Thursday, September 26, 2013

Flaubert's Micro-Astonishments



My last post on Game of Thrones and all my recent, unwritten musings on the masterful concluding chapters of Breaking Bad have got me thinking again about Madame Bovary, which is a pretty weird thing to say, I know.


But I’ve been teaching Bovary again and I’m struck by how the novel continues to compel my vested interested despite its surface near-plotlessness.  Is it just that a novel like Bovary and a novel like Game of Thrones fire entirely different synapses in the brain, and no reconciliation between their pleasures can be found?


I don’t know. 


One thing is certain.  Flaubert is not a good storyteller.


In Flaubert’s letters from during the writing of Bovary, he admits his disinterest in plot—in fact, he deliberately sets out to write a book “about nothing,” focusing on something other than dynamic plot events.  Certainly, Bovary is not plotless.  It’s a familiar adultery-and-repercussions narrative.  But Flaubert seems to suggest that explosive plot events would have a detrimental effect on his aim to explore the recesses of his characters’ psyches. 


If we push the metaphor a bit further, an explosive plot event is kind of like a gun going off.  It’s exciting, it makes your heart leap, but the fraught anticipation of it is distracting, and it leaves you deaf to any subtler sounds for several minutes thereafter. 


I don’t believe that’s always the case, but for Flaubert and Bovary, it may be true.


So, quite intentionally, Flaubert was not a good storyteller.  Not if we mean those classic Aristotelian virtues of compelling events, action-orientated characters, surprise reversals and revelations, suspense, momentum.  These are the elements we typically note as "good storytelling," and what we find in abundance with an author like George R.R. Martin.  These are the age-old elements of epic and romance, the very “cheap thrills” that Flaubert was satirizing in Bovary through Emma’s delusions.


If we look at the history of the development of “the novel,” it’s clear that all the developments and innovations since its inception have been movements away from those elements we tend to cite as “good storytelling.”  In a way, good storytelling was already established before 1700, so every innovation since has been in service of something else.


Mostly, the something else was efforts to make the fictional world seem more life-like, and in many cases, those efforts were antithetical to "good storytelling."  Just for example, surprise reversals (he’s really a ghost!  it’s his wife’s head in the box!) are fun storytelling, but they are contrivances, or at least a rarity, because they don't happen often in reality.  It is "less realistic" to depict them in fiction.

But good storytelling is obviously only one factor in what can make a narrative interesting.  Flaubert was deliberately uninterested in storytelling, choosing rather to explore microscopically the foibles of humanity, Emma’s psychological states, the distance between two or more people's psychological experience of the same event, details so precise and so evocative that we are shocked by their appearance, etc.


For example, Emma Bovary has an affair with a young man named Leon, and falls into what she thinks is “love” with him.  Flaubert writes, "She was in love with Leon, and she wanted to be alone as to delight more comfortably in his image.  The sight of him in person disturbed the sensual pleasure of this meditation" (the italics are mine, and the translation is Lydia Davis’).


This is clearly an example of interiority, an insight into Emma’s mind.  It’s not a surprise plot point, right?


Well…. there are macro-level plot surprises.  We expect Luke Skywalker to vanquish Darth Vader and avenge his father but (twist), Vader reveals he is Luke's father and cuts off his hand!  We expect Jaime to weasel his way out of a situation like every time before but (twist), a very Luke-like change of fortune happens to him, too!  These are the explosive gunshots of narrative.


But I’d suggest there are also these exquisite micro-level surprises, sudden insights.  We understand that Emma loves Leon in her own way and, as a consequence, would want to spend time with him, but (twist) she’d rather spend time alone with her thoughts about him.


I think the macro and micro twists have fundamentally the same effect.  Both are surprising because they give us insight into characters’ values.  Jaime’s fate wouldn’t shock us if we didn’t see the multifaceted irony in his loss and the circumstances surrounding it.  Luke’s fate wouldn’t shock us if we didn’t realize how drastically and ironically it renegotiates his personal journey.  And this insight into Emma wouldn’t hit us if it didn’t drive an ironic wedge between the appearance and reality of her character, if it didn’t poke a hole in what we understand “love” to mean for Emma.


In both cases you’re experiencing what Aristotle called astonishment, which I would define as the reader’s reaction to the surprise appearance of irony.


