Chapter 53 Summary

By now Humbert realizes that acting in a play did not just teach Lolita a healthy interest in literature. It taught her to lie. Suddenly she is able to deceive him, and although he catches glimpses of her schemes, he does not know how to stop them.

At fourteen, Lolita is beginning to outgrow the typical nymphet stage—but when she puts on her tennis clothes, she is better than ever. When she and Humbert play together, he admires her beauty and gracefulness. She moves like an elite player—but she is not one. She does not really care about winning, and he thinks that he may be the reason for this. He feels he has damaged her somehow, preventing her from being as great as she could be.

When Humbert first tried to teach Lolita to play tennis, she was utterly annoyed by him, and she rejected or mocked every suggestion he made. Now she has changed a great deal, and the two of them can play together without fighting. He is careful not to “trouble her” with his most difficult serves and volleys, but he is proud of the way she performs against him. As they play, he reflects on how much he loves her.

One day at a resort in Colorado, a red-haired man and a dark-skinned girl come onto the court while Lolita and Humbert are playing. They watch the game, clapping and cheering between volleys. Afterward the man suggests playing doubles. Humbert wants to say no and take Lolita back to the room, but a bellboy rushes outside to say that the hotel has a long-distance call for him.

Humbert leaves Lolita on the court and goes inside, where he finds a note saying that the head of the “Birdsley” school has been trying to reach him. He calls the number provided, but there is no such number. He tries calling Miss Pratt, but she is on vacation. Everyone he reaches insists that nobody tried to call. Growing suspicious, Humbert asks the desk clerk to look up the records for long-distance calls made to the hotel, and there have not been any. The call was a fake, meant to distract Humbert from Lolita.

When Humbert returns to the tennis court, Lolita is playing a doubles game. Her partner is a man, a stranger. He sees Humbert, smacks Lolita on the rear end with a racket, and runs away. Humbert asks who the man was, but she says she does not know. Humbert is sure that this is a lie—but he cannot prove it or figure out the truth.