Chapter 34 Summary
Humbert takes Lolita on a year-long tour of the United States, spending the nights mainly in cheap motels where they can remain fairly anonymous. He catalogues the qualities of the clean, sterile places where he likes to stay, and he notes that they usually welcome children and allow pets. (To him, Lolita is both.)
During this period, Humbert’s sexual appetite for Lolita does not fade, but his feelings about her as a human being change a great deal. He says that she is a “most exasperating little brat” who frequently acts moody and disobedient. She is also a “disgustingly conventional little girl,” interested only in comic books, movie magazines, and the like—not in the intellectually challenging topics which Humbert enjoys. He is aggravated with her musical tastes and her predilection for cheap souvenirs. However, he usually buys her whatever she wants at the store. If he did not, he would find it quite difficult to persuade her to do what he wants in the bedroom.
During this period, Humbert slowly develops several methods of managing Lolita's moods. He realizes that he will never be safe unless she wants to keep their sexual relationship a secret. He delivers long lectures about how “the normal girl is usually extremely anxious to please her father” and how in some cultures “sexual relations between a father and his daughter are accepted as a matter of course.” He admits that their lifestyle is not the norm in America, and that he would go to jail if she told the police about what he does to her—but he insists that her fate would be far worse. She would become a ward of the state, and she would end up living in an orphanage or a reformatory. She would sleep in a dank, unwashed dormitory; she would wear drab, ugly uniforms; and she would be forced to do the bidding of cruel teachers. Over time, Lolita develops a grave fear of such a fate.
Humbert convinces Lolita that the two of them have “a background of shared secrecy and shared guilt”—and this succeeds in keeping her from having him arrested. However, she is listless and unhappy most of the time. He finds it necessary to choose a daily destination, a goal that will help her “survive until bedtime.” Most such destinations are tourist attractions such as lighthouses, museums, caves, and the like. Typically she does not enjoy seeing these places when she arrives, but the act of moving toward them makes her happier than she would be standing still.
In one year, from August 1947 until August 1948, Humbert and Lolita travel all through New England, the South, and the Midwest. They cross the Rocky Mountains several times back and forth, and then they visit the Pacific coast, driving north from California to Washington. In the end they travel back to New England, to the town of Beardsley, where they eventually stop and make a home.