Another brief example arrives in Emma’s first dalliance with her other lover, Rodolphe.  They have just made love or are still making love—it’s deliberately unclear—and we’re immersed in Emma’s orgasmic flush of words and images (Davis translation again):


“…her blood flowing through her flesh like a river of milk.  Then, from far away beyond the woods, on the other hills, she heard a vague, prolonged cry, a voice that lingered, and she listened to it in silence as it lost itself like a kind of music in the last vibrations in her tingling nerves.  Rodolphe, a cigar between his teeth, was mending with his penknife one of the bridles, which had broken.”


The first “plot twist” here is again about ironic insight.  This is the most alive and present Emma has been in the book so far, and yet she’s divorcing herself from her own orgasmic scream, attributing it to some animal “far away beyond the woods.”  The second plot twist is the sudden juxtaposition between Emma’s lyrical, ecstatic impression of this event and Rodolphe’s complete dismissal of it. 


The jump cut is amazing: she’s still lost in reveries while he’s back to taking care of a mundane task.  The ironic gulf opens up, and we see the sharp contrast between their characters.  We’re astonished by this surprise appearance of irony (dramatic irony in this case—we’ve been shown truths about Emma and her relationship with Rodolphe that she does not yet realize). 


Admittedly, big plot points hit harder than these precise character insights, but in many cases big ironic plot points hit like blunt instruments, dull and numbing.  This is not always the case, as with most big plot points in Breaking Bad, which have the virtue of being sharp and explosive.  Or the Game of Thrones plot point I wrote about in my last post, which is big, but has a dozen exquisite micro-astonishing ironies swirling around it.


“Micro-astonishments” have the virtue of affecting the reader in smaller ways—often sharper, more precise.  They also strike more deeply, I think, because we recognize our own personal foibles of character.  They open up hidden truths in ourselves that we generally do not wish to confront (let’s face it, most ironic recognitions in fiction are not happy ones).  They sting and they resonate.


The other virtue of micro-astonishing twists of the type we find in Madame Bovary is that there are hundreds of them, several per page, not just the ones at major plot junctures.  You get way more astonishments for your time with a book like Bovary, and none of them are cheap. 


But, yes, for micro-astonishment to work, you have to read more slowly, more carefully.  If we read too bluntly for "stuff happening" on a surface or situational level, we'll skip over all Flaubert's sharp psychological insights, his dozens and dozens of sinister juxtapositions, his evocative details that feel both frozen in time and fully alive at once, or, as James Wood puts it in How Fiction Works, “each detail is almost frozen in its gel of chosenness.”  


It's easier to skip over the small, precise insights precisely because they're subtle, because we've been conditioned to read in search of the big plot points, propelling ourselves from one to the next, never paying attention to the fact that we're being offered one gem after another, if we allow ourselves the focused vision to see them. 


But if we slow down with a novel like Madame Bovary, we get the same kind of pleasure of astonishment in kind as we do from the big “page-turners.” The pleasure is only different in degree and number.  More subtle, more exacting, and far more numerous.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

On the Genius of George R.R. Martin



Some thoughts about plot, via the storytelling genius of George R.R. Martin.  Spoilers regarding last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Walk of Punishment” and obviously A Storm of Swords, so be warned.  I will not, however, blow any plot points not already aired.

Plot, the building block of narration—not in opposition to character, but in concert with character.  If you don’t have your characters acting, no story.  Actions and never more important as when they instigate plot “turns,” moments in a narrative when a character’s fortune is changed, or when a game-changing piece of knowledge is revealed, or both.

A good turn affects a reader just as much as a character.   It’s the basic building blocks of effective narration, more than anything else.  This isn’t a new idea (Aristotle), but we sometimes forget.  Luckily, George R.R. Martin does not forget.

Some turns are more effective than others, and the best kind are the ironic ones.  “Ironic” is a jumpy word, I know, but what I mean here is this: a) a turn that the reader didn’t anticipate but realizes he should’ve, and b) a turn that complicates how we thought we’d feel.  A is basically embedded in B, so it’s B that’s the real kicker.

So Jaime Lannister got his hand cut off last week.  I read this scene two years ago when I first blazed through A Storm of Swords.  Now, encountering it again on HBO, I’m thinking about why I’m so awestruck.  Here’s why.

