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.”
(The entire section is 218 words.)
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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...
(The entire section is 995 words.)
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,...
(The entire section is 722 words.)
Lolita chronicles the life of its narrator and protagonist, Humbert Humbert, focusing on his disastrous love affair with a young girl. In this dark, comic novel, Nabokov paints a complex portrait of obsession that reveals Humbert to be both a middle-aged monster and a wild romantic who fails to attain his ideal.
In the Foreword, fictitious Freudian psychiatrist John Ray, Ph.D., who claims to be editing Humbert's manuscript titled "Lolita, or The Confession of a White Widowed Male," notes that Humbert died in prison in November 1952 of heart disease a few days before the beginning of his trial. He also reveals that Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, who the reader will discover at the end of the book is Lolita, died in childbirth on Christmas Day, 1952. Ray, whom Nabokov later admitted he "impersonated," warns readers that they will be "entranced with the book while abhorring its author."
Humbert begins his memoir with "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." He admits that Lolita had a precursor, and that "there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child." During the summer of 1923, Humbert and Annabel, both thirteen, fell "madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other," but were unable to find an opportunity to express it. When Humbert notes that Annabel died four months later of typhus, he wonders, "was it then ... that the...
(The entire section is 1087 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 mentioned in the book. Otherwise, he has left the memoir exactly as its author wrote it. He notes that the main female character’s real first name had to be retained in the manuscript because it is important to the story. However, her last name, Haze, is a pseudonym. All other names in the book are aliases as well.
The editor notes that the prose style of Lolita is sometimes vague and always free of the obscenities that are common to the modern “banal novel.” However, he says, many scenes have a sexual nature that could not be deleted without destroying the sense of the work. Although he notes that some readers may find such scenes offensive, he also states that they are artistically valid and that they lead to a “moral apotheosis” at the end.
Ray praises Humbert Humbert’s prose style and notes that the memoir inspires the reader to feel deep empathy for Lolita. However, he states vehemently that the author was a terrible person:
I have no intention to glorify “H.H.” No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness....He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman.
In conclusion, Ray argues that Lolita will soon become a classic case history for psychiatrists as well as a revered work of literature. However, he argues that the book’s real value lies in its moral lessons about trends in human behavior. He states that the descriptions of such characters as “the wayward child, the egotistic mother, [and] the panting maniac” should inspire ethical citizens to be more...
(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 ancestors from many different European countries, a kind man and the owner of a hotel on the Riviera. Humbert’s mother is a beautiful Englishwoman who dies when her son is three years old. He describes the accident that killed her in only two words: “Picnic, lightning.”
Humbert has no memory of his mother, and he is not greatly troubled by her absence. After her death, he is raised by his aunt, Sybil, a sister of his mother’s. She is strict with him, but he loves her anyway. Although Humbert does not know it until later, she is in love with his father, who responds by sleeping with her once and then forgetting about it. She dies when Humbert is sixteen years old.
In spite of the deaths of his mother and his aunt, Humbert has a happy childhood. He lives in an idyllic world of ocean views and friendly vacationers. The guests at his father’s hotel tend to dote on him. His father is a kind influence who reads books and takes his son on delightful afternoon excursions. He frequently has girlfriends, and Humbert calls these women “kind beings who…cooed and shed precious tears over my cheerful motherlessness.”
During his early childhood, Humbert attends an English school, where he does well socially and academically. Until adolescence, he has essentially no sexual experiences. He remembers only an earnest discussion of puberty with a male American friend and “some interesting reactions on the part of my organism to certain photographs.” When he is thirteen, his father explains what boys need to know about sex. Afterward, he goes away on vacation with a woman friend. When Humbert has his first, painful love affair, his father is not there.
(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 space, and baby animals. They tell each other what they want to be when they grow up: she wants to be a nurse in a faraway country, and he wants to be a spy. Then, quite suddenly, they are “madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other.” Their feelings are so intense that they are at a loss for how to satisfy themselves. They want, quite literally, to consume each other entirely and become one person. However, they are wealthy little European children, and their lives are so strictly regulated that they cannot even “mate” as poor kids in a slum could probably do. They try to meet at night in a garden once, but they are caught. After that, they are only allowed to see each other on the beach, and they are forced to stay within sight of their elders at all times. They lie in the sand, secretly attempting to touch each other, occasionally hiding behind a child’s sand castle to sneak a quick kiss. These cautious, stolen moments cause Humbert to feel an excruciating amount of sexual desire.
The tension builds throughout the summer. Finally, when Annabel's vacation comes to an end and she and her parents begin preparing to leave town, the two young lovers decide that they no longer care about getting caught. They slip off alone together and run to a deserted stretch of sand, where they find a shaded spot among the rocks. There they clumsily but eagerly make out. Humbert is “on the point of possessing” Annabel when they are interrupted by a couple of swimmers coming ashore. The moment passes, and they never end up having sex. A few months later, Humbert receives word that Annabel has died of typhus fever.
(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 thoughts continued to run though his mind even after she died. Now he only wishes that Lolita could have loved him so deeply.
To help the reader understand the importance of the affair with Annabel, Humbert provides a detailed description of their first interlude alone together—a midnight meeting in her garden. She sneaks out of her hotel, and he meets her in a mimosa grove. They climb onto a stone wall and kiss. She trembles all over, and he feels that he can see her face in the beauty of the stars overhead. He puts a hand between her legs, and her face takes on “a dreamy and eerie expression, half-pleasure, half-pain.” As he touches her, she pants and writhes, and every now and then she presses her mouth up to kiss him. He feels “ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails.”
Humbert relives every detail of this encounter, even describing the smell of the stolen perfume Annabel is wearing and the way its scent combines with “her own biscuity odor.” Just when they feel totally full of each other, they hear noises in the bushes, and they have to pull apart. Annabel’s mother’s voice cuts into their secluded spot as she frantically calls her daughter's name. Moments later, Humbert’s aunt's boyfriend, Dr. Cooper, comes outside to put an end to the interlude.
Annabel is soon gone forever, but Humbert never forgets her. The “ache” of their unfinished encounter stays with him, as does his memory of the little girl who wanted him so badly and never got a chance to act on her desire. The memory hangs over him for twenty-four years—until finally he breaks “her spell” by focusing his love on another little girl.
(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: “nymphets.” Not all girls belong to this category, and those who do are not necessarily beautiful or privileged. Nymphets are difficult to define, but they stand apart from ordinary girls due to
certain mysterious characteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering, insidious charm.
Ordinary girls are—to their detriment in Humbert’s eyes—“essentially human.” Nymphets are more like enchantresses or devils. They are powerful, and yet they do not know it. Their friends do not think they are unusual, nor do ordinary men. Only a few select men understand nymphets:
You have to be an artist and a madman…with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine.
Such a man does not notice or become enchanted by a nymphet unless he is much older than she—at least ten years older, if not far more. According to Humbert, Annabel was not a nymphet to him because they were equals, deeply in love.
Because of his proclivities, Humbert has studied the history of cultural attitudes surrounding sex with young girls. He considers it unfortunate that in modern times, in the countries where he has lived, girls younger than fourteen are considered too young to become sexual partners for grown men. However, not all cultures make such judgments. He rattles off examples from far-flung countries and from the ancient world, showing case after case in which men have loved and married girls as young as eight or ten or twelve.
Though clearly excited by the mere idea of these love affairs, Humbert tries to restrain himself. Retreating to...
(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 from school. He changes his mind and agrees to pay.
The girl, Monique, takes Humbert up to a dingy room. There is no romance in their encounter, but he does not expect any. He pays her upfront and watches, impressed, as she quickly and efficiently strips naked. She claims to be eighteen, but he thinks she must be a couple of years younger. Sex with her gives him “a pang of genuine pleasure” that he has never felt with the “eighty or so” hags he has slept with in the past. Monique meets him a second time later that day, and this encounter is better than the first. However, their third meeting on the following day does not please him so much. She seems to have become “more of a woman overnight.” He decides not to see her again, reasoning that she will only mature further from here.
Humbert’s encounter with Monique gives him an idea, and not long afterward, he goes to see the madam of a whorehouse, to whom he confesses his “criminal craving.” She considers for a moment and then asks how much he is willing to pay. He names an amount, and she says she will put him in contact with someone. The next day, he goes to a grimy apartment, where a repulsive woman with too much makeup and garlicky breath assures him that she is selling very high-quality “merchandise.” She throws back a curtain to show him
a monstrously plump, sallow, repulsively plain girl of at least fifteen with red-ribboned thick black braids who sat on a chair perfunctorily nursing a bald doll.
Humbert refuses to have sex with this girl, who simply goes to the kitchen, hands the doll to a toddler, and sits down to finish her dinner. The woman demands that Humbert...
(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 acts like a child. She does not do this for his benefit; it is “just her style.” She is not a child at all, but a fully grown woman in her late twenties who “mislaid her virginity” several years before meeting him. Being married to her is fun on their wedding night, when he has her dress up in an old nightshirt he has stolen from an orphanage. As time passes, he finds that she is a convenient vent for his sexual attraction to a nymphet who lives across the street. However, the marriage is not successful. Valeria grows fat and sad, and Humbert becomes increasingly discontented with her round womanliness.
One day, when Humbert has been married for four years, he suddenly receives a decent inheritance from an American uncle. He will receive it only if he moves to the United States, so he informs Valeria that they will soon be emigrating. For some reason she seems unhappy about this.
