at a loss for other options that they must wear their mistakes with an air of haughty defiance, as characters like Julia (Summer) would?

Perhaps the physical manifestations of their shame are a source of comfort for them because it externalizes it. The As and the brooch, although fastened to their clothing, are separate from them; except in the case of Charity, who loses the brooch and internalizes the proof of her promiscuity with the conception of her baby. Eventhen, she focuses on the child’s well-being, losing any consideration for herself or her own personal shame, as she considers becoming “like Julia.” In each individual case, the character relies on one thing to get by: the rejection of, and defiance against, social opinion.

Stage Two: Prospectus Draft Reflection

A full copy of my prospectus can be found beneath this post, or here.

To put it simply, writing my prospectus draft was exciting. I’ve always enjoyed analytical writing, but rarely to the point of actually getting giddy about what I was writing. I attribute this to the freedom of being able to write on any text(s) we want, and my choice of text as a result: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, one of my favorite novels by my all-time favorite writer.

I might have gotten a bit too giddy while writing, because I overlooked a major problem in my thesis that the professor pointed out to me.

The main issue is labeling the narrative as hearsay, my keyword, which is problematic since it is from the main character’s first-hand point of view. I thought the novel would be a great source for my main argument, which is that the novel as a form, itself, can be labeled as hearsay and therefore a mostly unpredictable, though poetic and still very substantial, literary medium. It seemed plausible, since the entire novel is told in retrospect by the main character, who is standing in a courtroom pleading innocent (which turns to guilty … it’s pretty confusing and unreliable) to  a murder. Hearsay has a huge part in law, so it seemed workable. The point of my paper, which is explained in more detail in the above-linked prospectus, is to use the unreliability of the narrative to make this statement on the novel’s form as a whole.

The idea stems out of a shorter paper I wrote a few semesters ago about narrative unreliability that I’d like to expand on , but with the new hearsay twist to it and the larger focus on the novel as a form. My main obstacle, though, is that it’s hard to justify labeling a first-person account as hearsay.

I am thinking of making the argument for it, as there are plenty of examples in the book that lead to the reader’s belief that the main character is insane. As a result, I don’t think he’s a reliable source of information–the disconnect between his perception of reality and what actually happened (the latter being something the reader is never fully tuned into) is so great, it can be argued that the account is hardly first-person at all.

So, my main question is, does this seem plausible? This kind of contradictory, back-and-forth movement is sort of what the novel intends for, so it’s something that excites me rather than worries me–although I want to make sure my paper is coherent, of course.

My classmates might have to refer to the actual prospectus to grasp my full meaning, but that’s why I posted it in the first place. I look forward to the feedback, both from you guys and the professor.

Stage One: Prospectus Draft

The Novel as Hearsay: Narrative Unreliability and Readerly Responsibility in Lolita


Hearsay is largely disregarded as an unreliable source of information, especially in a court of law. Vladimir Nabokov’s highly controversial novel Lolita is a story told as an attempted plead of innocence by Humbert Humbert in a murder trial, one that is accounted for largely by hearsay: the only evidence the court has is his own words, which seem to get twisted further and further as the story progresses (or, it can be argued, regresses). The story is the quintessential example of unreliable narration that classifies the novel as hearsay; as a literary form, we are solely at the mercy of the narrator for information, and must discern for ourselves what we can with what we are given. It is this characteristic that makes the novel an imperfect, but incredibly poetic and strategic, art form.

In this endeavor, I plan on focusing on Lolita as a text, using the 1962 film adaptation as a comparison. The focus is not to discern which medium is “better,” but to explore the author’s and narrator’s intentions and strategies in both; Nabokov worked on the screenplay for the movie, himself, which makes the narrative differences between the movie and the text much more interesting and relevant to the question of reliability. Amongst my secondary sources I will use Roland Barthes’s The Death Of The Author, a text focusing on the separation of author and narrator, to support and explore some of my claims.


