You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs—the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate—the deadly little demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.
- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
While it was easy to choose Lolita as my source, it was more difficult to choose which part to quote. This passage is towards the beginning of Nabokov’s perennial work and it’s one that made me fall in love with his writing. The idea of being both “artist” and “madman” is intriguing and a well-visited theme not only in literature but in other art forms also. The use of the second person also invites the reader into the world of Humbert Humbert, the world of the monster himself and how he sees his prey: luscious and deadly. Also, while he often shows no remorse for his thoughts and actions throughout the novel, here, Humbert Humbert claims that he cannot write more; “despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid” him to elucidate, perhaps rendering him less monster and more madman.