Philology Phriday––Dolor

25 Jun

Today’s word experience stems from a word that has been on my mind ever since I first heard the name Dolores Haze in my mind’s ear. Dolores Haze, or Lolita (or even Lo), is the center of a plot by the sometimes cunning, wily, predatory while sometimes pitiable Humbert Humbert who has fallen in love with the daughter (Dolores, Lolita) of his landlady (Charlotte Haze) and plans to love her with all of his might. Plus, this gives me a chance to play with the opening of a novel I love so much.

Dolor, light of my blog, fire of my fingers on this filology friday. My word, my wonder. Do-lor: the tip of the tongue concussively consonanting and all the while connoting what the character of our fair Lolita really is.

Dolor comes from the French “dolor,” which comes through the Latin for pain, grief, or anger. It used to mean in one of its early uses a physical pain or suffering but has long since taken the philological high-road––it’s gone mental. It’s present use (although it is so infrequently used in everyday speech, many think it has simply died off or been executed somehow) often connotes a very psychological pain, suffering, sorrow, grief, or distress. This is an important case of the word, for it does indicate what Lo is to our narrator, Humbert Humbert, (who claims himself to have used pseudonyms throughout the book, to both conceal the truth of the matter, but probably also to highlight the Truth of the matter) that is, a spot of mental anguish in his mind.

Even more telling of her character’s true meaning is a now very obscure denotation of the word from the fourteenth century that was an odd mix of both a cause of and the symptoms of some disease or anguish. This is truly what Lolita is to Humbert, the cause of some disease, something he terms at times as nympholepsy or pederosis.

But then, if this is what the romance of such a great novel is predicated upon, what can it mean for a conception of romance? Sounds like a pretty crap deal, if you ask me, loving something or someone whose name seems to stem from a word that associates with pain, suffering, and anguish. Nabokov, is of course, no help in finding a moral. For he writes in an essay about his writing of Lolita that “I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and despite John Ray’s (Nabaokov’s invented foreword-writer for Humbert Humbert’s account) assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow.”

Well, screw that. It seems like something can be said about a conception of romance based on the fact that the romance of the novel, in fact even the very process of romancing lodged within the novel’s plot, is something painful, something dolorous (Dolores), and that something seems to mean that romance is a kind of pain, a melodramatic pain, the kind of pain novels are written about, the kind of anguish that requires montages in sappy romantic comedies where the two sides involved spend time alone doing what they normally do (like work, etc.) but start to cry or see something the other side left behind and get that sullen look of incandescent anguish that means they should get back together with that someone no matter their differences of opinion or the mistakes they’ve made toward each other, the kind of anguish that forces guys to talk about they women on the ball court and women to talk about they mans at the nail salon.

So then, what I wonder is this, has love, like the word dolor, gone mental? Is it now only the stuff of the slightly mental people? I don’t know. I don’t write didactic blogs.


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