Soon Valeria informs Humbert that she is having an affair. His long years of suppressed sexual desires have taught him “superhuman self-control,” so he is just barely able to refrain from beating her senseless in the street. He hails a taxi that has been rolling along nearby, and moments later, she admits that the driver is her paramour. The three of them go to a restaurant to discuss a divorce.
Although Humbert has no particular affection for Valeria, the episode clearly wounds his pride. He considers murder but decides that Valeria is not worth the trouble. He resolves merely to hurt her badly the next time he is alone with her, but he never gets the chance. The paramour drives them to his apartment and then helps Valeria pack and leave. Valeria later moves to California, participates in a bizarre...
(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 I got, trying to catch a glimpse of nymphets (alas, always remote) playing in Central Park.
Soon he has a breakdown and spends a year in a mental hospital. When he gets out, he goes straight back to work, has another breakdown, and ends up in the hospital again. During his second treatment, he meets a doctor who suggests that outdoor exercise will make him feel better. Accordingly, Humbert gets himself a strange job as “recorder of psychic reactions” on an expedition into the Arctic. On the way, he has an unenthusiastic affair with a woman who joins the expedition as a nutritionist. He is glad when she ends up getting sent home, even though that leaves him with no outlet for his desires. He is disgusted by Eskimo girls “with their fish smell, hideous raven hair, and guinea pig faces.” He writes, “Nymphets do not occur in polar regions.”
On his Arctic trip, Humbert shows little interest in the scientific work of his fellow travelers. The main purpose of the expedition is a secret, and he never figures out what it is. His own job is to ask everyone about their psychological reactions to the cold and the hard work, but his questions annoy everyone he talks to. He soon gives up on the job altogether. At the end of the journey, just for fun, he writes a paper about the journey and fills it with fake, highly sexually charged information about his fellow travelers. He publishes this false work in two scholarly journals.
When Humbert returns home, he finds himself struggling with depression again. He goes back into a mental hospital, where he entertains himself by lying to his psychiatrists. Using his own knowledge of the field, he makes up suggestive dreams and...
(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 cannot live in such a place. Nevertheless, he feels obligated to be polite to Mrs. Haze, a chain smoker with a moderately pretty face who insists on giving him a full tour. He has the impression that she is the sort of person who always follows social conventions but does not really care about anything. He senses that if he rents a room from her, she will want to have an affair.
When Mrs. Haze first mentions “Lo,” Humbert takes no notice. He assumes that she means the maid, whom he briefly met, but the maid turns out to be called Louise. He endures the tour, thinking that he will return to the train station immediately afterward and travel off to some warm place with a beach. But he changes his mind when Mrs. Haze takes him outside. She wants him to look at the garden, but all he sees is a little nymphet sunbathing. She looks just like Annabel:
the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair.
A handkerchief is tied around her chest, hiding her budding breasts, but Humbert imagines what they must be like. Staring at her, he relives the stolen moments he spent exploring Annabel’s body.
Humbert pauses here in his story to state that in this moment, his reaction to Lolita was based totally on his memories of Annabel. He insists that Annabel was the “prototype,” and that he may never have fallen for Lolita, or any nymphet, if Annabel had never existed. Now, looking back, it seems to him that these two girls have been his whole life. The twenty-five years he lived between them were “but a series of gropings and blunderings.”
(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 look at her all he wants.
The only problem is Lolita's mother, whom he calls names like “big Haze” or “fat Haze” whenever he mentions her. “Fat Haze” is evidently nurturing a crush on Humbert, a fact that annoys him. Whenever he finds an opportunity to get excited, she appears and presses him into “make-believe conversation” about books he dislikes. Lolita is also developing a crush on Humbert, and “fat Haze” enjoys teasing her about this.
One day when Mrs. Haze is out, Humbert finds Lolita struggling to get a speck of dirt out of her eye. He tells her that Swiss peasants use the tongue to fix this problem. She allows him to lick her eyeball, and she seems pleased when the speck comes out. He asks permission to lick the other eyeball, and—a bit confused—she lets him. Then she giggles and runs away, leaving him in an “agony” of unfulfilled sexual need that is more intense than any he has ever felt—even with Annabel on the Riviera.
Already Lolita is beginning to become more important to Humbert than Annabel ever was. He is thrilled when she sits between him and Mrs. Haze in the evening, or when she squeezes in next to him on trips in the car. On these occasions, he sometimes brushes his hand along her arm or nuzzles his nose into her hair. To his dismay, Mrs. Haze regards Lolita as an annoyance and typically finds excuses to make the girl leave.
For a long time, Humbert and the Hazes discuss taking a trip to a nearby lake together. Over and over, the excursion gets cancelled due to bad weather or bad behavior on Lolita’s part. Humbert becomes obsessed with the idea of this trip, and the lake becomes the site of many fantasies involving little...
(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 eavesdropping on all this from the bathroom, puts on a bathrobe over his pajamas and goes downstairs to the living room.
Humbert pauses here to say that he will describe the next event in as much detail as possible so that the reader—if open-minded—will understand “how careful, how chaste, the whole wine-sweet event is.”
First, Humbert goes downstairs to the sunny living room to sit among Mrs. Haze’s ridiculous knickknacks and watch Lolita play. Lolita is wearing lipstick and a pretty pink church dress. She is barefoot, and she is holding an “Eden-red apple.” She tosses this in the air, and Humbert snatches it from her. “Give it back,” she says, and she grabs it and bites into it. She shows him a picture in a magazine, and eventually she lies down next to him on the couch, placing her legs across his lap. By this time, Humbert is “in a state of excitement bordering on insanity.” He cannot easily control the expression on his face, so he pretends that he has a toothache. Then, to prevent Lolita from noticing the physical symptoms of his arousal, he focuses her attention on the lyrics of a stupid popular song, “O my Carmen.” She eats her apple and sings with him, apparently unaware that he is slowly, carefully rubbing himself against her. He brings himself to orgasm, prolonging the moment as long as he can.
Just after Humbert experiences “the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster [has] ever known,” the phone rings. Lolita gets up and speaks to her mother, apparently unaware of what has happened. Humbert pats his forehead with a handkerchief, pleased with himself, and goes upstairs to take a bath.
(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:
I intended, with the most fervent force and foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old child.
Unfortunately, Humbert does not get the reward he feels he deserves for thinking this way. "Fat Haze" comes home alone and announces that Lolita is with friends at a movie. Mrs. Haze sets the table for an elegant dinner for two. During the meal, she says offhand that she is sending Lolita to camp for the rest of the summer. Humbert cannot conceal his horror at this. Mrs. Haze asks what is bothering him, and he claims that he has a toothache. She offers to call her dentist, Dr. Quilty, who is some kind of relation of the famous playwright Clare Quilty. Humbert says he does not want a dentist.
Mrs. Haze soon turns the conversation back to Lolita. The mother and daughter are always fighting, and there is an undercurrent of jealousy between them regarding the handsome Humbert. Mrs. Haze seems to fear that her daughter has been bothering Humbert far too much:
I think a summer camp is so much healthier, and—well, it is all so much more reasonable as I say than to mope on a suburban lawn and use mamma’s lipstick, and pursue shy studious gentlemen, and go into tantrums at the least provocation.
Humbert, of course, has no right to fight Mrs. Haze’s decision. He asks meekly if Lolita will be happy enough at camp, and Mrs. Haze says yes. However, it is clear that Lolita’s happiness is not her main concern. She murmurs that the camp will teach her daughter to behave better.
Mrs. Haze seems determined to turn her relations with Humbert in a romantic direction. After dinner, she invites Humbert outside to sit and chat...
(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 about the lips, those wet, matted eyelashes,” but he also feels that he would greatly enjoy an opportunity to comfort the child.
That evening, in the garden, Mrs. Haze says she has told her daughter that Humbert is happy about the camp plan. Now Lolita is claiming that her mother and Humbert want to get rid of her. Mrs. Haze shrugs this off, saying that Lolita is only saying such things to be petulant. The girl is primarily annoyed that her mother has decided to return some pretty camp clothes in favor of sturdier and more practical options. Mrs. Haze explains:
You see, she sees herself as a starlet; I see her as a sturdy, healthy, and decidedly homely kid. This, I guess, is at the root of our troubles.
For the next couple of days, no matter how hard Humbert tries to be kind, Lolita acts surly toward him. He deeply regrets losing time with her:
I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.
He explains that a nymphet is a nymphet only for a few years. Soon Lolita’s body and personality will grow up, and then she will not be the child he wants anymore. He will continue to love her, but he will love his memory of the preteen girl with the pubescent body and immature personality. It infuriates him that he is losing “two whole months out of the two years of her remaining nymphage!” He daydreams idly of dressing up as a young woman and hanging out at the edges of her summer camp, hoping to catch occasional glimpses of her—but he knows this is impossible.
On Thursday morning, Mrs. Haze and Lolita get into the...
(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 emotions or to play coquettish games. In chaotic language full of spelling errors and “awful” French expressions, Charlotte explains that she has been madly in love with Humbert since the moment she first saw him. Because of this, she asks him to pack up and leave her home immediately, never to return. She wants him gone before she gets home from driving Lolita to camp. She knows “with absolute certainty” that Humbert does not love her back. She tells him that if he used her love as an excuse to take advantage of her sexually, then he would be despicable—“worse than a kidnapper who rapes a child.” She says that he may stay in her home only if he wants to treat her honorably by marrying her and becoming a father to Lolita.
