I know I'm not alone when I say this--others have confessed, with guilty, delighted smiles on their faces, that they too were in some measure on Humbert's "side".
Lionel Trilling, an American literary critic, puts it rather eloquently when he writes "we find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents [...] we have been seduced into conniving in the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting."
The question is, how does Nabokov make us "condone the violation"?
After a Pooh-like ponder, I'm going to put it down to this:
- Humbert Humbert is narrating the story. We're intimate with his history and inner workings, therefore can't immediately write him off as inhuman.
- He's just so damned honest with the reader.
- Then there's the trauma of losing his childhood friend. Trauma = sympathy.
- The trauma also explains his attachment to little girlies, making it rational and somehow understandable.
- Lolita is just so damned annoying. And spoilt. And manipulative. And I rather think she's quite sadistic.
I'm trying to remember other works of literature in which we end up sympathising with the devil, so to speak. Hannibal Lecter's rather honourable and gentlemanly as far as serial killers go. After all, he chops off his own hand rather than Clarice's when they are cuffed together, a moment I find to be supremely romantic for some reason. (I never read the second book but I'm assuming it happens there as well as in the movie.)
There must be more examples than this but I'm mental blanking right now. Basically, I'm in awe of any writer who can pull of the my-character-is-heinous-but-you'll-love-them-anyway trick.