Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Lolita, generally considered Nabokov’s greatest novel, unites wildly grotesque parody, farce, and pathos with two powerful, shocking subjects: the passionate feelings of a grown man toward a pubescent girl and the complex nature of romantic love, which is not only tender and generous but also ruthless and even totalitarian.
The novel’s middle-aged, middle-European narrator “writes” this book as his confession while in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. His double-talk name, Humbert Humbert, sets the tone of punning parody that pervades the text, as various people address him as Humberg, Herbert, Humbird, Humberger, and Humbug. Humbert Humbert traces his sexual obsession for “nymphets”—girls between the ages of nine and fourteen—to a case of interrupted coitus when he was thirteen years old; he and a certain Annabel Leigh had the beginnings of their first affair, forever aborted by her premature death of typhus. (The allusions to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem and life number at least twenty; Nabokov refers to many other writers, including Shakespeare, John Keats, Flaubert, James Joyce, Proust, and T. S. Eliot.) After his marriage to a “life-sized” woman in Paris ends ridiculously, Humbert emigrates to the United States.
Here Humbert discovers Lolita Haze, a twelve-year-old, gum-chewing, Coke-gurgling, comic-book-addicted, blatantly bratty schoolgirl. Humbert agrees to marry Charlotte, her vapid, pretentious, widowed mother, in order to be near the irresistible daughter. When Charlotte learns of his pedophilia through reading his diary, she runs distractedly out of the house and conveniently is killed by a passing car before she can publicize his perversion.
Having laid his wife to rest, the widower undertakes the clumsy...
(The entire section is 722 words.)
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Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Vladimir Nabokov was already a widely respected Russian American novelist when his third novel in English, Lolita, was published by Olympia Press in Paris in 1955. It had been rejected by five American publishers and was not published in America until 1958. Although Lolita is now widely regarded as a classic, in the 1950’s it was regularly denounced, even generating calls for the deportation of its author. Although the novel became a best-seller, many libraries refused to keep it on the shelves. The 1962 film version, directed by Stanley Kubrick, retreated from the novel’s most disturbing aspects. Later adaptations—a musical comedy by Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry and a dramatic version by Edward Albee—failed promptly.
The elegant first-person narrative of an émigré professor writing under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert is still often mistaken for an endorsement of pedophilia, particularly by those who have not actually read it. In the book, Nabokov mocks the moralizing smugness and pretensions to family values of the 1950’s United States, and parodies his own difficulties in coming to terms with American culture. Lolita is comic, tragic, and, ultimately, highly moral, not because it carries a simplistic message, but because it painfully evokes, as Humbert notes, that “the moral sense is the duty mortals have to pay, on the mortal sense of beauty.”
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Generally regarded as Nabokov’s most important work, Lolita opens with a foreword, ostensibly written by a psychiatrist, reporting that the narrator of Lolita, Humbert Humbert, died while awaiting trial. Several other characters treated in the text, including Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, have also died.
Humbert Humbert proves to be an elusive and ambiguous narrator, apologizing for yet celebrating his love for the underage Lolita. He describes his early years in Europe; his love for Annabel Leigh, who died soon after he met her, instilling in him an attraction to “nymphets”; and his immigration to the United States after World War II. In New England he rents a room from widowed Charlotte Haze after laying eyes on her twelve-year-old daughter Lolita. Humbert eventually marries Haze in order to remain near Lolita, and then he plots to kill his new wife—an act he is prevented from carrying out when she dies by accident. Humbert removes Lolita from her summer camp and takes her to a hotel named The Enchanted Hunters. In an ironic twist, the young woman seduces the older man.
There follows a description of Humbert and Lolita’s long journey across the United States by automobile, a trip in which the girl is essentially Humbert’s willing prisoner. After a year the pair return to New England, where Humbert places his stepdaughter in a private boarding school. After taking the lead in a play called The Enchanted...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After the death by heart attack of Humbert Humbert, before he was to be tried for murder, his lawyer asks John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., to edit the accused murderer’s last manuscript. It is titled “Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male.” Dolores Schiller, the girl Humbert calls Lolita, dies giving birth to a stillborn daughter a few weeks after Humbert’s fatal heart attack. Ray defends the manuscript against charges of pornography and claims it will become a classic in psychiatric circles.
Humbert’s confession begins with a summary of his life from his birth in 1910 until his discovery of Lolita in 1947. He was born in Paris to an English mother and a Swiss father, who ran a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. At thirteen, he fell in love with Annabel Leigh, who was close to his age, and experienced unfulfilled lust. Four months later, Annabel died of typhus. He had been haunted by her memory until he found her essence reincarnated in Lolita. After studying English literature in Paris, Humbert became a teacher and discovered himself drawn to certain girls between the ages of nine and fourteen, whom he calls “nymphets.” Trying to lead a conventional existence, he was married to Valeria from 1935 until 1939, when she left him for a White Russian taxi driver; she later died in childbirth.
