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.