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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

A Defence of Sex in Literature

A Defence of Sex in Literature

There is a great lack of intelligently written, easily readable literature dealing with the more unusual more sordid aspects of sexual behaviour. Because of this, the average person is almost completely ignorant of the manner in which a surprising number of our present-day community lives.

All people tend to fear or be repelled by anything that they do not understand. In order to counteract this fear, the normal person's natural curiosity leads him to seek knowledge and consequently understanding.

It is only wise, therefore, that the means of acquiring this knowledge should be through good, intelligent, well-balanced literature, rather than from the disgusting and purely sensational books that are only too readily available to the general public—the public that revels In cheap and sordid details of sexual life that is only too well known to most people.

What literature dealing with sex should be satisfying is the natural and healthy curiosity to acquire knowledge and understanding about a subject which is misunderstood because of this tendency of repulsion from the unknown.

It is only through a very sad lack of real and sympathetic understanding that people who practise what is regarded as "abnormal" sexual behaviour are to a very great extent despised, condemned, or merely considered disgusting, and because they are outcast from society are frequently compelled to live in wretched and sordid conditions.

I would here like to mention that I believe homosexuality, like alcoholism, should be regarded as a mental disease, and therefore treated intelligently and sympathetically as such. Instead of being forced to the gutter of our social existence, it should be brought into the open, so that all people, not merely the few doctors and psychologists, may understand and help this condition.

But it is another "abnormality" that has recently caused so much unreasonable controversy. Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita" or the confession of a half-insane, but nevertheless loveable, pervert, tells of the obsession of Humbert Humbert for a certain type of little girl, which he describes as "nymphet"—which is eventually satisfield by Dolores Haze, a precocious and rather pathetic youngster of 12.

Those who have banned "Lolita" from our country's reading public have done so on the grounds that it is an indecent document—yet they do mercifully acknowledge the remarkable value of it as an art form, as a true work of art.

But they have sadly misjudged the book's hero—the handsome, but modest and shy little man of 37. Though H.H.'s desires and intentions were not by any means moral, or wise, his actions were never anything else. For instance, when he wanted to get rid of his wife and was about to murder her, he heard that she had been killed by a speeding car. When his opportunity to seduce his drugged Lolita arrived, his courage failed, but at that very moment the innocent child wakes up and promptly seduces him. All rather amusing—and so, in that respect, it is typical of the whole book. A delightfully light-hearted sense of humour always relieves what could be regarded as the unpleasanter details in the book.

I am rather inclined to think that the judges who have condemned this fine piece of literature are very grleviously lacking in a sense of humour.

I hope that my previous remark will not be misunderstood concerning the unpleasanter details in the book. In the whole book there is perhaps one incident that could be considered as being a direct reference to the act of love. And even this is related with a most delightful naivety that cannot help but amuse. Humorous though it is, it is also a most forceful and moving, even if pathetic and unusual, love story—which throws valuable light not only on the construction of the English language, but also on one of the many grim, ugly, but nontheless real aspects of sexual behaviour.

"Lolita" being finally banned is, we must assume, out of our reach—but let us broaden our outlook, and prepare ourselves to receive—indeed welcome—another publication of similar merit, if and when our world is fortunate enough to be granted one.