Humbert then relates how, at the start of World War II, he moves to the United States. After his second stay in a mental institution, he seeks refuge in the small New England town of Ramsdale, where he rents a room from Charlotte Haze, a widow, after seeing her twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores, known as Lo to her mother and Dolly to her friends, and also sometimes called Lolita. The darkly handsome Humbert soon discovers that he resembles some singer or actor on whom Lolita has a schoolgirl crush. When the girl goes away to summer camp, Humbert decides that he cannot live without her. Then Charlotte leaves a note for Humbert in which she confesses her love for him and orders him to marry her or leave her home. They marry, and afterward he hints to her friends that he and Charlotte had had an affair thirteen years previously, and he begins to regard Lolita as his child. Humbert decides that he must somehow get rid of her mother, his wife, but he cannot bring himself to kill her.
Humbert’s problem is solved when Charlotte breaks into his locked desk to read his journal and discovers his disdain for her and...
(The entire section is 995 words.)
Lolita is a work of fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, but it is presented it as if it were the memoir of a real man who calls himself by a strange pseudonym, Humbert Humbert. The book opens with a foreword written by an imaginary scholar, Dr. John Ray, Jr., who supposedly edited the book at the request of the author’s lawyer. Ray explains that Humbert Humbert died in prison before he could be convicted of the crimes he describes in his memoir, which is now being released to the world.
Ray explains that he made only a few edits to Humbert Humbert’s original manuscript, correcting obvious mistakes, removing a few details for the sake of propriety, and deleting anything that might violate the privacy of people...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapters 1-2 Summary
As the novel begins, Humbert Humbert reflects on the heroine and her name: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.” The narrator reflects that this little girl, whose full name was Dolores, had many nicknames. However he always called her Lolita when he held her close to him.
Humbert explains that, although Lolita is the love of his life, she is not his first love. Once, when he was a young boy, he had a short love affair with another beautiful little girl. If not for her, he muses, he might never have fallen for Lolita at all.
Jumping back to the beginning of his life, Humbert describes his birth in Paris in 1910. His father is “a salad of racial genes,” with...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Humbert’s first girlfriend is named Annabel, and she is the daughter of English and Dutch parents. She makes an incredibly strong impression on the thirteen-year-old Humbert, who retains his memory of her in perfect detail until he meets Lolita. By the time he writes his memoir, Lolita has overtaken his memory entirely, and his mental image of Annabel has faded to a set of vague memories about her “honey-colored skin,” “brown bobbed hair,” and so on.
Annabel is just a few months younger than Humbert. Her parents are strict and stuffy, like his aunt. He despises them, but he strikes up a friendship with Annabel immediately. At first, the two children just talk about unimportant things such as tennis, outer...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Humbert is somewhat obsessed with the memory of his summer with Annabel. He wonders, in hindsight, if his experiences with her caused him to become a pedophile, or if they were just the first sign that he was different from other people. He writes, “I am convinced…that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel.”
Humbert believes that his feelings about Annabel, as well as her sudden, shocking death after their summer together, combined to prevent him from successfully engaging in romantic affairs for many years. His connection to Annabel, both spiritually and physically, was far stronger than anything most people ever experience. He and Annabel dreamed the same dreams, even before they met. Her...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Humbert spends the rest of his youth and young adulthood feeling unfulfilled. He attends college in London and Paris, frequently visiting prostitutes to relieve his sexual needs. He studies psychology and then literature, working hard at academics but failing to produce much worthwhile scholarship. He publishes a few essays and poems in unimportant journals, teaches a bit, and eventually begins work on a multivolume textbook of French literature for English-speaking students. This latter job will occupy him until he gets arrested for murder.
During this period, Humbert feels—and mostly resists—a growing sexual desire for certain girls between the ages of nine and fourteen. He has his own name for such girls:...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Humbert wonders what happens to nymphets when they grow up. In particular, he wonders whether his observations affect them in any way. The girls do not know what he has imagined doing to them, but he worries that his mere thoughts have somehow “tampered” with their futures.
Just once, Humbert gets a chance to see for himself what a nymphet is like after she grows up. Walking down the street, he passes a pretty young prostitute who is too old to be a nymphet but young enough to hold a “nymphic echo” in her looks. He asks how much she charges, and she demands one hundred francs—a high price. When he tries to bargain, she walks on, and he sees in her walk an image of a girl, just slightly younger, coming home...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Eventually, Humbert decides to deny his real desires and get married. He reasons that a more conventional life might inspire him to develop a more moral character. Besides, he will constantly have access to a legal sexual outlet, which will be convenient even though it will not give him what he really wants.
Humbert considers himself “an exceptionally handsome male” who is capable of wooing any woman he chooses. In fact, he has long made a habit of ignoring most adult women to prevent them from “toppling, bloodripe, into [his] cold lap.” He could have a really impressive woman, but he settles on a stupid and uninteresting girl named Valeria.
