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.