Chapter 23 Summary
Humbert rushes outside and sees the scene of an accident: a big, black car up on the neighbor’s lawn; an old man dead or asleep on the ground; and a bathrobe in a heap in the middle of the road. Police are already on the scene, and neighbors are rushing around trying to help. In a daze, Humbert learns that Charlotte’s dead body is lying beneath the bathrobe. When she got hit, she was in the process of running across the street to mail several letters. A little girl picks these up and brings them to him. He sticks them in his pocket and tears them into little pieces with his fingernails.
Humbert, suddenly a widower, does not cry. He answers questions and makes decisions as necessary, staggering a bit when he sees Charlotte, “the top of her head a porridge of bones, brains, bronze hair, and blood.” He drinks alcohol all afternoon, and eventually his friends John and Jean Farlow put him to bed in Lolita’s room. They stay the night in Humbert’s and Charlotte’s room, clearly fearing that Humbert may commit suicide if he is left alone.
The next morning, Humbert tries to read Charlotte’s letters, but he has torn them into such small pieces that he can only read short snatches. He gets a sense that Charlotte was making arrangements to take Lolita away from camp and deposit her in a reformatory. One letter seems to have been written to him; its fragments contain clichéd phrases of hurt and grief.
During the funeral proceedings, Humbert spreads the rumor that he and Charlotte really knew each other and had a brief affair long ago. People conclude that Lolita is Humbert’s child and not the child of Charlotte’s first husband. This makes them think that he is the natural person to take custody of the girl, but he is careful not to give them any excuse to meddle. He pretends to call her summer camp and then invents a story that Lolita is unreachable because she is out on a multi-day hiking trip.
During the funeral preparations, Humbert gets a visit from the man who was driving the car that killed Charlotte. To the man’s enormous relief, Humbert says that the accident was entirely Charlotte’s fault. Inwardly, however, he reflects that fate caused the accident. He upset Charlotte and made her careless, but he did not kill her. When the visitor leaves, Humbert breaks down and cries.