Humbert chooses Valeria largely because she dresses and...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The legal arrangements for Humbert’s divorce prevent him from leaving for America right away. Then depression and a case of pneumonia slow him even more. By the time he sets sail, World War II is underway. He settles in New York, where he fulfills his wealthy uncle’s wishes by taking a job in his business, writing advertisements for perfume. Humbert rather enjoys this work but does not care about it at all. He soon becomes far more engrossed in his comparative history of French literature, and he spends long, rewarding hours working on it. During this period, he shuts away his sexual desires, a feat that does not come easily to him:
Knowing me by now, the reader can easily imagine how dusty and hot...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
After Humbert finally checks out of the hospital, he looks around for a “sleepy small town” where he can spend the summer working on his French textbook. On the recommendation of an acquaintance, he makes arrangements to rent the upper story of the home of Mr. and Mrs. McCoo, parents of a twelve-year-old girl, in a town called Ramsdale. He has wild fantasies about this girl all the way to Ramsdale.
When Humbert arrives in town, he finds out that the McCoos’ home has just burned down. Mr. McCoo has arranged for Humbert to stay with a woman named Mrs. Haze. Humbert is annoyed, but he goes to see the Haze house, which is “a white-framed horror” full of drab, tacky furnishings. He decides immediately that he...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Humbert keeps a diary of his first couple of weeks in the Haze household. In it, he obsessively records every encounter he has with Lolita. On the first day, he watches from the bathroom window as she hangs laundry and plays in the yard. He describes her tomboyish clothes and her perfect, “downy” skin. In passing, he notes that the daughter of Mr. McCoo is “a fright.”
Over the next few days, Humbert takes every opportunity to admire Lolita. He enjoys everything about her: her cocky refusal to obey her mother, her childish slang, her smell. When she sunbathes in the garden, he is at first afraid to go outside and watch. Soon he arrives at the idea of going out before she does. From this point on, he feels free...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 12-13 Summary
Humbert has plenty of experience deriving secret pleasure from his observations of nymphets, but in his first three weeks in Ramsdale, he keeps getting interrupted in his attempts to do this. He soon discovers that even the long-awaited trip to the beach will provide no opportunity for him to secretly masturbate in Lolita's vicinity. It turns out that Mrs. Haze has invited a friend for her daughter, and the two girls will play in the distance while Humbert has to sit and chat with the mother.
Humbert's frustration grows intense, but he eventually has an opportunity for release. One Sunday morning, Lolita and Mrs. Haze have a fight, and Lolita refuses to attend church. Mrs. Haze marches off alone, and Humbert, after...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Lolita goes out to lunch with her mother, and Humbert spends the rest of the day in a daze, generally elated by his experience of the morning. He feels no guilt. On the contrary:
I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a junior. Absolutely no harm done.
Lolita, Humbert reasons, is completely safe as long as she does not know what goes on in his mind and body. He, too, is safe because nobody will fault him if they cannot see what he is thinking and feeling. All day, he brainstorms ways to repeat the morning’s experiences. As he lays his plans, he keeps one resolve firm in his mind:
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
The next day, Mrs. Haze takes Lolita to town to buy some clothes for camp. Lolita is angry that she is being sent away, but the shopping improves matters: she is highly susceptible to bribery. Humbert goes to his bedroom and writes letters, forming a plan to go to the seaside until Lolita comes home from camp, at which point he will return to the Haze household. He has decided that he cannot live in Ramsdale without her.
The next day, Lolita refuses dinner. She and her mother have had a fight, and Lolita has been crying. Humbert knows that the little girl hates letting him see her with a red face and swollen eyes. Her shyness on this point saddens him. He not only loves “that tinge of Botticellian pink, that raw rose...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
As soon as Lolita is gone, Humbert goes to her room. He still feels “full” of her, and he wants to hold on to that feeling. He opens her closet and touches the clothing that has touched her. Picking out a “sleazy” pink thing, he holds it close, trying to get control of his chaotic emotions. Just then, the maid, Louise, calls him. He has to compose himself to speak to her. She gives him a letter, and he opens it to find the following words: “This is a confession: I love you.” The handwriting is scrawled, messy, and for a moment he thinks it is a “schoolgirl scribble.” But the letter is not from Lolita. It is from her mother, Charlotte Haze.
The note was clearly written hurriedly, with no attempts to guard...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Humbert knows that his readers will probably feel judgmental about the way he handles Mrs. Haze’s proposal. Addressing his readers as his “jury,” he launches into a full confession of his thoughts and motives. He admits that, even before meeting the Hazes, he entertained occasional vague daydreams of marrying a widow in order to gain access to her child. However, he never seriously considered that course of action with Charlotte Haze until confronted with her letter.
After re-reading and essentially memorizing the letter, Humbert tears it up and goes back to his own room. There he paces back and forth, struggling with temptation and revulsion. He imagines being Lolita’s stepfather, being able to see her and...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Humbert and Charlotte marry almost immediately, keeping their wedding small and quiet. Charlotte does not want to bring Lolita back from camp for the event, and Humbert lets her do as she wishes. He takes charge of the newspaper announcement about their wedding. For fun, he implies to the reporter that he and Charlotte are currently rekindling a lost flame from an affair they had many years ago.