I chose this topic because it is something I have researched previously and have always wanted to dig further into. For my Introduction to Literary Theory class with Professor Kennamer several semesters ago, I wrote on narrative unreliability in Lolita with a focus on the text and the film, including Barthes’s work as a secondary source. However, the work felt very clipped and underdeveloped, as it was capped at 5 pages; also, my focus on the topic was less of an argument and more of a general exploration of the text, whereas I plan on using the text in this paper to argue the nature of the novel as a general literary form. Overall, I hope to expand my original topic from my previous class to its full potential, with a new scope into the subject material and some more secondary sources to draw from and argue with.

The stakes for me in this project are fairly high, as I am essentially attempting to display my progress as a literary scholar since December of 2009 in 25 pages. Focusing solely on one primary text for a more expansive research project is something I have been hoping to work on, as many of my previous assignments have involved more than one. I feel that Lolita, as my favorite piece of literature (and a very rich and controversial text, at that), offers enough material for me to work with in my honors research paper and enough room to display my progress as a scholar. Furthermore, as a “Great American Novel,” I feel it is a worthy text to use as an example when making a general claim about the novel’s form.


In my work, I plan on addressing the following four questions:

  1. How does Lolita comment on the nature of the novel as a literary form?
  2. What makes Humbert an unreliable narrator, and how does this constitute “hearsay?”
  3. Roland Barthes argues that readers must decide upon the “answers” in a story themselves, based on what the narrator divulges, rather than look for psychological or social reasoning in the author’s personal life. How does Nabokov ensure that the reader disassociates him from Humbert? How does this affect his novel’s nature as a form of hearsay?
  4. What are some other arguments that have been made in the field of literary scholars concerning these topics? How does the film adaptation, which was co-written and approved by the author, support or contradict these claims?

(Oct. 13 – Nov 3)

There isn’t much to update on for the past few weeks. Two weeks ago I stayed home due to a heavy workload for school, and last week my editor was out and therefore told me to take the day off. However, I did help with a bit of research on a future Inked People piece for the winter sports edition the last time I was there, and it was interesting to learn how the magazine finds the content for each issue. For example, I had to visit the websites of certain major sponsors of winter sports, like Monster Energy Drinks, and scroll through their athletes until I compiled a list of skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, and the like who all have tattoos. My editor then picked out a few names and asked me to start some research on them.


There were many interesting points covered in class on the significance of the “rose-bush” at the prison door. My main ideas about the bush revolved around Hester, herself: that the scarlet A she embroidered so beautifully was to the rose as her tarnished reputation was to the decrepit prison door the bush was situated next to. I also think it is a stand-in for Hester, herself, being the one rose picked out of the plethora of adulterers—the less noticeable ones that do not wear the letter “A” upon their clothes, but whom Hester claims she can still recognize—that the novel focuses on.

This expands on Batya’s interesting point about the bush, in that it offers a transition into the story from the prologue-like first chapter. For my research paper, I plan on using my chosen sources to explore and comment on a specific aspect of the nature of the novel as a form, so this comment on the structure of the novel, itself, particularly struck me. The rose-bush can stand in for the number of stories out there—some still budding, some more beautiful or more interestingly deformed than the next—from which we pick the most interesting flower (or story) to focus on. Why hear a story about one of the other adulterers represented in the buds and roses in the bush, the ones who are not required to wear the scarlet letter, when you can read about that one, the one that “symbolize[s] some sweet moral blossom?” It seems that the rosebush is a symbol for the source of the novel, the “inauspicious portal” the story “issues from.”


ENG 254: Learning Unit 8

November 7, 2011 | | 4 Comments

Henry James was American-born and close to his father, Henry James Sr., who was a distinguished intellectual and avid traveler. To ensure that his children were as educated as he saw fit, he kept them traveling with him, giving them the opportunity to learn numerous languages and obtain knowledge from various countries including France, Switzerland, Italy, and many more.

As a result, family ties play a large role in Portrait of A Lady. Isabel is close with her father and aunt, as we get glimpses of in her past, something that might have come out of James’s own close family ties. Also, Isabel’s trip to Europe can be largely attributed to the similar experience James had and his close ties to the continent.



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