Chapters 1-2 Summary
As the novel begins, Humbert Humbert reflects on the heroine and her name: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.” The narrator reflects that this little girl, whose full name was Dolores, had many nicknames. However he always called her Lolita when he held her close to him.
Humbert explains that, although Lolita is the love of his life, she is not his first love. Once, when he was a young boy, he had a short love affair with another beautiful little girl. If not for her, he muses, he might never have fallen for Lolita at all.
Jumping back to the beginning of his life, Humbert describes his birth in Paris in 1910. His father is “a salad of racial genes,” with ancestors from many different European countries, a kind man and the owner of a hotel on the Riviera. Humbert’s mother is a beautiful Englishwoman who dies when her son is three years old. He describes the accident that killed her in only two words: “Picnic, lightning.”
Humbert has no memory of his mother, and he is not greatly troubled by her absence. After her death, he is raised by his aunt, Sybil, a sister of his mother’s. She is strict with him, but he loves her anyway. Although Humbert does not know it until later, she is in love with his father, who responds by sleeping with her once and then forgetting about it. She dies when Humbert is sixteen years old.
In spite of the deaths of his mother and his aunt, Humbert has a happy childhood. He lives in an idyllic world of ocean views and friendly vacationers. The guests at his father’s hotel tend to dote on him. His father is a kind influence who reads books and takes his son on delightful afternoon excursions. He frequently has girlfriends, and Humbert calls these women “kind beings who…cooed and shed precious tears over my cheerful motherlessness.”
During his early childhood, Humbert attends an English school, where he does well socially and academically. Until adolescence, he has essentially no sexual experiences. He remembers only an earnest discussion of puberty with a male American friend and “some interesting reactions on the part of my organism to certain photographs.” When he is thirteen, his father explains what boys need to know about sex. Afterward, he goes away on vacation with a woman friend. When Humbert has his first, painful love affair, his father is not there.