Humbert learns quite a bit about Charlotte, much of which surprises him, in the short lead-up to his wedding. At one point, she says that she will kill herself if she ever suspects that Humbert does not believe in “our Christian God.” He makes vague assurances on the matter, but the conversation makes him uneasy. If she is...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
After hinting that Charlotte is not going to be with him long, Humbert takes a moment to describe her in more detail. He explains that she is “crazily jealous” of other women, and that she wants him to describe, in lurid detail, all of his former lovers. As soon as he has done this, he must denounce them and declare Charlotte the best of them all. He describes his marriage to Valeria, but Charlotte assumes that he must have had many other affairs as well. Rather than disappoint her, he lies, making up ridiculous stories about fake lovers. He bases these fictional characters on the women in American magazine stories and soap operas. He soon notes with wry amusement that the more bland and stereotypical he makes his fake women,...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
In July, Humbert and Charlotte often go to the local lake to swim and sunbathe. On one such outing, Charlotte comments that she is fed up with her daughter’s bad behavior. She has decided to send the child straight from camp to boarding school.
Horrified, Humbert flees to the woods to think. He wishes that Charlotte were more like his first wife, who was easy to control. But Charlotte is stubborn, principled, and annoyingly good at seeing through certain forms of insincerity. He is sure that he would arouse her suspicions immediately if he asked her to bring Lolita back home. He knows Charlotte well enough by now to understand that she would divorce him immediately if she glimpsed the truth about his pedophilic...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Humbert usually grows silent when he is angry. His first wife, Valeria, grew terrified when he sulked. Charlotte does not even seem to notice—at least not at first. She just goes cheerfully on with her life, rearranging the furniture, gossiping on the phone, and writing to a friend, a Miss Phalen, to try to secure a place in boarding school for Lolita.
Humbert realizes that he will never get any time with Lolita if he does not first develop a dominant role over his wife. For some time, he watches and waits for a chance to launch an attack. One night at dinner, she announces that the two of them will soon take a trip to England. To her surprise, he replies coldly that they will not. She listens, clearly shocked, as he...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Humbert is pleased to learn that there is no room for Lolita in Miss Phalen’s boarding school until January. This means that he will have at least a few months to spend with the little girl. He hopes that he will be able to influence events so that he can keep her longer.
Since the beginning of his marriage, Humbert has been performing experiments on Charlotte, slipping her sleeping pills and observing the effects. He wants to find a drug that will put both Charlotte and Lolita into such a deep sleep that they will not wake up, even if he touches them. So far, none of the drugs he has tried are strong enough, so he goes to the doctor and complains of insomnia so severe that it demands the strongest possible...
(The entire section is 572 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Humbert rushes outside and sees the scene of an accident: a big, black car up on the neighbor’s lawn; an old man dead or asleep on the ground; and a bathrobe in a heap in the middle of the road. Police are already on the scene, and neighbors are rushing around trying to help. In a daze, Humbert learns that Charlotte’s dead body is lying beneath the bathrobe. When she got hit, she was in the process of running across the street to mail several letters. A little girl picks these up and brings them to him. He sticks them in his pocket and tears them into little pieces with his fingernails.
Humbert, suddenly a widower, does not cry. He answers questions and makes decisions as necessary, staggering a bit when he sees...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Thunderstorms are building over the town of Ramsdale as Humbert prepares to leave Charlotte’s house for the last time. Wind blows through the trees, and a few raindrops fall. John Farlow waits outside while Humbert goes back in for some possession he has left behind. Jean Farlow, John’s wife, is still inside.
Humbert interrupts the narrative here to emphasize, once again, that he is an extremely attractive man. “Of course, such announcements made in the first person may sound ridiculous,” he writes, but he insists that the reader must not forget it. His whole life, his virile handsomeness has affected the way girls and women relate to him. If he were not so attractive, he may never have become a criminal. Lolita...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
All obstacles between Humbert and Lolita are gone. “Delirious and unlimited delights” await him, but somehow he does not feel relieved. Instead, he worries that some friend of the family will rescue Lolita before he can get to her. He has led people to think that Lolita is his real daughter, but he has not made any effort to obtain legal guardianship. What if she somehow slips from his grasp?
En route to Lolita’s camp, Humbert stops at a pay phone to inform them that he is coming. It turns out that Lolita is out on a multi-day hiking trip and cannot be ready to leave until tomorrow. Humbert is devastated that he has to wait yet another day, but he is also weirdly pleased that Lolita is really out camping. He has...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Humbert has some car troubles in the morning, but he arrives at Lolita’s camp by early afternoon. An ugly little boy directs Humbert to the camp office. There he waits nervously. He has told the camp officials that Charlotte is gravely ill, and he hopes that they will interpret his disquiet to worry about her health. Eventually he hears Lolita behind him. When he first sees her, he thinks that he should take her and give her a good home—but this thought passes quickly.