1.       Suffering.  We’re moved by Jaime's sudden misfortune.  Aristotle listed a character’s suffering as one of the key ways that audiences are moved.  But empathy for suffering is a shallow (in fiction), too easily elicited, too easily forgotten.  Much deeper is our moral sensibility—our sense of judgment.  In this case, Jaime has been a pretty crap dude, so we might’ve welcomed his suffering.  What’s interesting is that we don’t.  Curious.

2.       It’s the worst thing that could happen to his core character.  Worse than death, probably.  Jaime Lannister is his bravado, his tarnished heroism, which is physically embodied in his swordsmanship (it is with that hand that he killed the mad king).  He’s a master of talk and sword.  So the irony here is the great question mark of what’s to come.  We could see Jaime dying, and we could see him living to fight another day.  But Jaime living, never to be able to fight again?  We don’t know what to think.

3.       It’s a failure of his core character.  Jaime’s rhetoric has gotten him out of a lot of scrapes.  He’s even, arguably, talked his way out of POW camp.  But this time, despite his best efforts, his rhetoric could not get him off the hook.  

4.       Locke is the instrument of Jaime’s amputation.  He’s no major player.  He’s just a two-bit mercenary whose allegiances are quite questionable.  Our sense of justice dictates that Jaime should be punished by a big deal character that he has grievously wronged.  Now, even if Bran Stark could somehow exact his revenge for the defenestration, it would be anticlimactic.  Jaime’s core character is lost.  He’s already defeated.

5.       Speaking of two-bit Locke, let’s not forget that Jaime is only in this predicament because his rhetoric was ignored.  Brianne sealed their fate, failing to kill the traveler who eventually ratted them out.  Jaime warned her.  But what makes the truth so gut wrenching is that Jaime was in the moral wrong, and Brianne in the moral right.  Yet, logically, she was wrong, and he was the one to pay the price.  One might say, unfairly.

6.       Brienne.  The most immediately wrenching irony is that Jaime has just revealed himself to be a chivalrous man.  He manages to use rhetoric to prevent Brienne from getting raped.  It’s a double-blow, then, when he is severely punished, mere moments after saving her.  There’s a poetic injustice to it, too, since one thing that defines Brienne is her “maidenhood” (she is the Maid of Tarth after all).  He saved what defines her, only to lose what defines him.  

7.       Jaime’s rhetoric should’ve worked.  It’s the same rhetoric he used a moment before.  In a way, it’s his tactical error that dooms him.  He “wastes” his pleading on Brienne, sealing his own fate.  It’s a mirror of the tactical error she made with the traveler—causing punishment to oneself by doing the right thing. 
 
8.       On the other hand, Jaime reverses his rhetoric, promising Locke punishment if any harm should come to him (Jaime).  With Brienne, he promised reward (a bounty from Tarth), and that’s what convinced Locke.  Another tactical error.

9.       It looked like Jaime was going to get away with it.  Martin (and the show writers) surprises us by seeming to remove the threat that Jaime is going to be killed on that chopping block.  Locke has the knife up to his face for quite a while, and then Jaime seems to convince him.  Either Jaime will be killed, or he’ll be left alone, we think.  Locke even begins to walk away, only to turn and chop the hand off in one swoop.

10.   There’s a bigger reason that surprise works.  It resonates, it calls backThis is the particular genius of Martin, the way he “rhymes” action from chapter to chapter, even book to book.  The world of Game of Thrones is not just an imaginary universe; it’s a universe governed by a god (or gods) with an exacting and poetic sense of irony.  Just before Ned Stark lost his head in the first season, to the Lannisters, it looked like he was going to be spared, but Joffrey’s mercilessness got in the way.  Ned’s death was itself deeply resonant, stretching back to an early scene when Ned shows his son Bran the meaning of justice, executing a deserter with his own hands—brutal but a clear moral code.  Later, Jaime attempts to kill Bran, Ned’s son (again, in this scene, it appears that Jaime is not going to hurt Bran, and then he does).  Then, in a climactic moment that mirrors both of those major events, Joffrey, Jaime’s son, kills Ned, corrupting the same method that made Ned such a morally upstanding leader.  In that case, Ned was forced to relinquish his moral code and call himself a traitor, though it did him no good.  Jamie’s amputation brings to bear all those moments, a veritable hall of mirrors.