At first, Humbert feels revolted by the letter. He has always found “big Haze” repulsive, and this undignified emotional expression is highly unappealing to his reserved European style. It takes him some time to calm down, and when he does, he finds that he is still in Lolita’s room. He stares at a picture of a movie star, one who looks much like him, on the wall above the little girl’s bed. It is labeled H.H., and he cannot help but feel pleased by that. He studies another picture, one of an American playwright who also looks somewhat similar. He studies the bedstand with its chipping paint. He calms himself, checks to make sure that Louise has left the house, and then lies on Lolita’s bed to reread her mother’s letter and think about what to do next.
(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 touch her as often as he wishes. Next he tries to imagine being a husband to her mother. He imagines that he could do a decent job.
Addressing the reader again, Humbert insists that he would never have married Charlotte just to kill her and keep Lolita for himself. However, he admits that his mind strayed beyond the “masked modest caress” that he has already described:
I saw myself administering a powerful sleeping potion to both mother and daughter so as to fondle the latter through the night with perfect impunity.
His fantasies drift all the way to sexual intercourse—and to the consequences, if Lolita turned up pregnant—but he tells himself sternly that he would “not go that far.” However, the possibilities are so tempting that he feels “helpless” to resist them. He decides to marry Charlotte Haze. He also stops insulting “poor Charlotte” in his mental descriptions of her. She is no longer a barrier between him and what he wants; now, although she does not know it, she is an accomplice.
Now that his decision is made, Humbert calls Lolita’s camp, but Charlotte has already left. He speaks to Lolita instead and announces that he is going to marry her mother. “Gee, that’s swell,” says Lolita, who already seems to have forgotten her crush on him in the excitement of camp. He does not let this bother him, and he tells himself that he will “have her back” as soon as he can.
Humbert walks into town and buys some nice food, strong liquor, and vitamins. These, he hopes, will “avert any embarrassment” this evening when he must pretend passion for Charlotte that he does not feel. He tries to warp Charlotte...
(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 so staunch in her religious beliefs, she is certainly too principled simply to look the other way if she finds out that her husband wants to molest her daughter. He decides to tread carefully and prevent her from developing any suspicions.
Humbert is pleasantly surprised to see Charlotte change under the force of her love for him. She seems so sweet and vulnerable that he begins, suddenly, to see small flashes of resemblance between her and her daughter. He looks up old pictures of Charlotte when she was Lolita’s age and uses them to remind himself that this woman was a girl once herself. His thoughts on this matter help him to perform his onerous “nightly duty” in the bedroom.
Charlotte enters into her new marriage with complete sincerity. Every day at breakfast, she greets Humbert with “intolerable tenderness.” When he reacts with “solemn exasperation,” she assumes that he is too manly and European to express his love openly. She refurnishes the house to make it look the way she thinks the home of a married woman ought to look. She seeks advice on these matters in tacky magazines for housewives, and he tolerates the results. However, he mourns inwardly when she changes the colors of the couch, the site of his one moment of sexual bliss with Lolita.
After their wedding, Charlotte and Humbert begin making frequent social calls to other couples in town. There Humbert engages in staid, middle-class conversations with staid, middle-class people. With the other fathers, he discusses camps and schools and the various ups and downs of little girls’ friendships. As he chats, he privately wishes he could bring Lolita home from camp immediately.
(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 more Charlotte seems to believe in them.
Charlotte does not just want to hear about Humbert’s love life; she also wants to describe her own. She tells him about every romance she has ever had, from “first necking” onward. Her real relationships sound as much like soap operas to him as his own fake ones do. He concludes that Charlotte has learned to express herself from cheap art, and so she can only describe her feelings by resorting to the language of Hollywood writers and trashy romance novelists.
Charlotte once had a son, but he died when he was two. This little boy seems to be the focus of most of her maternal thoughts. His picture hangs in her bedroom, and she soon begins speaking of a morbid fantasy that his soul may be reincarnated in a child of hers and Humbert’s. Humbert has little interest in any child except Lolita, but he agrees to try to father one—mainly because he hopes that Charlotte will land in the hospital with a difficult pregnancy, leaving him to do as he pleases with Lolita.
According to Humbert, Charlotte despises her daughter. Charlotte has “a fool’s book” called A Guide to Your Child’s Development in which she is supposed to mark Lolita’s character traits. Charlotte underlines all of the negative traits—“negativistic” and “obstinate,” for example—but she does not note a single positive one. When she finds Lolita’s possessions around the house, Charlotte hides them or gets rid of them. Even when Lolita writes friendly letters from camp, Charlotte remains utterly negative. “Dumb child,” she says, pointing out that Lolita left a word out of one of her sentences. Humbert soon grows extremely annoyed with this state...
(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 feelings.
Sitting on a picnic table, watching a couple of little nymphets climb onto a bicycle together, Humbert wonders how to get his hands on Lolita. He feels that “the natural solution” is to murder Charlotte, but he is not sure how to do it. As the two pretty little girls ride away, he muses about historic murders he has read about in books. He has a few ideas about how to commit such a crime, but he is not sure if he is capable of doing it and getting away with it.
When Humbert returns to Charlotte, she suggests a swim, and he follows her into the deep water. This, he thinks, is a perfect opportunity to get rid of her. The only people in sight are two men who are building something on the opposite shore. They are near enough to hear Humbert if he calls out for help with his drowning wife but far enough away that they will fail to see that he is purposely drowning her. He imagines grabbing her and holding her underwater until he is sure she is dead. It sounds easy, but he cannot do it. He reflects, somewhat sadly, that pedophiles are not bloodthirsty people.
When Humbert and Charlotte return to shore, he learns that his plan for a perfect murder was not as perfect as he thought. As they sit on the beach, they are joined by a friend, Jean Farlow. Jean is an artist who often tromps through the woods to look for scenes to paint, and she says that she has been watching them swim. When she comments that Humbert was wearing his watch in the water, he realizes that she had a very good view. If he had tried to drown Charlotte, Jean would have seen everything.
(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 says that he will not allow a woman to make all of his decisions for him. He demands “a small but distinct voice” in household decisions.
Charlotte responds in exactly the manner Humbert wants. She grows submissive and declares that he is “her ruler and her god.” He calmly says that she will need to change her ways somewhat, and then he retreats to a sulky silence. For several days he spends most of his time working—or at least pretending to work—in his former room. Now, to his pleasure, he sees that Charlotte finds his silence uncomfortable.
One day Charlotte hesitantly comes into Humbert’s den while he works. He tries to see a ghost of Lolita in the woman before him, but he only finds a faint resemblance. As Humbert broodingly flips through the pages of an encyclopedia for girls, Charlotte casts around for a topic of conversation. She asks about an ugly little desk in which he happens to keep the diary he used for recording his early impressions of little Lolita. He orders Charlotte not to touch the desk. When she asks why it is locked, he grunts something about “love letters.” This clearly hurts her feelings, and she seems to wonder if it is true. However, she does not press him. She asks him if he would like to vacation at a nearby inn called the Enchanted Hunters, and she wonders aloud if he wants anything special for dinner. He just grunts and broods, and eventually she goes away. When she is gone, he checks the hiding spot for the key to his drawer. It would be a disaster if Charlotte read that diary.
(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 medication. After some hesitation, the doctor hands over a bottle of purple pills.
Thrilled, Humbert makes his way home, reflecting as he walks on the beauty of the town of Ramsdale. His recent broody period has changed Charlotte’s behavior and made her properly manipulable, so he is back to acting as cheerful with her. He bursts through the front door and calls out a greeting, but he hears no reply. He steps into the living room and finds her at her desk writing a letter.
Charlotte looks up, her face puffy and streaked in tears. Not bothering with a greeting, she flings at him the various cruel names he gave her in his diary:
The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious mamma, the—the old stupid Haze is no longer your dupe.
The worst has happened. Charlotte has read everything Humbert wrote about Lolita, and now they are going away. Charlotte says that he will “never, never see that miserable brat again.”
Humbert stammers an unintelligible defense, but she orders him out of the room. He goes up to his little studio and looks at the “raped little table” where he kept the diary. Its drawer hangs open, a key still stuck in the lock. He goes to the bedroom, finds his diary among her things, and slips it into his pocket. Finally, he goes downstairs to the kitchen and locates a bottle of Scotch—Charlotte’s favorite drink.
Returning to the living room, Humbert admonishes Charlotte. “You are ruining my life and yours,” he says. He claims that she is being hysterical and that the notes in the diary are just part of a novel he is writing. He needed names for the characters, so he grabbed the names of the...
(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 Charlotte, “the top of her head a porridge of bones, brains, bronze hair, and blood.” He drinks alcohol all afternoon, and eventually his friends John and Jean Farlow put him to bed in Lolita’s room. They stay the night in Humbert’s and Charlotte’s room, clearly fearing that Humbert may commit suicide if he is left alone.
The next morning, Humbert tries to read Charlotte’s letters, but he has torn them into such small pieces that he can only read short snatches. He gets a sense that Charlotte was making arrangements to take Lolita away from camp and deposit her in a reformatory. One letter seems to have been written to him; its fragments contain clichéd phrases of hurt and grief.
During the funeral proceedings, Humbert spreads the rumor that he and Charlotte really knew each other and had a brief affair long ago. People conclude that Lolita is Humbert’s child and not the child of Charlotte’s first husband. This makes them think that he is the natural person to take custody of the girl, but he is careful not to give them any excuse to meddle. He pretends to call her summer camp and then invents a story that Lolita is unreachable because she is out on a multi-day hiking trip.