In the car, Lolita chews gum and asks—apparently more from a sense of duty than worry—about her mother’s health. Humbert makes some vague reference to stomach problems, and Lolita moves on to more important topics. She announces that she has...
(The entire section is 595 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
Speaking directly to his readers and referring to them as his “jury,” Humbert explains that, when he first took Lolita away from camp, he was totally unprepared for her. He claims that he wishes he had never returned to the hotel room. Life would be far better now if he had simply abandoned the child at the Enchanted Hunters and gone on with his life. However, he was too strongly tempted by her. He remained resolved that he would treat her in a way he considered acceptable:
I was still firmly resolved to pursue my policy of sparing her purity by operating only in the stealth of night, only upon a completely anesthetized little nude.
He explains that, before this night, he...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
Lolita has left a light on in the bathroom, and its open door gives Humbert a dim view of the room. She is dressed in an old nightgown, and her head is resting on both of the pillows. Humbert slips into his own pajamas. He begins to ease himself into the bed, and Lolita turns and stares at him.
Humbert freezes. The sleeping pill has failed to work. Lolita sleepily calls him “Barbara” and rolls over. He stays frozen, watching her, wondering if the pill needs more time to take effect. When he gains the courage to finish getting into bed, Lolita wakes up again. He tries to move closer to her, but she tosses and mumbles in her sleep. At one point he thinks she may be fully conscious, ready to “explode in screams” if...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Summary
In chapter 30, Humbert once again addresses his readers directly. This time, however, he does not address the “jury” that stands in judgment over him. Rather, he addresses the shady men who feel the same illicit desires he feels. Even now that he is in prison, far away from Lolita, he sees such men as rivals for her affections:
I have to tread carefully…It would never do, would it, to have you fellows fall madly in love with Lolita!
He does not provide any precise physical descriptions of the morning’s sexual activities. He simply waxes poetic, claiming that he wishes he were a painter who could decorate the walls of the Enchanted Hunters with a mural. He would paint...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapters 32-33 Summary
Lying in bed, eating fruit and potato chips, Lolita explains how she came to lose her virginity so young. Last summer, at a summer camp, she shared a tent with a girl named Elizabeth Talbot, the daughter of an executive, who coached Lolita in a variety of homosexual lovemaking techniques. Hearing this, Humbert remembers that Charlotte used to brag about Lolita’s friendship with the little Talbot girl. He asks if either girl’s mother knew anything about their daughters’ lesbian experiments. Lolita says no, and she is clearly aghast at the idea that either mother could find out.
This last summer at camp, Lolita and an older girl, Barbara Burke, played sex games with thirteen-year-old Charlie Holmes, the son of the...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Humbert takes Lolita on a year-long tour of the United States, spending the nights mainly in cheap motels where they can remain fairly anonymous. He catalogues the qualities of the clean, sterile places where he likes to stay, and he notes that they usually welcome children and allow pets. (To him, Lolita is both.)
During this period, Humbert’s sexual appetite for Lolita does not fade, but his feelings about her as a human being change a great deal. He says that she is a “most exasperating little brat” who frequently acts moody and disobedient. She is also a “disgustingly conventional little girl,” interested only in comic books, movie magazines, and the like—not in the intellectually challenging topics...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
For Humbert, the purpose of all this traveling is to keep Lolita “in passable humor from kiss to kiss.” Congratulating himself that he is a kind and indulgent man, he describes the many pleasures he purchases for her. He buys her lovely desserts at roadside restaurants. He pays for her entry fees at all manner of tourist attractions. He catalogues destination after destination—mummies, canyons, viewpoints—interspersing the details with brief descriptions of Lolita’s body.
In this section, Humbert rarely mentions Lolita's actions. When he does, he usually shows her revulsion toward him or her eagerness to interact normally with other people. He states matter-of-factly that the two of them have many arguments....
(The entire section is 511 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
When Humbert first begins his affair with Lolita, she seems eager and curious. Soon, however, she begins showing open disgust for him and his desires. When given the choice, she chooses absolutely any other activity over sex. “There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child,” Humbert explains—but then he takes pains to say that he is not complaining. In spite of the difficulties, his time with Lolita is “bliss.”
Humbert tries taking Lolita to a beach and finishing his unfulfilled relationship with Annabel. However, it does not work out. Their first two beach excursions meet with bad weather. The third, in California, provides good weather and a delightfully private little cave—but somehow...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
Chapter 37 Summary
Humbert corresponds with an acquaintance, Gaston Godin, who sets him up with a little house in Beardsley. When Humbert arrives, he is expecting an ivy-covered brick place, but instead he finds a drab wooden house that looks much like the old Haze home. He does not like the place at all, but he decides to stay anyway. The town is a good spot because it has a college library with the books he needs for his work, and it also has a respected private girls’ school for Lolita. Lolita, for her part, seems to notice nothing about her new home. She just walks in, finds the radio and a pile of magazines, and collapses onto a couch.
