Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Humbert Humbert, the novel’s middle-aged, Central European narrator, who “writes” the book as his confession while in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. After his sudden death of coronary thrombosis a few days before the trial’s scheduled start, his book is “edited” by John Ray, Jr., presumably a professor of psychology. Humbert’s name is fictitious and often distorted in the text, rendered as Humbug, Humbird, Humburger, Hamburg, or Homberg. Born in 1910 in Paris, he is the son of a Continental European father (with Swiss, French, and Austrian genes) who owned a luxury hotel on the Riviera and of a beautiful English mother who is killed by a lightning bolt when the boy is three years old. Humbert traces his sexual obsession for girls between the ages of nine and fourteen—his term for them is “nymphets”—to a case of interrupted coitus he suffered when, at the age of thirteen, he and a certain Annabel Leigh had their romance forever aborted by her early death.
Lolita Haze, also called Dolores, Dolly, Lo, and Lolly, a twelve-year-old whose mother Humbert marries. She becomes his capricious child-mistress after her mother’s death. She is a gum-chewing, Coke-swilling, comic-book-addicted schoolgirl who exploits Humbert’s obsession with her and is largely insensitive to his feelings. Vexed by his possessiveness, she runs off with playwright Clare Quilty, who turns...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Lolita Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
As in many of Nabokov's novels, the cast of characters in Lolita is large, but its central players are relatively few. Humbert Humbert, the narrator, is a European expatriate, a self-described "nympholept" sexually obsessed with girls under the age of fourteen. He rents a room in the house of Charlotte Haze, an excruciatingly bourgeois but ultimately pathetic widow, and marries her in order to be near her daughter Dolores, whom he calls Lolita. Soon after, Charlotte is killed in an implausibly convenient car accident — a sort of parodic deus ex machina — leaving Humbert alone with his beloved nymphet.
The fourth major character of Lolita is Clare Quilty, an author of children's plays for whom Lolita eventually leaves Humbert. Quilty is a mysterious character, for although he shadows Humbert and Lolita throughout most of the novel, his presence is indicated only through a series of clues which the reader comes to understand only near the end of the book. The only time Quilty appears as Quilty is in the novel's final scene, when Humbert murders him, taking revenge on Quilty, (and, in a sense, himself) for Lolita's ruined life.
(The entire section is 188 words.)
Lolita's mother appears as both victimizer and victim. Humbert rents a room from her and eventually marries her so that he can be close to Lolita. Charlotte is a type of middle-aged woman "whose polished words may reflect a book club or bridge club, or any other deadly conventionality, but never her soul; women who are completely devoid of humor ... utterly indifferent at heart to the dozen or so possible subjects of a parlor conversation, but very particular about the rules of such conversations, through the sunny cellophane of which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished." She "combined a cool forwardness ... with a shyness and sadness that caused her detached way of selecting her words to seem as unnatural as the intonation of a professor of speech." Charlotte resents Lolita's affection for Humbert and so packs her off to camp. Humbert writes, "she was more afraid of Lolita's deriving some pleasure from me than of my enjoying Lolita." Yet she turns into a "touching, helpless creature" with Humbert, at least until she discovers his true feelings about her and Lolita. "McFate" conveniently removes her from Humbert's life when she is hit by a car.
(The entire section is 196 words.)
A name invented by the author/narrator of "Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male." Humbert is a witty, cultured European with a destructive obsession for young girls. For several years he lives with Lolita, his young stepdaughter, whom he coerces into granting him sexual favors. In his re-creation of his life with Lolita, he calls himself "an artist and a madman." He tries to convince the "ladies and gentlemen of the jury," of the following partly true description:
the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not sex fiends. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never kill.
Yet at other points, Humbert admits that his "pathetic" obsession with Lolita "broke" her life. In the Foreword, the narrator suggests that Humbert writes of himself and Lolita with "a desperate honesty," and comments on "how magically his singing violin can conjure up...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
Lolita (Dolores Haze)
In the first lines of the novel, Humbert characterizes Lolita as "light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." Readers see her from Humbert's point of view, which presents an often idealized but sometimes realistic image of this young girl with whom he had an incestuous relationship for several years. Initially he defines Lolita as a nymphet, a category of young girls between the age of nine and fourteen who exhibit "fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering insidious charm," and a certain "demonic" nature. He admits, "what drives me insane is the two fold nature of this nymphet—of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country ... and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels." Sometimes he sees her as
a combination of naivete and deception, of charm and vulgarity, of blue sulks and rosy mirth ... When she chose, [she] could be a most exasperating brat ... [with her] fits of disorganized boredom, intense and vehement griping, her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style—a kind of diffused clowning which she thought was tough in a boyish hoodlum way. Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl.
Most often, Humbert projects Lolita as a vision of...
(The entire section is 354 words.)
Lolita's "elegant, cold, lascivious, experienced" girlfriend Humbert decides she "had obviously long ceased to be a nymphet, if she ever had been one."
Jean and her husband John are Charlotte's friends. In an effort to prevent the pair from paying too much attention to his plans, Humbert suggests that Lolita is the product of an affair he had years ago with Charlotte. Humbert considers Jean "absolutely neurotic" and notes that she "apparently developed a strong liking for me." Jean dies of cancer two years later.
Farlow looks after Charlotte's estate after she dies.
Gaston, who teaches French at Beardsley College, finds Humbert and Lolita a house to rent. Humbert trusts him because he is "too self-centered and abstract to notice or suspect anything." While revealing a "colorless mind and dim memory ... nonetheless, everybody considered him to be supremely lovable." Humbert suggests a sinister motive behind Gaslon's enjoyment of the company of the small boys of the neighborhood: "There he was devoid of any talent whatsoever, a mediocre teacher, a worthless scholar, a glum repulsive fat old invert, highly contemptuous of the American way of life, triumphantly ignorant of the English language—there he was in priggish New England, crooned over by the old and caressed by the young—oh, having a...
(The entire section is 514 words.)