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Nabokov's character Humbert Humbert is arguably one of the most unreliable, sociopathic, narcissistic narrators an author could concoct, so how is it that Lolita is so widely read and such a cultural phenomenon to this day? To answer that, one does not have to look farther than the style of the writing. Nabokov is able to command the English language and its conventions with such skill that he entrances readers, making them immerse themselves in a story that leaves them feeling horrified, but unable to detach from the story. Through careful syntactic analysis of the following sentence, using two different schools of grammatical theory, I worked to reveal how Nabokov not only exposes the narcissistic and sociopathic nature of his narrator, but also shows how he forces readers to become invested in a story that leaves their skin practically crawling with disgust:

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges.

In my presentation, I will explain what syntactic elements are most prevalent in the sentence that lend themselves to revealing how unreliable the narrator is and how they do this. This research is the initial research I will be using moving forward in my thesis, analyzing how Nabokov uses careful syntax to develop one of literature's most cleverly unreliable narrators.


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  • Subject
    • English

  • Institution
    • Dahlonega

  • Event location
    • Nesbitt 3203

  • Event date
    • 23 March 2018

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • Acknowledgements:

      Dr. Joyce Stavick