During the funeral preparations, Humbert gets a visit from the man who was driving the car that killed Charlotte. To the man’s enormous relief, Humbert says that the accident was entirely Charlotte’s fault. Inwardly, however, he reflects that fate caused the accident. He upset Charlotte and made her careless, but he did not kill her. When the visitor leaves, Humbert breaks down and cries.
(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 would never have developed her girlish crush, nor would Charlotte have felt her womanly love for him. He admits now for the first time that Charlotte's love deserves a measure of respect for its sincerity, in spite of the fact that it was so pathetic and possessive.
It turns out that Humbert’s masculine beauty has attracted the attention of Jean Farlow as well. She is a tall woman who drinks a great amount of alcohol and tries—with appalling clumsiness—to be both a writer and a painter. To him, she is utterly unappealing, with her “special barking laugh” and her “dull teeth and pale gums.” She does not know this, however. On the day of his departure, when her husband is safely out of sight, she grabs him and tries “to glue herself” to his lips.
Humbert resists Jean’s clumsy advances, but she assumes that this is merely the result of the “miserable circumstances” of the current moment. She bids him goodbye and, as thunder booms outside, suggests that they may someday meet again. Instead of bothering to tell her that he has no interest in such a meeting, Humbert allows her to persist in her fantasy that he would sleep with her under different circumstances.
Humbert says his goodbyes and drives away into the storm. As he leaves, he takes a last look at the spot on the street where Charlotte was killed, and he thinks about the way she looked when he identified her body. The top of her head was bashed in, but her eyes were not damaged in the accident. They were still wet from her tears, and her lashes were all stuck together—just like Lolita’s when she cries.
(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 an eerie impression that fate is manipulating his life to match his lies.
Now with time to spare, Humbert spends the afternoon shopping for beautiful new clothes for Lolita. He has a little book in which Charlotte wrote Lolita’s measurements several months ago. Charlotte was always envious of her daughter, so Humbert reasons that she probably added “an inch here, a pound there,” thus producing a result that should be fairly accurate today. He buys a beautiful set of fashionable girls' clothes, enjoying the process of choosing pretty dresses, skirts, and sweaters that will please both him and Lolita. The saleswomen are impressed by his knowledge of girls' fashion, and this strikes him as slightly dangerous. To prevent them from becoming suspicious, he asks some stupid questions about how to work the zippers. Then he buys a fancy little suitcase and has the saleswomen pack his purchases inside it.
Next, Humbert considers where to take Lolita after he picks her up. He decides on a little inn, the Enchanted Hunters, which Charlotte once wanted to visit with him. He sends a telegram asking for a room with two twin beds for himself and his daughter. In his nervousness, he agonizes over the wording and ends up misspelling his own name. Finally, his preparations are complete, and all he can do is wait for tomorrow. He tries to sleep, but he fails.
At this point, Humbert seems to struggle with the act of telling his story. He interrupts the narrative to say that the jail where he is living while he writes is a stuffy place that gives him headaches. The conditions are intolerable for writing, and he will probably be unable to finish. Instead of going on with the story, he types Lolita’s...
(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 been “revoltingly unfaithful” to Humbert. She asks him to kiss her, and he pulls over immediately. He writes, “I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost piety, tiny sips, nothing salacious.” He knows that this is all a game to her, and he is terrified that he will scare her if he lets her sense his deep need.
At Humbert’s prompting, Lolita cheerfully and cynically describes her time at camp. She refers to herself as a “juvenile delickwent,” and she mocks the Girl Scout motto, saying that she is “absolutely filthy in thought, word, and deed.” She hints that she had some sexual experiences over the summer, but she refuses to describe them.
All Humbert can think about is getting Lolita to the hotel, drugging her at dinner, and enjoying her body all night while she is deeply asleep. However, fate seems set against his plans, and he cannot find the hotel. He has a romantic notion about the particular inn he has chosen, and so he drives in circles for what seems like forever, passing innumerable cheap joints with names like "Komfy Kabins" in his quest for the Enchanted Hunters.
When Humbert finally finds the hotel, the manager says that the last room with twin beds is gone. Humbert asks for a room with a double bed, plus a cot for his daughter. The manager says that he has no cots left, but he assures Humbert that the double beds are large and that families often share them. Feigning dismay, Humbert says, “We’ll manage somehow."
Lolita pays no attention during this exchange, but she is surprised when she finds out that she and Humbert are going to share a room. She jokes about incest and says that her mother will be furious. Humbert tries to kiss her, but...
(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 never had much opportunity to learn how corrupt and promiscuous a modern nymphet could be. He simply assumed that Lolita fit his inexperienced notion of a “normal child.” She was not what he expected.
Returning to the main thread of the narrative, Humbert describes strolling through the hotel, waiting for Lolita to become unconscious. He is eager, his mind full of imagined images of Lolita’s naked body, but he forces himself to be patient. He makes a show of asking the hotel manager if his wife has called. He also asks if a cot has become available. Afterward, he continues wandering, catching glimpses here and there of a little nymphet who is vacationing with her parents.
At this point, Humbert has an odd encounter with a man who is sitting with his face obscured in the shadows. “Where the devil did you get her?” the man asks. When Humbert asks what he means, the mysterious speaker says he was asking about the weather. Moments later, the stranger asks who the little girl is, and Humbert says she is his daughter. “You lie—she’s not,” the man says. But when Humbert asks for clarification, the man in the shadows claims he said something far more innocuous: “July was hot.” It is obvious that he expects something illicit is going on.
It is unclear whether Humbert thinks this encounter is a hallucination brought on by his guilty conscience or merely a creepy conversation with a very odd man. Nevertheless, Humbert does not dwell on it. Unable to wait any longer, he goes upstairs. He forces himself to walk slowly so that he will not arouse suspicion. At the doorway, his conscious starts to suggest that he turn back—but before he finishes forming that thought, 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 he puts a finger on her body.
Throughout the night, Humbert lies awake, easing himself closer to Lolita when he thinks it is safe and then retreating when she seems on the point of waking. He resolves that tomorrow he will give her one of the pills he tried on her mother, the ones that he previously decided were not good enough. In the meantime, he lies still and listens to the sounds of clanking elevators and flushing toilets. He marvels that ordinary life can go on when Lolita is next to him—but still unattainable.
Congratulating himself for being too kind to harm Lolita, Humbert falls asleep. The rest of the night is filled with frustrated dreams of Lolita and Charlotte and the doctor who prescribed the ineffective purple pills. He wakes up often, and he is awake at six when Lolita sits up and yawns—and immediately seduces Humbert Humbert.
Seeing Humbert in bed with her, Lolita laughs, kisses him, and whispers in his ear. He listens, hardly able to believe what she is suggesting. When he says cautiously that he does not understand what game she wants to play, she is aghast. “You mean, you never did it when you were a kid?” she says.
Humbert marvels that, to Lolita, sex is a child’s game. Eagerly and immodestly, she shows him exactly how to play. He is astounded that, far from his expectations, she is already “utterly and hopelessly depraved.” She is not innocent, so he reasons that he need not worry about taking her innocence away. Pretending not to know what she is doing, he lets her “have her way”—but only for a while. Then the temptation grows too great, and he shows her sex as he knows it.
(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 a series of disparate scenes, some from his courtship with Lolita, some depicting historical loves between grown men and little girls. Finally he would include a series of diffuse colors and objects that suggest both his orgasm and Lolita’s less enthusiastic reaction:
a fire opal dissolving within a ripple-ringed pool, a last throb, a last dab of color, stinging red, smarting pink, a sigh, a wincing child.
In chapter 31, Humbert admits that he feels “boundless misery” now as he writes down his experiences. He explains that he needs “to sort out the portion of hell and the portion of heaven” that he has experienced because of his pedophilia and, in particular, because of his affair with Lolita.
According to Humbert, the laws of ancient Rome decreed that girls could get married when they were twelve. Some American states allow this as well, whereas others allow marriage at fifteen. Nowhere in the world is it considered legally wrong for “a brute of forty” to drunkenly “thrust himself up to the hilt” on a wife who is much younger than he. Even in the prison where Humbert resides while writing down his adventures with Lolita, there is a magazine that says girls mature sexually when they are twelve years old. He insists that this proves his actions are natural.
In spite of these protests, Humbert Humbert clearly feels wracked by guilt he cannot quite explain or understand. He admits that he feels “horror” at his own actions and that he has never been able to rid himself of this feeling. However, in the next breath, he returns to his usual pattern of defending himself:
Did I deprive her of her...
(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 camp director. At first Lolita only stood look-out while the other two had intercourse behind a rock. After a while, however, Lolita grew curious and decided to try sex herself. She says it was “sort of fun,” but it is clear that she saw it only as a game. She never had any romantic interest in Charlie.
Soon Lolita falls into a bad mood. She takes a shower, and then she tries on some of the clothes Humbert has bought her. When she is not satisfied with the way things fit, she throws them across the room. She ends up putting on the same dress she wore yesterday. A little overwhelmed at her behavior, he gives her some money for a magazine and sends her down to the lobby.
When she is gone, Humbert carefully makes the bed. Afterward, he packs his bags and gets dressed. Then he hurries downstairs, half-afraid that Lolita will have run away. But she is sitting in a chair, reading a magazine. She looks like an ordinary little girl, but it soon becomes clear that the morning's activities have taken a hard toll on her. At breakfast, she is silent. Afterward, when she gets into the car, she grimaces with pain. Humbert begins to worry that he has hurt her:
This was a lone child, an absolute waif, with whom a heavy-limbed, foul-smelling adult had had strenuous intercourse three times that very morning.