The Beardsley School for girls disappoints Humbert. He attends an interview with the...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapters 38-39 Summary
Beardsley is a small town full of friendly people. Humbert finds such people dangerous, so he holds himself aloof, making as few friends as possible. Most of his neighbors are content to stick to monosyllabic greetings or occasional insubstantial conversation. But one neighbor, an old “sharp-nosed character,” is more troublesome. Humbert often watches from a window as this woman stops Lolita to ask prying questions about her absent mother and her unapproachable stepfather. Once this woman sends Humbert a note inviting Lolita to come over and read books “instead of having the radio on at full blast till all hours of the night.”
Humbert has a maid and cook, Mrs. Holigan, who visits the house daily while Lolita is...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 40 Summary
In Beardsley, Humbert begins paying Lolita for her sexual favors. At the beginning of the year, her allowance is twenty-one cents per week, which he gives her if she carries out her “basic obligations”—sex, three times per day, every day. She is a “cruel negotiator,” however, and by the end of the year she has bargained him up from one cent to five cents for each sexual encounter. Humbert considers this “more than generous,” especially considering the fact that he regularly buys her anything she wants. When she wants something badly, he often demands additional sex, and he laments the fact that she is so unenthusiastic about complying. However, he cannot bring himself to use physical force. He cannot live without sex,...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 41 Summary
Lolita is now fourteen, and Humbert is constantly tormented by worry that she may fall in love. In order to learn what he is supposed to do, he reads newspaper articles directed at fathers of teenagers. The articles admonish him not to think of his daughter as a little girl, but as a growing young woman who needs fun and freedom. A good father is supposedly friendly toward his daughters’ boyfriends, chatting with them and trying not to seem like “an old ogre.”
Humbert dismisses this advice and decides to be an ogre. He tells Lolita that she may not, under any circumstances, go out on dates, attend co-ed parties at friends’ houses, talk with boys on the phone, or otherwise engage in potentially romantic...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapters 42-43 Summary
Humbert finds Lolita’s female friends in Beardsley “on the whole disappointing.” Most of them are not nymphets. Linda Hall, the school tennis champion, might be a little goddess, but she never comes to the house. After a while, Humbert begins to suspect that Lolita has forbidden Linda from coming over. The other girls are mostly pimply or hairy or fat, and Lolita bullies them. One girl, Eva Rosen, shows promise as a nymphet, but Lolita stops being friends with Eva before Humbert can get to know her well.
The most interesting of Lolita’s friends is Mona Dahl, an older girl who probably used to be a nymphet. Lolita tells Humbert that Mona is sexually experienced, and he does not doubt it from the way she behaves....
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 44 Summary
One day Miss Pratt, the headmistress of Lolita’s school, asks Humbert to come in for a conference. He knows that Lolita is doing poorly in her classes, but his guilty conscience makes him suspect that Miss Pratt has found out about his sexual abuse. He has a large drink to steady his nerves, and then he goes to the meeting.
Miss Pratt is indeed worried that something is wrong with Lolita sexually, but she does not suspect the cause. The headmistress explains that Lolita is rude to her teachers and, more worryingly, indifferent to boys. It is well-known that Humbert prevents his daughter from dating, and Miss Pratt scolds him for being too old-fashioned and harming Lolita’s social development.
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Chapter 45 Summary
At Christmas, Lolita catches a bad cold. Humbert takes her to a doctor, who is kind to her and asks no uncomfortable questions. Lolita has bronchitis, but Humbert does not stop his usual schedule of sex. For him, handling a listless girl with a fever is full of “unexpected delights.” Lolita, for her part, just trembles and coughs and accepts whatever he does.
After Lolita gets better, Humbert allows her to throw a party and invite boys to the house. He is not looking forward to this “ordeal,” so he gets drunk to steel himself. Lolita’s girlfriends come first, and they all decorate the house with a Christmas tree and colored lights. They pick out records to play on the phonograph as Humbert watches over them,...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 46 Summary
In the spring, Lolita gets completely absorbed in her school’s theater production, The Enchanted Hunters. One day Humbert sees Miss Pratt having lunch with some friends, and she silently applauds him for allowing Lolita to be involved in the play.
Humbert hates the theater. As an art form, he considers it “primitive and putrid,” more closely associated with caveman rituals than with the greater forms of art that he appreciates. Although he admits that there are a few works of genius in the history of the theater, he insists that a person can absorb the whole benefit of those plays by reading the words.
While Lolita is busy with her rehearsals, Humbert is once again engrossed in his history of...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
Chapter 47 Summary
Humbert begins sending Lolita to piano lessons twice per week. One day, her teacher calls and informs Humbert that Lolita has missed her last two lessons. When he confronts her, she seems unsurprised that he has found out. She tells him confidently that she skipped piano in order to rehearse for the play with Mona. Humbert promptly calls Mona, who politely tells him the same story. He does not believe a word of it.
