10 of Literature’s Most Unreliable Narrators

It was 55 years ago today that Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita was first published in the US. Nabokov’s remarkable prose is as evocative today as it was in 1958. Facet’s of the author’s great work about a middle-aged lit scholar’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl have been debated since its publication, many arguing the chronology of the tragic events and Humbert Humbert’s fallibility as a narrator. We discuss this, and more of literature’s unreliable narrators, past the break.

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Humbert Humbert in Lolita

Lolita contains perhaps the greatest example of the unreliable narrator. The stylistic device is employed so convincingly that readers even questioned Nabokov’s own character, believing he perhaps shared Humbert’s predilection for “nymphets,” which prompted him to write an afterword to dissect the various misconceptions. Just as Humbert claims he toyed with the nurses and doctors when he was institutionalized, he toys with us and makes a persuasive argument for our sympathies — his controlling, mocking, and delusional nature peering through his lyrical narration. But others see Humbert as unflinchingly honest narrator who never denies his reprehensible actions.