However, Humbert’s guilt cannot dampen his libido. As he drives Lolita out of town, he scans the sides of the road for a likely place to stop and have sex again. When he hints at what he would like to do, she flatly refuses. In the next breath, she smiles and says, “I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me.” This terrifies him. He...
(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 which Humbert enjoys. He is aggravated with her musical tastes and her predilection for cheap souvenirs. However, he usually buys her whatever she wants at the store. If he did not, he would find it quite difficult to persuade her to do what he wants in the bedroom.
During this period, Humbert slowly develops several methods of managing Lolita's moods. He realizes that he will never be safe unless she wants to keep their sexual relationship a secret. He delivers long lectures about how “the normal girl is usually extremely anxious to please her father” and how in some cultures “sexual relations between a father and his daughter are accepted as a matter of course.” He admits that their lifestyle is not the norm in America, and that he would go to jail if she told the police about what he does to her—but he insists that her fate would be far worse. She would become a ward of the state, and she would end up living in an orphanage or a reformatory. She would sleep in a dank, unwashed dormitory; she would wear drab, ugly uniforms; and she would be forced to do the bidding of cruel teachers. Over time, Lolita develops a grave fear of such a fate.
Humbert convinces Lolita that the two of them have “a background of shared secrecy and shared guilt”—and this succeeds in keeping her from having him arrested. However, she is listless and unhappy most of the time. He finds it necessary to choose a daily destination, a goal that will help her “survive until bedtime.” Most such destinations are tourist attractions such as lighthouses, museums, caves, and the like. Typically she does not enjoy seeing these places when she arrives, but the act of moving toward them makes her happier than she...
(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. Once, for instance, she asks how long they will “live in stuffy cabins, doing filthy things together and never behaving like ordinary people.”
During this year, Humbert grows extremely jealous of Lolita. According to him, she has a certain “glow” that draws the attraction of nearly every boy and man she meets. He thinks she looks this way because she is constantly involved in “amorous exercises.” In any case, she understands what men are thinking when they see her, and she likes to encourage them. Whenever he lets her out of his sight to go to a skating rink or buy some candy, she ends up hanging out with “hoodlums” who simply drool over her sexuality.
Lolita, for her part, is quite cruel to Humbert. She is not nearly as indulgent of his interests as he is of hers. In the towns they visit, he always asks when the schools will release their students, and then he likes to drive there with Lolita and make her fondle him while he watches the little girls walk home. But Lolita, who has “a childish lack of sympathy for other people’s whims,” snarls and mocks him so much that he finds it necessary to give up this sport.
For a while, Humbert tries to teach Lolita tennis so that they will have a hobby to share. He fails at teaching her himself, so he ends up hiring a coach. Lolita hates playing tennis with Humbert; all she likes to do is lob the ball slowly back and forth with other girls. If Humbert tries to help the other girls, placing his hands on their wrists or thighs to show them proper form, Lolita reacts with “a tremendous ugh of disgust.”
Addressing the reader, Humbert admits that none of these little incidents are very important, but he writes:...
(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 Humbert does not want Lolita there. She is “all gooseflesh and grit” and he has “as little desire for her as for a manatee.”
Generally speaking, outdoor sex is not as lovely as it sounds—and it is far too risky for a man in Humbert’s position. Once he takes Lolita to a beautiful romantic spot in the mountains, where he has sex with her. Afterward, she bursts into tears—a habit of hers—and he hugs her to comfort her. Then, suddenly, two children and a woman burst out of the bushes. Humbert and Lolita gather their things and run for his car. As Lolita runs, she pulls on her clothes, assaulting him with curse words that no little girl should know.
Humbert lives in constant fear that he will be caught and arrested. He is bothered by whispers when he tries to embrace Lolita “innocently” in public. He cowers before police officers. Because he is so timid, he even fails to find out how to become Lolita’s legal guardian. He reads up on the matter in law books from many different states, but he only grows confused. Eventually he discovers that the authorities rarely investigate a child’s guardianship except in cases of obvious danger or neglect. He decides to wait and hope that people will never ask about his legal connection to his stepdaughter.
Musingly, Humbert daydreams of taking Lolita to Mexico, marrying her, and eventually getting her pregnant. He reasons that she may give birth to another nymphet, a sort of Lolita Two, who could eventually give birth to Lolita Three. This imaginary future never happens, but only because Humbert it too afraid to take Lolita across an international border.
Humbert knows that he is a terrible father. He cannot make Lolita...
(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 headmistress, Miss Pratt, who tells him that the girls at her school are not required to “become bookworms” or memorize facts. The school curriculum is concerned with “the four D’s: Dramatics, Dance, Debating, and Dating.” She tells Humbert that girls Lolita’s age are far more concerned with social life than with academic life, and that he, as Lolita’s father, must allow her to practice the social arts which she will someday need as a housewife and a mother. No “plunge into dusty old books” can prepare a girl for her future—but a modern education at an institution like the Beardsley School certainly can.
Humbert finds Miss Pratt’s style and attitude distasteful, but ultimately he decides to stick to his plan to send Lolita to Beardsley. He speaks to some people in town, who assure him that the school is fine. Supposedly the girls do a good deal of academic work. The headmistress’s focus on social life is mainly an attempt on her part to attract donations from people with modern American values.
One of Humbert’s main reasons for sending Lolita to this particular school is that it is separated only by a vacant lot from his new house. He buys powerful binoculars and watches the schoolyard during breaks between classes. For him, this is both practical and recreational. He feels that he must watch over Lolita, and he also enjoys observing “the statistically inevitable percentage of nymphets among the other girl-children.” However, to Humbert’s great sadness, a group of workers soon begin construction of a new building on the vacant lot. They put up a fence and begin their work, completely destroying Humbert’s view. Then they go away, and they never even come back to finish their...
(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 in school. Mrs. Holigan has worked at the house for years, so he reluctantly lets her continue. However, he worries constantly that she may notice something odd about his life. He always makes the beds, a practice that he perfected during his year of hotel travel. Even so, he is plagued by the idea that he may leave behind "some fatal stain" which will tip her off to his activities with Lolita.
Humbert’s friend Gaston Godin, a Frenchman who teaches the French language at Beardsley College, is a fat, jolly figure who is well-liked around town. He helps Humbert by vouching for him to the neighbors. Although grateful, Humbert is highly amused when he realizes how thoroughly the townspeople trust Gaston. To Humbert, it is blatantly obvious that Gaston has a sexual predilection for little boys. Gaston charms the boys of Beardsley, hiring them to do odd jobs and keeping them constantly near him. He is an intensely self-absorbed person, so he never notices that anything is amiss between Humbert and Lolita. He would probably find it funny if he did.
Humbert and Gaston often play chess in the afternoons while Lolita practices dance moves in the next room. Whenever Gaston sees Lolita, he says hello and shakes hands without even looking up. Once, when she is not at home, Gaston politely asks Humbert if his daughters are doing well. This pleases Humbert, who reflects that his friend has mentally “multiplied” his lone daughter into a crowd.
Years later, at his trial, Humbert wants Gaston as a witness, but Gaston is enmeshed in some legal mess of his own in Europe. However, for the duration of Humbert’s stay in Beardsley, the two of them go around “having a grand old time and fooling...
(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, either, so he just gives her what she wants.
Humbert guesses that his readers must be laughing at him for giving out coins “like some…wholly demented machine vomiting riches,” but he insists that he is too weak and too foolish to do anything else. After his orgasms, he frequently tries to pry open Lolita’s hands and take back the money he has given her. She soon learns to run away and hide her riches.
When Lolita is at school, Humbert often searches her room and takes back as much money as he can find. Once he finds eight dollars in a copy of Treasure Island on her bookshelf, and once he finds a bit more than twenty-four dollars in a hole in her bedroom wall. When he takes the second sum, she accuses the maid of stealing. Humbert finds it hilarious that she would suspect such a thing—but the joke is on him. In the end, Lolita settles on a hiding place that he never finds.
Stealing Lolita’s money is a matter of necessity for Humbert. The sums he pays her are not enough to bankrupt him, but he worries constantly that she will amass enough money to run away. She is a reasonably intelligent girl, and she is sure to figure out eventually that she could buy a bus ticket and escape him forever. He imagines that she might go to Los Angeles or New York to try working as an actress, and he might track her down. But he deems it more likely that she would disappear to some disgusting small-town restaurant and get a job waiting tables. Then he would never find her. And without her, he would never survive.
(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 encounters. He knows that he must allow her to take part in a few normal activities, so he lets her go places with female friends. He also allows her to chat with boys in public—as long as he is nearby in his car, waiting and watching over her. Under pressure, he also makes a promise to let her throw a co-ed party at home.
Lolita furiously fights Humbert’s restrictions against her dating life. At first he is insanely jealous about this, but ultimately he realizes that Lolita has no particular love interests; she is only objecting because she feels entitled to certain freedoms as she grows up. He muses that children, especially girls, are conservative people who want to behave like their friends do.
Humbert does not get to spend every waking moment with Lolita, so he cannot be certain that she never sees any boys. No matter how strict he is, there are moments when she disappears for a short time, only to turn up and give him “over-elaborate explanations” for her absence. However, he definitely gets the impression that she is too experienced to be impressed by the clumsy advances of teenagers. Because of this, he has no special animosity toward the particular boys he sees talking to her. He just prohibits her generally from the greater danger of romantic relationships that do not involve him.
