Chapter 17 Summary

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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 in his mind, erasing all of the mature features of her womanhood from his imagination so that he can picture her as Lolita’s “big sister.”

Waiting impatiently, Humbert has a few drinks and then goes outside to busy himself with yard work. He watches the road as he works, and after some time he finally sees Charlotte’s car approaching. Soon she appears in Lolita’s window, blinking down at him “with an expression of great anguish on her face.” Grabbing his chance, he runs upstairs to catch her before she leaves the little girl’s room.

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