In a cold fury, Humbert returns to Lolita. She stares at him defiantly, and he realizes that she has changed a great deal since he first met her. She is growing up. Her skin is beginning to look worn, and in spite of her make-up, he can see ugly red marks from a recent cold around her nose. She looks cheap,...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapters 48-49 Summary
Preparations for the second trip take a bit of time. Humbert has Charlotte’s old car repaired, so it is in good shape when he and Lolita leave. To put off questions about the sudden departure, he spreads a rumor that he has a job opportunity in Hollywood. Lolita plans the journey, showing far more interest in maps and guidebooks than she did a year ago. Musing on this, Humbert guesses that his “little concubine” is more interested in the real world now that she has developed an interest in the theater. Humbert has also changed. He is more courageous than he used to be, and he may even be brave enough to take Lolita to Mexico.
As Humbert drives Lolita out of Beardsley, she sees something and laughs, but she does...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Chapters 50-51 Summary
Humbert has a small, lockable box with an elaborate Oriental design on it—a gift from Gaston back in Beardsley. Every now and then, when Lolita is sleeping, Humbert opens the box and checks its contents, a .32 caliber pistol and a set of cartridges. He keeps the gun in case he ever needs to shoot anyone. As Lolita’s behavior grows stranger and more evasive, he finds himself thinking more and more about this weapon. He is glad that he took the time to learn to use it during his short marriage to Charlotte. He is not a great shot, but he did wound a squirrel once, and he is fairly certain he could hit a larger target.
As he and Lolita drive west, Humbert begins noticing a red convertible following them. It does not...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 52 Summary
Back in Beardsley, Humbert made arrangements to have mail forwarded to Wace. The morning after the play, he and Lolita visit the Wace post office, where they find a few letters. Among them is a note for Lolita, which Humbert promptly opens. Lolita does not protest, so he assumes that she was expecting this.
The letter is from Mona. It claims that the play went well, but that Lolita’s replacement was only passable. Mona also says that she is going to travel with her family to France, where she may have to stay through the next school year. Humbert reads this letter carefully, searching for hidden messages. When he looks up, Lolita is gone. Immediately he assumes that the worst has happened: she has left him, and she is...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Chapter 53 Summary
By now Humbert realizes that acting in a play did not just teach Lolita a healthy interest in literature. It taught her to lie. Suddenly she is able to deceive him, and although he catches glimpses of her schemes, he does not know how to stop them.
At fourteen, Lolita is beginning to outgrow the typical nymphet stage—but when she puts on her tennis clothes, she is better than ever. When she and Humbert play together, he admires her beauty and gracefulness. She moves like an elite player—but she is not one. She does not really care about winning, and he thinks that he may be the reason for this. He feels he has damaged her somehow, preventing her from being as great as she could be.
When Humbert first...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Chapters 54-55 Summary
One day, Humbert briefly loses sight of Lolita. After a moment of panic, he spots her outside in her red bathing suit, playing with a little dog. Watching her, Humbert feels jealous of the dog. But something about her behavior seems wrong, as if she is too eager and excited. Even the dog appears to realize that she is overdoing it. After a moment, Humbert realizes that she is performing.
In a patch of shade by the swimming pool not far away, the strange man who has been following them stands watching Lolita. It seems clear that Lolita—“the vile and beloved slut”—has noticed her observer. When the man leaves, she stops playing. Watching, Humbert wonders how the dog feels about her sudden indifference: “Who can...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 56 Summary
Humbert drives up and down all the roads that lead away from Elphinstone, but he finds no sign of Lolita. He drives back and forth along the thousand-mile journey from Beardsley, retracing his steps many times, looking for clues about Lolita’s kidnapper. During his search, Humbert checks in at hundreds of hotels, and he always finds excuses to flip through the guest registries for June. Several times he finds evidence of his enemy, but he uncovers little information that is of any use.
Early in his search, Humbert drives back to Elphinstone and approaches Mary, the nurse who cared for Lolita during her hospital stay. Humbert sinks to his knees at Mary's feet and demands to know who took Lolita. Mary looks unsure what...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapters 57-58 Summary
Humbert thinks that Lolita must have met her kidnapper in Beardsley, so eventually he returns there. He considers all of the men she had the opportunity to meet. Soon he grows suspicious of a young male art teacher named Mr. Riggs who occasionally conducted classes at Lolita’s school.
Humbert never met Lolita’s art teacher when she was in school, but he knows that Riggs teaches classes at Beardsley College. One afternoon, Humbert takes his revolver and sits waiting outside the man’s classroom. As he waits, Humbert realizes that he is being insane. There is virtually no chance that Riggs, of all the men in the world, is really responsible for kidnapping Lolita.
When Riggs appears, Humbert does not...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 59 Summary
Rita is twice Lolita’s age, but she is petite and somewhat girlish in appearance. When Humbert meets her, she is “amiably drunk” and clearly interested in sex with him. He does not feel much attraction, but he decides “to give her a try.” She is friendly and sweet, but she is a complete disaster. Her brother, a small-town mayor, actually pays her to stay away from him because he does not want to deal with the scandals that follow her around. She has been divorced three times, and she is constantly drunk or in some kind of trouble. Humbert likes her very much, and he sticks with her for years.
