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.