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 of affairs.