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Controlling the Female Body: Obsession and Loss of Autonomy in Lolita and "Berenice"


Lee, Margaret Rachel (2022) Controlling the Female Body: Obsession and Loss of Autonomy in Lolita and "Berenice". Other, California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/e5xr-st45.


[Introduction] Why are we so obsessed with the female body? From high school dress codes to impossible beauty standards in the media, society polices and sexualizes young women's bodies. Nabokov's Lolita, which follows the charming Humbert Humbert and his horrifying relationship with adolescent Lolita, explores this hyperfixation of female bodies, particularly young female bodies. Edgar Allan Poe clearly inspires Nabokov, from the confusing foreward, reminiscent of Poe's novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, to the character of Annabel Lee, the titular subject of one of Poe's most famous poems. Poe's short story "Berenice" introduces the idea of monomania and explores themes of bodily autonomy from a physical and a mental perspective. "Berenice" also explores how control and obsession over the female body can make a narrator unreliable. Nabokov extracts these ideas from Poe, expands on them, and explores how Humbert controls Lolita and strips her of her identity. This loss of bodily autonomy and agency is jarring to read, despite Nabokov's stylistic beauty, and encourages the reader to examine how media and society treat young women.

Item Type:Thesis (Other)
Subject Keywords:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize ; Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize - English ; Hixon Writing Center
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:English
Awards:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize - English, 2022.
Thesis Availability:Restricted to Caltech community only
Research Advisor(s):
  • Weinstein, Cindy A.
Group:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize, Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize - English, Hixon Writing Center
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:2022
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06012022-154934652
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14925
Deposited By: Leslie Rico
Deposited On:08 Jun 2022 18:02
Last Modified:15 Sep 2022 18:29

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