11.   And more.  Let’s not forget that Catelyn Stark, Bran’s mother and Ned’s wife, is the reason Jaime gained his “freedom” in the first place.  When it seemed as if every moment in captivity he might have been killed, he’s ironically in much greater danger when he’s on the road, “free.”  It was Catelyn’s capacity for mercy and diplomacy— exactly what Joffrey lacks—that has put Jaime in this situation. 

12.   Another resonant mirror scene is a key moment in the previous season when Jamie concocts an escape attempt by coaxing his cousin, then killing said cousin as a means of getting a jailor to come into the pen (not in the book, I don’t think).  That scene plays out very much like the scene with Locke, except the roles are reversed.  

13.   There is ever more resonance, some I’m missing, probably.  Note the losses of body parts and what they say about characters.  Ned lost his head of course, and he was the hand of the king (another mirror reversal).  It was with his hand that Jaime pushed Bran out the window.  Bran lost the use of his legs, but has arguably gained so much more in the bargain (the dawning of his warg ability).  Davos Seaworth lost his fingers to a noble man (Stannis), and that loss gave Davos—ironically, again—his moral superiority over Stannis.  On and on and on…

A single event that resonates irony in at least thirteen different ways, an absolute master-stroke of storytelling.  You may think Game of Thrones and other such stories are mere pulp, but I admire such structural genius in the same way I admire a beautifully arranged sonnet.  It takes absolute precision.  I won’t say that every effect on this list was purposeful (Martin insists he doesn’t plan ahead), but the result is the point, not the intention.  If I could craft a moment as deeply loaded as this one, I’d consider my writing career a success. 

And, perhaps most astoundingly, Jaime’s lost hand isn’t even the most reverberating moment you’ll experience in this story…

UPDATE: after watching this week's episode, I see the writers are asking me to notice three other similar resonant connections:

Tyrion Lannister as the mirror of his brother.  Tyrion is no warrior, yet he fought bravely defending King's Landing and nearly lost his head for it.  He did not lose any body parts (in the book, he loses his nose), so he is still essentially himself--same wit and conniving.  Still, like Jaime, Tyrion wants to exact revenge on those who betrayed him (Brienne makes this connection to Jaime clear in her fireside chat with him, when she tells him he must live to take revenge).

By extension, Varys' story about his castration echoes the Jaime and Tyrion theme already established.  The castration may have changed who Varys thought he was, but it made him into the character he is today.

Finally, in another mirror reversal (and connection to Tyrion/Varys/Jaime), the Unsullied army rises up, all of them castrated in order to make them fierce warriors.  If we see Jaime's loss of hand as a kind of castration (and the narrative is clearly asking us to), then the unsullied represent the mirror opposite of Jaime.  Yet, like him, they are "prisoners," just as he was, only to be freed by a moral female leader (Danerys/Catelyn).

Oh, and it turns out that Jaime's ploy to save Brienne from rape was a lie (no sapphires in Tarth).  In that sense, he used his immoral propensity to lie to do good by the woman who was holding him captive, another ironic turn.

That makes sixteen separate ironic turns in one event.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

E-books

Kindle and Nook editions of Pyres and The Long Division are now FINALLY available. You know where to find them!

Friday, January 21, 2011

False Dichotomies: Plot vs. Lyricism (Part Three)


