Chapter 40 Summary

In Beardsley, Humbert begins paying Lolita for her sexual favors. At the beginning of the year, her allowance is twenty-one cents per week, which he gives her if she carries out her “basic obligations”—sex, three times per day, every day. She is a “cruel negotiator,” however, and by the end of the year she has bargained him up from one cent to five cents for each sexual encounter. Humbert considers this “more than generous,” especially considering the fact that he regularly buys her anything she wants. When she wants something badly, he often demands additional sex, and he laments the fact that she is so unenthusiastic about complying. However, he cannot bring himself to use physical force. He cannot live without sex, either, so he just gives her what she wants.

Humbert guesses that his readers must be laughing at him for giving out coins “like some…wholly demented machine vomiting riches,” but he insists that he is too weak and too foolish to do anything else. After his orgasms, he frequently tries to pry open Lolita’s hands and take back the money he has given her. She soon learns to run away and hide her riches.

When Lolita is at school, Humbert often searches her room and takes back as much money as he can find. Once he finds eight dollars in a copy of Treasure Island on her bookshelf, and once he finds a bit more than twenty-four dollars in a hole in her bedroom wall. When he takes the second sum, she accuses the maid of stealing. Humbert finds it hilarious that she would suspect such a thing—but the joke is on him. In the end, Lolita settles on a hiding place that he never finds.

Stealing Lolita’s money is a matter of necessity for Humbert. The sums he pays her are not enough to bankrupt him, but he worries constantly that she will amass enough money to run away. She is a reasonably intelligent girl, and she is sure to figure out eventually that she could buy a bus ticket and escape him forever. He imagines that she might go to Los Angeles or New York to try working as an actress, and he might track her down. But he deems it more likely that she would disappear to some disgusting small-town restaurant and get a job waiting tables. Then he would never find her. And without her, he would never survive.