Chapters 54-55 Summary

One day, Humbert briefly loses sight of Lolita. After a moment of panic, he spots her outside in her red bathing suit, playing with a little dog. Watching her, Humbert feels jealous of the dog. But something about her behavior seems wrong, as if she is too eager and excited. Even the dog appears to realize that she is overdoing it. After a moment, Humbert realizes that she is performing.

In a patch of shade by the swimming pool not far away, the strange man who has been following them stands watching Lolita. It seems clear that Lolita—“the vile and beloved slut”—has noticed her observer. When the man leaves, she stops playing. Watching, Humbert wonders how the dog feels about her sudden indifference: “Who can say what heartbreaks are caused in a dog by our discontinuing a romp?"

Eventually Humbert and Lolita arrive in Elphinstone, a town she suggested they visit. When he takes her into their hotel room, she says she feels sick. At first Humbert thinks she is faking illness to avoid sex, but her temperature is extremely high. He wraps her in a blanket and takes her to the hospital. She is given a room, but he is not allowed to stay with her. He spends most of the night in his car until, very late, it occurs to him that he should go back to the hotel. Sleep is difficult for him; it is the first night in years that he has not had Lolita beside him.

Over the next few days, Humbert visits Lolita many times. He soon becomes ill himself, and so he is quite dizzy and bleary when he sees her. Once he goes out to pick flowers at dawn, and then he drives sixty miles to buy her a number of good books. Lolita calls the flowers “gruesome,” ignores the books, and criticizes him for his pompous use of the French language with the nurse.

After this visit, Humbert goes back to the hotel and collapses into bed. He spends the night drinking gin and hallucinating, unsure what is real and what is not. In the morning, he sends Lolita a message that he is too sick to go see her. The following day, he is informed that Lolita has checked out. While Humbert was sick in bed, she left town with a man she said was her uncle.

Horrified, Humbert drives to the hospital and drunkenly tries to fight the doctor, the nurse, and several random bystanders. When a police officer approaches, Humbert forces himself to calm down and apologize. Privately, he tells himself that he has to avoid being locked up. He can only get revenge if he is free.