Part Two, Chapters 12–17
Summary: Chapter 12
After Lolita recovers from an illness, Humbert allows her to throw a small party with boys. The party isn’t a success, and the boys don’t impress Lolita, which is such a relief for Humbert that he buys her a new tennis racket. For her birthday, he buys her a bicycle and a book of modern American paintings, and while he enjoys watching her ride the bike, he remains disappointed by her inability to appreciate fine art.
Summary: Chapter 13
Lolita begins rehearsing for a play entitled The Enchanted Hunters, in which she plays a farmer’s daughter who bewitches a number of hunters. Humbert notes that the play has the same name as the hotel he and Lolita first stayed in, but he doesn’t think much of it. He also doesn’t mention the coincidence to Lolita, for fear that she’ll mock him and his nostalgia. At the time, Humbert assumes the play is nothing more than a trifling work written specifically for schoolchildren. He tells the reader that he now knows the play to be a recent composition, written by a noted playwright. Humbert scoffs at the play’s overt romanticism and fantasy. One day, as Lolita rides her bike, she teasingly asks Humbert if the Enchanted Hunters was, in fact, the name of the hotel where he first raped her.
Summary: Chapter 14
Some days later, Humbert becomes outraged when he gets a call from Lolita’s piano teacher, who tells him that Lolita has been missing her lessons. When confronted, Lolita claims she has been rehearsing for the play in a local park. Lolita’s friend Mona corroborates the story, but Humbert assumes both girls are lying. While Humbert and Lolita discuss the issue heatedly, he realizes that she’s changed and possesses fewer nymphet qualities. Humbert panics and threatens to take her away from Beardsley if she continues lying. Lolita becomes furious, and they have a loud, angry fight in which she accuses him of violating her and murdering her mother. Humbert grabs her by the wrist and attempts to restrain her. Just then, a neighbor calls to complain about the noise, and as Humbert apologizes, Lolita escapes from the house. Humbert drives around looking for her and finally finds her in a telephone booth. Lolita tells Humbert that she hates the school and the play and wants to leave Beardsley, but only if they go where she wants to go. Relieved, Humbert agrees to her demands. At home, Lolita tells Humbert to carry her upstairs, as she’s feeling romantic. Humbert confesses that this brought him to tears.
Summary: Chapter 15
Humbert tells the school that he’s been hired as a consultant for a movie in Hollywood, but promises to return. Excited to be traveling again, Lolita plans out where they’ll go and where they’ll stay. As they’re driving away from the town, Edusa Gold, the acting coach, pulls up alongside them in her car. She says it’s a shame Lolita couldn’t finish the play, since the playwright himself was so taken with her. As Edusa drives off, Humbert asks Lolita who wrote the play. Lolita tells him it was some old woman, “Clare Something.” With that, Humbert and Lolita start their travels.
Summary: Chapter 16
Humbert and Lolita stay in a succession of hotels. Humbert keeps a very close watch on Lolita, to keep her from communicating with anyone he doesn’t know. However, Lolita occasionally manages to disappear, even under Humbert’s watchful eye. She changes her mind often about their destinations, sometimes wanting to stay on for no apparent reason. One day, Humbert goes out but suddenly feels nervous, and he returns to the hotel room to find Lolita completely dressed. Humbert’s suspicions, while still vague, grow stronger.
Summary: Chapter 17
Humbert secretly keeps a gun that belonged to Lolita’s father and stands guard with it at night. He reminds the reader that, in Freudian analysis, a gun represents the father’s phallus.
In these chapters, Humbert grows intensely suspicious of both Lolita’s increasing ability to deceive him, as well as the various men they meet on their travels. However, despite his mounting paranoia, Humbert remains unable to grasp the truth of his situation. For example, though he reads The Enchanted Hunters carefully and recognizes the strange coincidence between the play’s title and the name of the hotel where he and Lolita first consummated their relationship, he doesn’t take the production as a warning sign. Unable to see this coincidence as foreshadowing anything, Humbert can only offer a passive, ineffectual response: a intellectual, critical analysis of the play’s literary value. Meanwhile, The Enchanted Hunters brings Clare Quilty directly into Lolita’s life and, presumably, causes her to reevaluate her relationship with Humbert. The production of The Enchanted Hunters is the turning point at which Humbert first begins to lose Lolita, and he fails to recognize its significance.
Humbert’s inability to see the reality of his predicament also extends to his relationship with Lolita. Humbert loves what Lolita represents: a perfect specimen of his ideal type of female, the nymphet. Humbert loves an image of a girl, but not the girl herself. This refusal to acknowledge the real Lolita allows him to observe all the human elements of his iconic woman—her vulgarity, her duplicity, her rebelliousness—and remain steadfastly assured that, somehow, he can possess Lolita forever. Only after losing Lolita will Humbert realize how mistaken he was. At this point in the novel, however, Humbert is still the enchanted hunter, too spellbound by his obsession to comprehend the reality of his lover or the imminent threat Quilty represents.
In these chapters, Lolita seems less whimsical and more calculating. Up to this point, we might have assumed that Lolita’s temperamental moods could be attributed to the typically mercurial nature of all teenagers or to the extreme pressure of leading a secret, deviant lifestyle. However, Lolita’s moods seem more planned now. For example, she explains away her missed piano lessons with preternatural calm, even arranging for Mona to lie for her. For once, Humbert’s suspicions seem justified. Humbert blames her dramatic training for teaching Lolita to dissemble, and he’s not entirely wrong: the theater is responsible for her duplicity, but not quite in the way Humbert imagines. Once again, Humbert offers an ineffectual, intellectual response, making a symbolic connection between the necessary pretense involved in acting and the apparent pretense Lolita is employing.
Humbert misses the more simple, straightforward explanation for Lolita’s lies: the theater is responsible for Lolita’s betrayal because the school play introduces her to Quilty. Humbert’s attempts to keep their relationship from changing, as well as his attempt to arrest Lolita’s growth and keep her in a perpetual state of nymphethood, end up having the opposite effect: pushing Lolita away and resisting his fantasy role for her. Lolita and Humbert act out a version of a more traditional parent-child relationship, with Lolita lying and evading her father figure in order to challenge his strict, oppressive regulations. Humbert doesn’t grasp this element of their relationship, which leads him to unquestioningly accept her decision to leave Beardsley.
Even at this early stage, we can see how this journey represents a reversal of the earlier road trip. Whereas Humbert himself planned the first trip, in order to assert his control over and possession of Lolita, he now follows Lolita’s whims and desires, unknowingly facilitating her escape. Previously, Humbert was the enchanted hunter, charmed and fascinated by his prey, Lolita. Now Humbert has become a different kind of enchanted hunter: he’s bewitched and spellbound by Lolita’s duplicity, and, blinded by his own obsession, he is never able to clearly spot his prey, Clare Quilty. If Humbert has become an ineffectual hunter in these chapters, he soon realizes that he’s also become the hunted, as his shadowy double, Clare Quilty, tracks him down in order to steal Lolita.
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