Humbert explains to Rita that he wants to go to California to find a girl and kill the girl's bully. This idea pleases...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
Chapter 60 Summary
After Humbert’s residency at Catnip College, he and Rita return to New York. Their apartment there has a mailbox with a glass slit in it. The light often falls through this piece of glass in such a way as to distort the handwriting on the letters that await him. Because of this, he often convinces himself briefly that he is seeing Lolita’s “lovely, loopy, childish scrawl” on the envelopes. This causes him to feel many false flashes of hope.
When Lolita finally does write to Humbert, he does not immediately realize it. He happens to grab the mail out of the mailbox in the midst of an argument with the janitor, who is complaining about a male friend of Rita’s who recently vomited on the stairs. Distracted by...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 61 Summary
Reading Lolita’s letter fills Humbert with pain, but it also gives him a sense of urgency. Rita is passed out in bed, and he does not try to wake her. He kisses her forehead and tapes a note to her belly—because she is unlikely to find a message anywhere else. With that done, he leaves her forever.
Once again, Humbert sets out in Charlotte Haze’s old car. His only companion is his “little black chum”—the gun that he has been carrying for years. After driving for a few hours, he pulls over in a lonely place, hangs up an old sweater he finds in the car, and shoots it several times. When he is satisfied that he is skilled enough to murder Lolita’s husband, he packs up and drives on.
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Chapter 62 Summary
A dog barks as Humbert gets out of the car and approaches the little shack and knocks on the door. Lolita answers. She is taller, with glasses and a different hairstyle. She is “frankly and hugely pregnant”—but she is still Lolita. She stares at him for a long moment and then invites him in.
Without even saying hello, Humbert asks about her husband. All he can think about is the murder. However, he cannot kill Lolita. As he explains to the reader:
You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.
Lolita points to Dick, a young man in overalls, who is out in the backyard fixing something with a one-armed neighbor. He is...
(The entire section is 798 words.)
Chapters 63-64 Summary
Humbert drives away from Lolita, heading for the small town of Ramsdale where she grew up. He examines the map and sees that all the natural highway routes will force him on long drives that take him well out of the way. He dislikes the idea of a winding route; he wants to hurry through the errands he has in Ramsdale so that he can get on with his revenge. Because of this, he settles on a shortcut which involves a forty-mile stretch of dirt road. Rain is pouring down, and the muddy road is rough. After ten miles, he tries to turn around. He ends up getting stuck and being forced to walk several miles to a nearby farmhouse to call a tow truck.
By the time he gets back to the highway, Humbert is exhausted. He pulls over...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 65 Summary
On his way to Ramsdale, Humbert reflects that Lolita never really saw him as a romantic partner, but only as a physical inflictor of sex. Sometime during his first long trip with her, he decided to pretend to himself that she loved him. He saw many glimpses of the way she really felt, and he coached himself to ignore them. It made him feel better.
Once, early on, Humbert promised Lolita some childish reward in order to induce her to have sex with him. After she had done what he wanted, he took the reward away. He happened to see her afterward, when she thought he was not looking, and the expression on her face was practically shattered. It was not a look that belonged on a child. And Humbert still did not let her have...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 66 Summary
In Ramsdale, Humbert drives through town and eventually parks and takes a walk up his old street. He surveys the neighborhood, which has changed more than he likes, and stops in front of the old Haze house. Eventually he notices a little nymphet staring at him from the yard. When he tries to speak to her, she runs away, and soon her father comes outside to chase him away. Humbert wants to tell the man who he is, but then he remembers that he is disheveled and muddy from his night’s adventures. He rushes away, hoping that nobody else will notice him.
Humbert checks into the local hotel and cleans up. Afterward, he makes his way down to the bar, and he soon meets Mrs. Chatfield, the mother of one of Lolita’s little...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapters 67-68 Summary
When Humbert arrives at Quilty’s house, he finds the place lit up, with many cars out front. He stops and thinks for a while, imagining a debauched orgy within. Eventually he decides that he should not make a move with so many people around. Slowly he drives back to town, marveling that life is still going on around him. Lolita is gone forever, and Humbert is about to kill her former lover—but somehow moths keep flying into his headlights, and people keep watching movies at the drive-in.
After a sleepless night, Humbert takes a few precautions to make sure that he does not fail at his quest. He oils his gun so that it will be sure to fire. He replaces the bullets in case the last batch has “gone stale” in the...
(The entire section is 742 words.)
Chapter 69 Summary
Humbert drives slowly away, not really heading for any destination. He reflects that he did not particularly like Quilty’s house. He wonders if any doctor would be capable of saving Quilty now. He doubts it but hopes not, mainly because he wants to get on with his life and not deal with a vengeful playwright sometime in the future.
The road is long and straight, and Humbert suddenly thinks that since he is a rapist and a murderer, he might as well break traffic laws as well. He begins driving on the left side of the road. This gives him a wonderful feeling of elation, even though every passing car honks and swerves. When the police begin chasing him, he is only dimly aware of them. When two police cars pull up to...
(The entire section is 414 words.)