Chapter 9 Summary
The legal arrangements for Humbert’s divorce prevent him from leaving for America right away. Then depression and a case of pneumonia slow him even more. By the time he sets sail, World War II is underway. He settles in New York, where he fulfills his wealthy uncle’s wishes by taking a job in his business, writing advertisements for perfume. Humbert rather enjoys this work but does not care about it at all. He soon becomes far more engrossed in his comparative history of French literature, and he spends long, rewarding hours working on it. During this period, he shuts away his sexual desires, a feat that does not come easily to him:
Knowing me by now, the reader can easily imagine how dusty and hot I got, trying to catch a glimpse of nymphets (alas, always remote) playing in Central Park.
Soon he has a breakdown and spends a year in a mental hospital. When he gets out, he goes straight back to work, has another breakdown, and ends up in the hospital again. During his second treatment, he meets a doctor who suggests that outdoor exercise will make him feel better. Accordingly, Humbert gets himself a strange job as “recorder of psychic reactions” on an expedition into the Arctic. On the way, he has an unenthusiastic affair with a woman who joins the expedition as a nutritionist. He is glad when she ends up getting sent home, even though that leaves him with no outlet for his desires. He is disgusted by Eskimo girls “with their fish smell, hideous raven hair, and guinea pig faces.” He writes, “Nymphets do not occur in polar regions.”
On his Arctic trip, Humbert shows little interest in the scientific work of his fellow travelers. The main purpose of the expedition is a secret, and he never figures out what it is. His own job is to ask everyone about their psychological reactions to the cold and the hard work, but his questions annoy everyone he talks to. He soon gives up on the job altogether. At the end of the journey, just for fun, he writes a paper about the journey and fills it with fake, highly sexually charged information about his fellow travelers. He publishes this false work in two scholarly journals.
When Humbert returns home, he finds himself struggling with depression again. He goes back into a mental hospital, where he entertains himself by lying to his psychiatrists. Using his own knowledge of the field, he makes up suggestive dreams and fantasies, intending both to horrify them and to prevent them from finding out what is really bothering him. One day he sneaks a look at his file and finds, to his delight, that his doctors consider him “potentially homosexual” and “totally impotent.” He enjoys this so much that he stays in the hospital and keeps toying with his doctors for more than a month after his depression disappears.