For safety's sake, Humbert works hard to appear to be the staid, boring European father of a motherless girl. In between his glorious sessions of sexual amusement, he watches himself going through the motions of ordinary life. He works in the college library, goes grocery shopping, goes out to dinner, and shovels snow—always dressed immaculately and behaving with utmost propriety.
(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. He also suspects that Mona knows something of Lolita’s life. Once, Humbert overhears Mona joking that Lolita's virgin wool sweater is the only virginal thing about her. Afterward, Lolita swears that Mona said nothing of the sort, but Humbert does not believe her.
Once, near the end of the school year, Mona Dahl comes to the house when Lolita is not there. Humbert pumps Mona for information about Lolita, but Mona’s answers are largely devoid of content. She says that Lolita is “great” and “swell” and “not much concerned with mere boys.” As soon as she can, she tries to get Humbert to talk about his books. Watching the girl’s coy manner, Humbert suddenly wonders if Lolita is “playing the pimp.” However, Lolita arrives before anything more happens. She stares suspiciously at her friend and her stepfather but says nothing about finding them talking together.
Humbert’s feelings for Lolita have not even begun to fade. Sometimes he is overcome by her beauty while he watches her busily engaged with homework or some other ordinary task. Then, full of love, ready to forget every quarrel the two of them have ever had, he gets down on all fours and crawls to her. He only wants to hold her:
The fragility of those bare arms of yours—how I longed to enfold them, all your four limpid lovely limbs, a folded colt....
However, Lolita is not capable of believing that Humbert could merely love her. She cannot imagine him wanting to place his head in her lap without going any further. When he comes to her in this mood, she just glares at him and orders him to get away from her. Then she watches, cruelly mocking his movements, as he gets...
(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.
After digging through some papers, Miss Pratt reads out many pseudo-psychological observations Lolita’s teachers have made about her everyday behaviors—how she sits, how often she sighs, how she holds books as she reads. Miss Pratt suggests that Lolita seems totally uninterested in sex and may in fact not know the facts of life. As Humbert squirms uncomfortably, Miss Pratt accuses him of failing to do enough to make sure that his growing daughter knows about the sexual world that awaits her in adulthood.
Near the end of this interview, Miss Pratt demands that Humbert allow Lolita to play a role in the school’s upcoming play, The Enchanted Hunters, written by the famous playwright Clare Quilty. Quilty has promised to visit the school during the rehearsal period, which is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved. According to Miss Pratt, Lolita needs room to blossom as a person and to interact normally with her peers without her father’s constant presence. Lolita has potential, but she fails to make close connections to other people. In fact, she mercilessly ridicules the girls and young teachers who engage in normal, innocent dating behavior.
Just before Humbert leaves, Miss Pratt also complains about the language Lolita uses. Some of the students at Beardsley come from quite respectable families, and Lolita’s swearing is quite shocking to them. Lolita recently defaced some “health pamphlets” by writing cuss words all over them in lipstick. Miss Pratt is planning to give Lolita detention for this, but she is not terribly angry. Above all, the woman seems really eager to help Lolita get over whatever is bothering her.
As soon as he can safely do so, Humbert excuses...
(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, drunkenly admiring Lolita’s pretty skirt. When the party starts, Humbert goes upstairs, but he returns to the room every few minutes to check up on Lolita. Each time he enters the room, he pretends to be looking for something, but he fools nobody.
The party is a fiasco. One of the girls does not show up, and one of the boys brings a cousin, so the group is unevenly matched for dancing. To make matters worse, only one of the boys can dance. Soon the kids stop trying. They spend most of the party making messes in the kitchen and arguing about what game to play. Eventually they settle on a game, but even that does not go well. One of the players, Opal, cannot understand the rules. Meanwhile, Lolita’s friend Mona and a boy named Roy refuse to play, instead opting to sit around drinking soda and talking. When everyone finally leaves, Lolita says “ugh” and drops into a chair in an attitude of total disgust. She calls the boys “revolting,” and Humbert is delighted. To prove his happiness, he buys her a new tennis racket.
After the party, life goes well for a while. January and February are far warmer than usual, and Humbert buys Lolita a bicycle for her birthday. She likes biking, and he enjoys watching her body as she gets on and off her bike seat. For a second present, he buys her a book, History of Modern American Painting, but he finds her reactions disappointing. She cannot understand why Humbert thinks some painters are better than the others, and when old men are depicted with sensuous girls, she asks if the men are the girls’ fathers.
(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 French literature. Because of this, he never bothers to read the whole play. He knows that Lolita is playing the role of a farmer’s daughter who thinks she is some kind of witch or goddess, and that her character is eventually bewitched by a vagabond poet played by her friend Mona.
Humbert does notice that the name of Lolita’s play is the same as the name of the first inn where he took her after her mother died. He does not mention this to her because he worries that Lolita will accuse him of being sappy. He assumes, without really thinking about it, that both the inn and the play are named after some local legend which he, as a transplant from Europe, does not know. He also guesses that the play is some butchered classic from an anthology for young adults. Even if he knew the truth—that it is a new play that was just produced for the first time a few months ago in New York—he would not care.
What little Humbert learns about the play's plot is ridiculous. Lolita’s character bewitches several young men, taking them captive. But when she tries to bewitch the poet, he claims that he has created all of Lolita’s victims as well as Lolita herself. At this point, Lolita leads the poet to her parents’ farm and proves that she is a real girl from real life. In the final movement, the two of them kiss, proving “that mirage and reality merge in love.” Humbert is disgusted by the stupidity of it all, but he decides not to mock it in Lolita’s presence. He can see that her interest in the production is healthy, and he finds it charming to watch her practice.
Lolita begs Humbert not to come to any of her rehearsals. She claims that she wants him to be surprised and impressed by...
(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, like a young prostitute who has already been used and discarded.
Humbert tells Lolita that he can take her away from her friends, her school, and her play in “the time it takes to pack a suitcase.” Lolita maintains her cool confidence, and he realizes that she is no longer moved by the threats he normally uses to keep her compliant. He grabs her by the wrist and forces her up the stairs. He demands to know where she hides her money, but she just shouts at him. She accuses him of trying to molest her even before he married her mother, and she says he probably murdered Charlotte Haze. All though this argument, Humbert hangs onto her wrist, and she fights him so hard he worries he might break her arm.
The phone rings, and Humbert goes to answer. The caller is a neighbor complaining about the noise. When it becomes clear that the woman has not heard the content of the argument, Humbert tells her that his daughter’s friends are responsible. As he speaks, the door slams. Lolita is gone.
Humbert’s car is in the shop, so he chases Lolita on foot. Eventually he finds her in a drugstore talking on a payphone. She hangs up and greets him with charming courtesy. She asks him to buy her a soda, and he does. While she drinks, she tells him that she hates her school and her play. She asks him to take her on another trip, but to let her choose where to go this time. Humbert agrees to do everything she asks. He takes her home, and she tells him to carry her upstairs. “I feel sort of romantic tonight,” she says. Humbert sobs through the sex that follows.
(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 not explain what it is. Moments later, a car pulls up alongside them, and Humbert talks briefly with the driver, Lolita’s drama teacher. The teacher tells him that he should not take Lolita away from the play. “You should have heard the author raving about her after that rehearsal—” the teacher says, and Lolita hurriedly tells Humbert to drive on. Suddenly curious, Humbert asks who wrote the play. Lolita says mildly that it was “some old woman. Clare something.”
Once again, Humbert and Lolita make their way across country, sleeping in cheap motels. Humbert mocks the signs he reads in these places, which simultaneously welcome him and warn him not to steal the bedsheets or clog the toilets. Humbert shudders over the unclean rooms and worries constantly about the way his sexual noises carry.
Humbert takes a while to notice it, but Lolita begins to develop suspicious behaviors. At gas stations, for example, she sometimes slips out of sight near the bathrooms. He has rules against such behavior, but he is “inclined to be lenient” and does not always make a fuss when she breaks them.
On one notable occasion, Humbert leaves Lolita, who is feeling lazy and out of sorts, in a hotel bed while he walks to town to get a haircut and buy her some fruit. He enjoys the walk, and he minutely observes all of the people he sees on the way. On his way back, a young man smiles at him mischievously. When Humbert returns to the room, Lolita is there—but she is dressed, and he can see that she has gone out. She claims that she was just looking for him, but he does not believe her. His mind jumps immediately to the young man who smiled on the street. He strips Lolita naked...
(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 occur to him to feel jealous of the man driving it. Humbert only suspects that the driver is a police officer out to arrest him and take Lolita away. Because of this, he is horrified one day when he goes into a gas station and notices, through the window, that Lolita is cheerfully talking with the convertible’s ugly, balding driver.
Returning to the car, Humbert tells Lolita his theory that the man is a police officer. Lolita does not seem scared. She just laughs and says that, if this is the case, then the worst thing they could do would be to act suspicious. The next day, the convertible is still following them, but Humbert manages to slip away into a side street after a traffic roadblock. Lolita seems annoyed, and she repeats her statement that this is a dangerous move.
Now free of their pursuer, Humbert and Lolita drive on to a town called Wace, where Lolita has expressed a desire to see a certain festival. When they arrive, they learn that she has misread the dates, and now the festival is over. She takes the news well. There is a theater event in town, so the two of them go to see a play. Humbert hates the production, finding the effects “self-conscious” and the acting “mediocre.” He happens to notice that the playwrights are Clare Quilty and Vivian Darkbloom. When he mentions to Lolita that she used to admire the handsome Clare Quilty, she insists that this is untrue. She tells Humbert that he is confused, and that Clare Quilty is a woman. Humbert thinks he is right, but he is not interested enough to look it up and find out for certain.