A recent reader post reminded me I never finished this series, and ought to, since I’ve only incompletely explained what I mean. You can look at the first two installments here (Part One) and here (Part Two), but the gist is this:
I’m trying (for kicks) to bridge the gap between readers who say they “read for the story” and readers who say they read for “the language.” On the one hand, I want to suggest that those “story” readers ought to read for more than just characters and events. On the other hand, I want to suggest that those “language” readers don’t really mean what they’re saying: we don’t actually read for the words on the page, per say, no matter how beautiful or lyrical they are (and despite the fact that evocative, lyrical language, if done right, makes the reading experience more fulfilling).
We’re all reading more or less for the same thing: the sensual experience that elicits an emotional response. We read to feel—strongly, subtly, deeply. Some of that comes from plot and character, but that’s what’s on the surface. A lot more of it comes from a mixed bag of tricks that some folk—erroneously, I think, call language. Evocation might be a better word. Voice is good, but limited. Sensuality—maybe, but that sounds a little dirty.
Language is a means to an end that is not, itself, language.
This issue is at the crux of John Gardner’s “vivid and continuous dream.” More recently, Robert Olen Butler argued a hard-line version in his series of lectures, From Where You Dream. Paraphrasing Butler: creative writing is the only artistic medium that posits a middle-man between the art and the audience. A movie does not make you imagine something else. You watch a movie and you imagine the movie—you imagine that it’s “real.” A sculpture is a sculpture, and a painting is a painting. They are about themselves. The Thinker doesn’t make you think about how people think; it makes you think about that particular rendition of a man thinking.
Fiction, however, is not itself. At its most concrete, it’s ink on a page. At one level of abstraction, it’s letters in an alphabet, strung together. Next, its words in a language. Then it’s the sound those words make—but the sound happens in your mind, not on the page. Then it’s syntax, etc. Finally, at the furthest level of abstraction, fiction becomes what it really intends to be: an evocation of sensual experience inside the reader’s mind. But the book—the language—is merely a middleman, the one who provides the tools the reader will use to complete the artwork.
This is Butler’s argument. A fiction isn’t a fiction until it happens in somebody’s imagination. Which is why, Butler argues, fiction should be as sensually evocative as possible—why it should show instead of tell, why the writer should remember what he’s really doing is painting a picture or making a movie, not impressing the reader with his pretty language (except insofar as said language is serving the reader’s sensory/imaginative process).
Butler’s position is not watertight. For one thing, I’m not sure he’s right that creative writing is the only art with a middleman. Music makes us think about itself, but inevitably it puts images in our mind. Admittedly, these images are much more arbitrary than the ones a piece of fiction would evoke. Then there’s sheet music. For those who can read it, sheet music functions like fiction: it evokes sound in the reader’s imagination. When Beethoven wrote his 9th Symphony, he didn’t set down any actual sounds, no more than a writer makes his fiction actually happen in the world. He transcribed musical notes that the right mind, or instruments, could turn into music. My argument here is bolstered by the fact that poor Beethoven never even heard his own 9th Symphony.
Butler’s also not quite right because he rather militantly privileges language that evokes sensory experience over all other kinds of language, when we know that sometimes a great writer can blow our minds with an abstract idea, an intellectual argument, a pithy observation about life. Take the very beginning of Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, for instance:
“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is headed for...”
Years ago, when I first read this, it struck me as one of the most profound, yet blissfully simple arguments I’ve ever heard against the fear of death. Death, for you, will be exactly the same as things were before you were born, and since you aren’t scared of what existence was like before you were born, why be scared of death? Of course it’s not that simple, especially if what you fear is the death of people you love, but Nabokov provides a momentary balm, and that’s about all we can ask for.
The point is: this is a pleasing idea, not a sensory experience. It’s an abstraction from which we’re meant to extrapolate. It doesn’t ask us to imagine anything in particular, except of course the ominous picture of the cradle rocking on the edge of a very high cliff.
And, yes, the way Nabokov says this is a large part of its effect. That’s why great poetry and fiction is un-paraphrasable, why every “modernized” version of a Shakespeare play can’t begin to capture the nuances, particularities and multiple meanings of the original. My explanation of Nabokov pales in comparison to his original, in part because I made explicit what he was only suggesting, and took away the reader’s thrill of analysis, realization and understanding (one of the main reasons we read: to feel smart that we “get” what we’re reading).
My explanation also pales because it was written in utilitarian prose, without any attempt to match sound to sense. Not so with Nabokov. Note, for instance, Nabokov’s: “common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” The sentence itself evokes three distinct stages: “Common sense tells us that our existence,” has an abundance of unstressed syllables and soft s sounds, so it “flows” (as my students love to say). “Two eternities of darkness” does quite the same: lots of s sounds, lots of flow. Parts one and three of the sentences match in their elongated, loose way. However, part two is a brief interruption full of hard sound and a rough, stress-filled cadence: “brief crack of light between.” You see, then, that Nabokov has made us feel the stages of human existence in the structure and sounds of his sentences. The easy/lucky/free openness of pre-birth and death, and the strange brevity of that thing in the middle that we call “life.”
Hey, blame Nabokov, not me!
It might seem that I’m arguing against my own conviction that no sane person reads for language alone, but I’m not. The sound is servant to the sense here, as in almost all cases. Nobody likes “common sense tells us that our existence” because it has lots of s’s and few stresses. We like it because its s’s and unstressed syllables evoke a sonic metaphor of what the sentence means. It’s not the language: it’s what the language is working for.

