Sexual abuse in the curriculum

Last year I was a student in the third year contemporary literature course in which the novel Lolita was taught. At the intro to the lecture series, the lecturer (who I don’t feel comfortable naming as I believe this is a departmental issue and not a personal attack), unfortunately failed in warning the class of the evocative material in which the novel Lolita contains. 


The novel was taught as some sort of “art form” – the questioning of the pornographic material, alongside the “beauty” in which Lolita was written was constantly being suggested in the lecture series. As we continued to read and analyse the pedophilloic descriptions which were in the novel the course seemed to defend the narrative of a skewed perception of what was clearly a rape story. Not once was there an understanding or interrogation of the story of something that was “rape” and thus needs to constantly be questioned. If there was, I personally don’t believe it was interrogated enough. Lolita is seen as a “classic” and I think that instead of praising the white masculine authors such material needs to be studied from the narrative of the female voice, why does the English Department continue to praise the conservative, white masculine narrative….surely the story of a pedophile should be questioned rather than valued ? The fact that this course was taught by a man only perpetuates the support of such a culture – As a survivor of a situation very similar to that of Lolita, reading this novel and more importantly learning it as a “high art form”, was extremely traumatic for me and I’m sure various other survivors in the class. I felt continuously silenced and ashamed of my own story because for some reason it seemed to be a topic of adoration and splendor – an intriguing and admirable novel, rather than a devastating rape story. 


I’m not saying we have to stop studying this material – I just believe that the approach to it needs to change, the story of a powerless young girl manipulated and molested by her step father isn’t a form of art, but a true story in which her life will never be the same. The English department should challenge the ‘classic’ novel – give the students and opportunity to voice against the dominant masculine narratives. 


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