(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 never coming back.
Humbert bursts outside, where he finds a beautiful afternoon—but no Lolita. He walks up and down Main Street, looking for any sign of her, trying to convince himself that she will soon reappear. Deep down, however, he knows that he has lost her. Then, suddenly, she is standing in front of him.
Humbert orders Lolita to get into the car, which she does. She sits watching him pace back and forth on the sidewalk. Eventually she comes to him and says that she met a girl from Beardsley and went out for a Coke. Humbert demands to know who the girl was. Lolita, clearly unwilling to be caught in a lie, claims that it was nobody he knew. He asks her to take him to the soda fountain where they drank their Cokes, so that he can ask the soda jerk to corroborate the story. Here Lolita changes her story, claiming that she and the girl just walked around looking in shop windows.
Humbert takes Lolita back to the car, where he fishes for the paper on which he wrote the license plate number of the red convertible. When he finds it, he sees that she has changed the letters and numbers. He drives a few miles out of town, then pulls over in a picnic area and slaps her hard with the back of his hand. He is immediately sorry. He cries and begs her forgiveness, but he feels that he has broken his whole perfect life with her.
Over the days that follow, Humbert notices that the driver of the red convertible is still following them—but not in the convertible anymore. The man has switched to a series of ever-changing rental cars. Humbert watches carefully and even tries to confront the stranger once, but the man gets away. As Humbert drives on, he considers taking his pistol out...
(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 tried to teach Lolita to play tennis, she was utterly annoyed by him, and she rejected or mocked every suggestion he made. Now she has changed a great deal, and the two of them can play together without fighting. He is careful not to “trouble her” with his most difficult serves and volleys, but he is proud of the way she performs against him. As they play, he reflects on how much he loves her.
One day at a resort in Colorado, a red-haired man and a dark-skinned girl come onto the court while Lolita and Humbert are playing. They watch the game, clapping and cheering between volleys. Afterward the man suggests playing doubles. Humbert wants to say no and take Lolita back to the room, but a bellboy rushes outside to say that the hotel has a long-distance call for him.
Humbert leaves Lolita on the court and goes inside, where he finds a note saying that the head of the “Birdsley” school has been trying to reach him. He calls the number provided, but there is no such number. He tries calling Miss Pratt, but she is on vacation. Everyone he reaches insists that nobody tried to call. Growing suspicious, Humbert asks the desk clerk to look up the records for long-distance calls made to the hotel, and there have not been any. The call was a fake, meant to distract Humbert from Lolita.
When Humbert returns to the tennis court, Lolita is playing a doubles game. Her partner is a man, a stranger. He sees Humbert, smacks Lolita on the rear end with a racket, and runs away. Humbert asks who the man was, but she says she does not know. Humbert is sure that this is a lie—but he cannot prove it or figure out the truth.
(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 say what heartbreaks are caused in a dog by our discontinuing a romp?"
Eventually Humbert and Lolita arrive in Elphinstone, a town she suggested they visit. When he takes her into their hotel room, she says she feels sick. At first Humbert thinks she is faking illness to avoid sex, but her temperature is extremely high. He wraps her in a blanket and takes her to the hospital. She is given a room, but he is not allowed to stay with her. He spends most of the night in his car until, very late, it occurs to him that he should go back to the hotel. Sleep is difficult for him; it is the first night in years that he has not had Lolita beside him.
Over the next few days, Humbert visits Lolita many times. He soon becomes ill himself, and so he is quite dizzy and bleary when he sees her. Once he goes out to pick flowers at dawn, and then he drives sixty miles to buy her a number of good books. Lolita calls the flowers “gruesome,” ignores the books, and criticizes him for his pompous use of the French language with the nurse.
After this visit, Humbert goes back to the hotel and collapses into bed. He spends the night drinking gin and hallucinating, unsure what is real and what is not. In the morning, he sends Lolita a message that he is too sick to go see her. The following day, he is informed that Lolita has checked out. While Humbert was sick in bed, she left town with a man she said was her uncle.
Horrified, Humbert drives to the hospital and drunkenly tries to fight the doctor, the nurse, and several random bystanders. When a police officer approaches, Humbert forces himself to calm down and apologize. Privately, he tells himself that he has to avoid being locked up. He 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 to say, and Humbert waves a hundred dollar bill at her. She takes it and tells Humbert that the man was his brother. Disgusted, Humbert takes the money back and runs away.
In spite of the fact that he does not find clues to the whereabouts of Lolita’s so-called uncle, Humbert does deduce a great deal about the man's personality. The kidnapper clearly anticipated Humbert’s detective work. He never registered at hotels under his real name, and his pseudonyms were obviously designed to tease. The names he chose contain references to great literature, to the French language, and—to Humbert’s dismay—to the comments Humbert made to Lolita along the journey. The man who took her is clearly a literate, well-educated fellow with a good sense of humor, capable of charming Lolita and convincing her to conspire with him. He knows a great deal about Lolita’s history, and he even checked into one hotel under her real father’s name, Harold Haze. By the time the trail runs cold, Humbert has the impression that he and the mysterious kidnapper are similar people: smart, witty, cruel, and willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on Lolita.
Along with the names on the hotel registries, Humbert studies the license plate numbers the kidnapper recorded at various hotels. Unfortunately, the numbers from the rental cars are useless, and the numbers for the red convertible are always carefully muddled. Humbert studies the many combinations, but he cannot discern any clue from them. He considers hunting down the car itself, but he knows the kidnapper got rid of it. Humbert sees little point in finding a car that probably no longer belongs to his enemy.
(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 recognize him. However, he definitely is not the man who pursued Lolita on their strange cross-country journey. Riggs recognizes Humbert from a cocktail party in the distant past. He chats amiably for a moment and then goes away. Afterward, Humbert decides that Beardsley is a dead end. He resolves to drive to California to search for Lolita on the youth tennis circuit.
Humbert does not leave town right away. First, he hires a private detective. This man spends two years hunting down every fake name and address Lolita’s lover wrote on his hotel registration forms. He turns up no usable evidence whatsoever, and Humbert eventually fires him.
By now it is becoming clear to Humbert that he may never find Lolita. He sinks into despair, dreaming disordered dreams that combine Lolita with Valeria and Charlotte, his two former wives. He digs all of Lolita’s magazines out of his car and gets rid of them. He finds it harder to give up her possessions, and he repeatedly finds himself crying over her old sneakers and T-shirts. Eventually he realizes that he is going mad, so he packs up her things and donates them to an orphanage. He checks himself into a mental hospital, where he broods and composes long poems about Lolita.
Humbert Humbert’s essential nature has not changed, so he still craves sexual experiences with children. He lurks at the edges of schools and on beaches, where he gawks at the girls, as he used to do before he met Lolita. No longer does he imagine stealing a girl and running away. Lolita has cured him of that. However, his body is accustomed to constant sexual release, and he has to fulfill his needs somehow. Eventually he meets a woman, Rita.
(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 Rita, who is too stupid to notice any lies that Humbert sprinkles into his story. Her lack of intelligence does not bother him, and he takes her disasters in stride. During their adventures in California, she gets mixed up with a thug, and Humbert rescues her. Another time she tries to play Russian roulette with Humbert’s pistol, and she ends up shooting a hole in a hotel wall.
After searching California thoroughly, Humbert and Rita give up and move to New York. On the drive east, they spend much of their time in an alcoholic haze, and one morning they both wake up to find an extra man in their room. He is wearing nothing but his underwear and a pair of army boots. When they wake him, he accuses them of stealing his memory. They cannot figure out who he is, so they take him to the hospital, and as far as they know he never recovers from his amnesia.
This experience inspires Humbert to write an article called “Mimir and Memory,” which gains high praise. Because of it, he is invited to spend a nine-month residency at a small institution called Catnip College, where he lives in a little apartment. Rita comes along but stays in a hotel, where Humbert visits her from time to time. One day she disappears, and it takes him a month to realize that she is in jail for some obscure reason involving a man, his wife, and a stolen set of expensive furs. Humbert is proud of himself when he manages to bail her out without having to call her brother.
Humbert no longer thinks he will find Lolita, so he just tries to relive his memories of their time together. On one occasion, Humbert and Rita pass near the Enchanted Hunters, the first inn where he stayed with Lolita. He visits the library in town...
(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 this conversation, Humbert wrongly dismisses one of the envelopes as a boring note from Rita's mother. He opens the other envelope, which comes from his friend and lawyer, John Farlow.
Humbert is surprised when he sees that John's letter is rambling and somewhat shrill. John has always been a staid and dependable man, and he has handled Charlotte’s monetary affairs since her death. Now, however, his wife has died, and he has re-married and moved to South America. He says that he is no longer willing to handle Charlotte's money. He has heard a rumor that Lolita has disappeared and that Humbert is now living with “a notorious divorcee.” Humbert reads the letter and tosses it aside in disgust, annoyed that people have been talking about him and that John's personality has changed over the years. In Humbert's opinion, people should stay the same forever rather than inconveniencing their friends by going through annoying transformations. This is one of the reason Humbert likes books; his favorite book characters behave in the same ways no matter how often he re-reads their stories.