Why split hairs? Because when you say, "I read for language," you sound like you're privileging sound and rhythm over actual meaning, and you make us wonder why you don't just listen to music instead. Surely music is much more vividly aural than prose. But, in fact, you don't mean you read words for their aural qualities alone. Instead, you mean what everybody else means when they talk about why they love fiction: you read for the emotional experience it provides you.
In that way, you mean precisely the same thing as the guy who says “I read for story.” He doesn’t really mean he reads to see shit happen. He means he reads to see shit happen to people he’s interested in and whose feelings he feels vicariously. Same thing!
But “I read for language” sounds so damn precious, folks. If that “philistine reader” were made to see what we really mean when we say “language,” to realize how much the subtler qualities of voice and rhythm could enhance the emotional experience of reading, well, then, we might eventually broaden some palates a little.
Here: saying that you read for the language is like saying you watch movies for the soundtrack. Certainly soundtracks are essential, as is the right tone, rhythm, and diction in your fiction. Soundtracks compliment or even generate atmosphere, but they exist to serve the story, not the other way around.
I recently told a student who was struggling with the concept of voice to think of voice as the written equivalent of a movie soundtrack. You use rhythm, beat, tone and sound to evoke mood and atmosphere—to compliment the story. He seemed to understand much better.
Even the most language-y writing I can think of employs language in the service of story. Dr. Seuss’s rhythms and sounds evoke the playful, spry, child-like, off-kilter atmosphere of his fictional worlds. Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is fun to read just to hear yourself read it—but more importantly, its pompous, nonsensical nature is there to satirize the kind of figure Humpty Dumpty represents as he recites and then explicates it: the pretentious English teacher who claims to know what it all means.
Ahem.
I must turn again to the king, Nabokov, for the most pertinent example of language-for-some–other-sake-besides-itself that I’ve ever read. The first paragraph of Lolita: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
This passage is all about language, riffing off of Lolita’s name with loads of assonance and consonance. So much that even the regular reader (as opposed to the lit student) would see that there sure are a heck of a lot of l’s and i’s in here. And look at how Humbert Humbert, the speaker of this passage, uses the matching sounds to make a diametric opposite seem all of a piece: “lift of my life, fire of my loins.” The first half is spiritual and the second half is bawdy, but language makes it all sound like one big love-fest. Then, he inverts the spirit and the bawdy in the next sentence, carrying over the “s” sound from “loins.” Snake-like hissing (and that’s an important aspect of H.H.!).
Then, famously, H.H. pulls apart the word Lolita and describes, in sensuous, rhythmic detail, exactly how his tongue moves inside his mouth when he says it. And that, too, is a little naughty, frankly. You can’t fetishize language any more than H.H. is doing it here. This guy’s all about the language.
But that’s the point. Nabokov makes H.H. pull apart Lolita’s name like this because it’s weird to do so. On one level we go along for the ride: try not to test how your tongue moves when you say Lo-lee-ta. We’re drawn into this guy’s obsessions. But they are obsessions, ugly ones, falsely spiritual, honestly sinful. Soon we will learn Lolita is twelve and fascinating old H.H. is not at all a good man. Are we surprised? No: because that first paragraph is a case study of pathology all by itself.
So here again, the pleasures of sound are there to be had, but Nabokov is playing with us, setting us up for a stark realization regarding this speaker, whose words and worldview we’re hanging onto with vested interest. For all its qualities, the most important aspect of this paragraph is that it sets up H.H.’s sick but fascinating character, and our relationship to him. The language serves the story and our sense of it.
It’s no wonder that in just a few more lines H.H. will announce to his confessors in an ironically plain-spoken sentence: “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” Cheeky Humbert!