Legal Fiction: Reading Lolita as a Sentencing Memorandum

21 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2022 Last revised: 28 Feb 2023

See all articles by Christina Frohock

Christina Frohock

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: August 15, 2022


The idea of a legal narrative often focuses on identifying a narrative within the law, for example, the persuasive power of storytelling in a trial court motion or an appellate brief. The story emerges from the law. This Article proposes inverting that focus so that we identify the law within a narrative. Using the example of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita, the Article explains how we can read the novel as a prolonged sentencing memorandum. That memorandum casts the infamous first-person narrator, recounting his crimes under the pseudonym of Humbert Humbert, as a defendant writing pro se. In Lolita, the law emerges from the story, showing that an entire legal document may be redrawn as a narrative. The legal document and the narrative are one, with a distinct point of view in favor of the criminal defendant. This unity between law and narrative illuminates a deep, essential goal shared by both genres: garnering sympathy. The notion of law without sympathy thus rings hollow. Finally, this essential link between law and sympathy shines a new light on the law’s role to promote justice. Justice must be measured at least partly as an expression of sympathy rather than solely as a cold calculation of costs and benefits.

Keywords: legal narrative, criminal sentencing, criminal justice

Suggested Citation

Frohock, Christina, Legal Fiction: Reading Lolita as a Sentencing Memorandum (August 15, 2022). Albany Law Review, Vol. 86, p. 21 (2022), University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 4190647, Available at SSRN: or

Christina Frohock (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

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