Next, Humbert turns to the other letter. He is shocked when he sees that it is from Lolita. She addresses him as “Dad” and says simply that she is married and pregnant. Her husband, Dick, has an excellent job offer in Alaska, but they do not have enough money to move. She asks Humbert for a few hundred dollars to help her get out of the town where she currently lives—a dirty place where “you can’t see the morons for the smog.” She refuses to give Humbert her home address, asking him instead to write her at her town’s post office. She concludes with the words: “I have gone through much sadness and...
(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.
Lolita’s letter came from a town called Coalmont, and after a bit of research, Humbert figures out that it is eight hundred miles away. He considers driving all night and getting there in the morning, but after some consideration he decides to rest in a motel overnight. He does not sleep much, but in the morning, he takes advantage of the room in order to clean and groom himself beautifully. He puts on his very best clothes.
Humbert vomits up his breakfast, but he does not let this slow him down. He takes a pill, puts his pistol—“solid death”—in his pocket, and drives to Coalmont. There he finds a phone book and calls the only number listed under Lolita’s new surname, Schiller. He calls it and speaks to a man who gives him an address for Dick Schiller.
Humbert drives to this address and finds a filthy tenement. The people who live there say that Dick has long since moved away. The current residents include two little nymphets. Humbert thinks vaguely that, after he has doomed himself by committing murder, he might as well grab a little girl and do what he wants to her. He speaks briefly to the nymphets' parents, but they do not know the Schillers. They send him to talk to some grocery store clerks, one of whom eventually directs him to a house at the end of Hunter Road.
Following these directions, Humbert drives several miles to a neighborhood that looks even shabbier than the one he has just left. Lolita’s house is just a rundown shack. Humbert stops his car out front and sits for a moment, struggling with his emotions. He checks the gun. He tries not to panic.
(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 not the man who stole Lolita away from Humbert three years ago—and so Humbert decides not to kill him, either. He asks where the other man is.
Lolita begs Humbert not to bring up her past. She does not want to talk about it, and she definitely does not want Dick to know anything. When Humbert pries, she says a bit coyly that she always thought he would guess who took her away. It was Clare Quilty, the famous playwright. She explains that Quilty, whom she calls by the nickname Cue, was the only man she ever really loved. Dick is “a lamb,” and she is glad to be with him, but it is not the same. Hearing this, Humbert asks if she ever loved him. This question seems to surprise Lolita, and she says it is ridiculous. When she sees that this hurts him, she tries to console him, saying he was "a good father, she guessed."
Lolita explains that Cue knew her mother and that he liked to put Lolita on his lap and kiss her when she was a little girl. She bumped into him at the Enchanted Hunters, and then they met again when she performed in the play of the same name in Beardsley. She fell for him, and they made up the mad scheme to drive across the country and torment Humbert.
At this point, Dick and the one-armed neighbor, Bill, come in for a beer. Lolita introduces Humbert as her dad, shouting the information because Dick is nearly deaf due to a war injury. Everyone sits and chats for a few minutes, with Humbert reflecting condescendingly on the men’s sloppiness and simplicity.
Eventually Dick and Bill go back outside to finish their repair project, and Humbert presses Lolita to finish telling the story about how she “betrayed” him. She says that she did not betray anyone,...
(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 to rest, drinking from his flask and staring blearily at the sleepy small town around him. For a while, instead of thinking about Lolita, he pays attention to his surroundings, reading the signs on the garbage cans and in the store windows. Ultimately, however, he cannot ignore his feelings. He is not far from the Enchanted Hunters. He begins to cry again.
On the side of the road in this small town, Humbert considers what he has done. For the first time, he thinks about himself and Lolita “with the utmost simplicity and clarity,” and without all of the distractions he has had in the past. He has tried seeking forgiveness through religion, and he really respects a certain priest who comforted him and tried to teach him about absolution. However, he feels that his own sin is too great to be forgivable. Humbert writes, “Nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I...inflicted upon her.” He took her childhood away for his own pleasure, and he cannot be forgiven, not unless someone can prove that the harm he did to her does not matter. And if something like that does not matter, then nothing matters.
Humbert has no consolation. Once in a while, he forgets himself for a brief moment when he is surrounded by beautiful words. Art ultimately does not solve the problems he has created, but it is the only thing that can dull the pain of his guilt. Because of this, he repeats the words of a poem:
The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.
(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 her reward.
Now, such memories are “limbless monsters of pain” for Humbert. He remembers another time, when he heard Lolita make a sophomoric, clichéd comment about death to one of her friends, and he realized that he had no idea who she really was. He explains that he and Lolita lived “in a world of total evil.” Because of this, they both felt “strangely embarrassed” whenever they tried to interact normally as adult and child. They could not casually discuss an event or an idea or a work of art. Whenever they tried, Lolita acted cruel or bored, and Humbert acted artificial.
Sometimes after sex with Lolita, when Humbert was totally sated, he would hold her close, feeling ashamed of himself for what he was doing to her. But just as his mind would turn to noble thoughts, his body would start to feel lust again, and he would resume his abuse.
On another occasion, the father of Lolita’s friend Avis came to the Humbert home to pick up his daughter. As they all chatted in the living room, Avis innocently sat down on her father’s knee. Then Lolita, who normally was full of smiles in the presence of strangers, froze and dropped a heavy fruit knife on her foot. She ran out, crying:
followed at once and consoled in the kitchen by Avis who had such a wonderful fat pink dad and a small chubby brother, and a brand-new baby sister, and a home, and two grinning dogs, and Lolita had nothing.
This, Humbert realizes, is the worst of it. Lolita needed the loving tenderness of a real parent, but Humbert only cared about himself. A family, even a bad family, would have been better for her than the “parody of incest” which Humbert...
(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 camp friends. When Mrs. Chatfield scolds Humbert for letting Lolita marry so young, he tells her how Charlie Holmes “debauched” the girls at Lolita’s camp. This shocks Mrs. Chatfield, who informs Humbert that Charlie recently died in the Korean War. Totally unapologetic, Humbert dryly informs her that French is better suited than English to the tidy exchange of such morbid news.
Next, Humbert heads to the office of Mr. Windmuller, the lawyer who has taken over the Haze affairs now that John Farlow is out of the picture. Humbert gives him the contact information for Lolita, and he signs all of her mother’s remaining money over to her. This renders Humbert basically penniless, but he is pleased with himself.
With this finished, Humbert can take care of his important errand in town. He goes to see the dentist, Dr. Quilty, the cousin of Clare Quilty. Dr. Quilty is responsible for introducing the playwright to Lolita’s mother long ago. Under the pretense of consulting about a major dental operation, Humbert drops a few questions about the playwright. Dr. Quilty has not seen “the rascal” for years but guesses that he is at his family residence, Grimm Road, not far from a town called Parkington. As soon as he has this information, Humbert drops the pretense of being a customer. He calls Dr. Quilty a terrible dentist and says that the dentist in Beardsley is far better. Dr. Quilty is offended, but Humbert finds the whole scene hilarious.
Humbert is ready, and so is his gun. He loads the weapon with eight cartridges and, comparing the gun to a phallus, suggests that the upcoming murder will bring it sexual release.
(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 week since he bought them. Finally he wraps the gun in a cloth and drives back to Grimm Road. The house looks fuzzy, and the ground feels “springy and insecure” under his feet. As he approaches the front door, he decides that he has overdone his attempts to steel himself with alcohol.
Humbert rings the bell, and nobody answers. However, the door opens when he touches it. He walks inside and begins to search for Quilty. The place seems empty, aside from the mess left over from last night’s party. Deciding that his victim must be out for a walk, Humbert walks around removing keys from the various bedroom doors. This, he reasons, will prevent his victim from locking himself safely inside an empty room.
Eventually Quilty wanders out of a bathroom. He is obviously under the effects of some drug, and he completely fails to notice Humbert, who follows him down the stairs and into the parlor. There Quilty finally says, “Now who are you?” He makes several lighthearted jokes, continuing them even when Humbert pulls the gun.
Humbet is determined to make sure that Quilty understands the gravity of the situation. He explains that he is taking revenge over Lolita. When this does not change his victim’s glib mood, Humbert points his gun at the man’s foot and fires. He shoots a hole in the carpet, and Quilty tells him to be more careful. Then Quilty suggests that Humbert have a drink instead of committing murder.
By now Quilty does seem to realize that Humbert is serious. He leaps up and manages to knock the gun to the floor. The two of them fight clumsily, two educated nerds whose brains and bodies are addled by alcohol and drugs. Humbert ultimately wins the struggle, and then...
(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 block his path, he pulls off the road into a field of “surprised cows.” There his car rolls to a stop for the last time. Humbert sits and waits, feeling relieved that he will soon be captured. He plans to let them drag him out of the car; he no longer has the strength to go anywhere under his own power.
As he awaits capture, Humbert reflects on an experience he had just after Lolita left him. While driving down the road one day, he grew suddenly ill. He ended up vomiting in the bushes in a secluded spot. When he recovered, he sat listening to the sounds of the town below. He was too far away to see the people or hear individual voices, but he soon realized that the fathers were all at work, and the mothers were all in the houses. The sounds he heard were coming from the children. Suddenly he understood that it was a tragedy that Lolita was not there with the rest of the children, playing.
As Lolita ends, Humbert explains that he originally began writing this memoir in order to use it in his own defense. Now, however, he does not think he can show it to the world. If he does so, he will only hurt Lolita further. He asks that it remain unpublished until Lolita dies. Even so, he addresses his final paragraph to her, advising her to be faithful to her husband, to love her child, and to refrain from grieving for Clare Quilty. As for him, all that he is leaving behind is his memoir. Art is the only important result that can come from a human life.
(The entire section is 414 words.)