Part One, Chapters 10–15
Summary: Chapter 10
Upon his release from the sanitarium, Humbert heads for a small town to stay with a Mr. McCoo. A relative of a friend of his uncle’s, McCoo has a twelve-year-old daughter, whom Humbert fantasizes about. When he arrives in the town of Ramsdale, however, he learns that the McCoos’ house has burned down. Mr. McCoo recommends a boarding house at 342 Lawn Street, run by the widowed Mrs. Haze. Neither Mrs. Haze nor the house impress Humbert. He describes her as a fatally conventional woman, one who, despite her so-called cultural and community activities, has many pretensions and little imagination. He realizes with distaste that she will probably try to seduce him. He finds the house horribly unappealing until he sees Mrs. Haze’s twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores, sitting on the lawn. Humbert finds her resemblance to Annabel uncanny and immediately remembers his time with Annabel twenty-five years ago. He decides to stay.
Summary: Chapter 11
From prison, Humbert recalls passages from his diary regarding the time he lived at the Haze house in 1947 and his initial thoughts of Lolita. Almost all his entries describe encounters with Lolita and contain romantic descriptions of her nymphet qualities, as well as his various attempts to lure her into his presence. Delighted, he learns that he resembles a celebrity Lolita adores, which causes Charlotte to tease Lolita about having a crush on Humbert. Though he knows that he should not be keeping a journal of his attraction, Humbert can’t help himself. He often goes into Lolita’s room and touches her things. He describes Charlotte Haze disdainfully and hates her for always complaining about Lolita. He knows that he must behave himself with Charlotte around, so he daydreams about killing her.
Summary: Chapter 12
Charlotte, Lolita, and Humbert plan to go to Hourglass Lake for a picnic, but the trip continually gets postponed. Humbert gets a further disappointment when he learns that a classmate of Lolita’s will accompany them. Humbert learns that the previous boarder, elderly Mrs. Phalen, broke her hip and had to leave suddenly, which enabled Humbert to come and live with the Hazes. Humbert expresses amazement at how fate led him here, to his dream nymphet.
Summary: Chapter 13
One Sunday, when the trip to the lake gets postponed yet again, Lolita becomes angry and refuses to go to church with Charlotte. Delighted, Humbert has Lolita all to himself. When Lolita starts eating an apple, Humbert teasingly takes it away from her. He finally returns it and, as Lolita sings a popular song, discreetly rubs against her until he climaxes. Lolita runs off, apparently without having noticed anything.
Summary: Chapter 14
Famished, Humbert goes into town for lunch. He feels proud that he managed to satisfy himself without corrupting the child, and he wavers between wanting to repeat the experience and wanting to preserve Lolita’s purity. Later, Charlotte tells Humbert that she is sending Lolita away to summer camp for three weeks. Humbert hides his misery by pretending to have a toothache. Mrs. Haze recommends that he see their neighbor, Dr. Quilty, a dentist and the uncle of a playwright.
Summary: Chapter 15
Humbert considers leaving the boarding house until Lolita returns in the fall. Lolita doesn’t want to go to camp, but Charlotte dismisses her tears. Humbert muses that Lolita might lose her purity while she’s away and cease to be a nymphet. Just before she enters the car to go to camp, Lolita rushes back and kisses Humbert.
The contrast between Humbert and Mrs. Haze exemplifies the contrast between the old, sophisticated, decadent world Europe and the artificial, pretentious world of the United States. Charlotte Haze aspires to be the kind of woman Humbert could love, a worldly, elegant, refined woman who appreciates finer things. Yet her house, with its modern furniture, cheap art, and general untidiness, manifests a different personality. Throughout the novel, Humbert’s European manner and old-world aesthetics attract a number of American women, each of whom he eventually rejects. This sexual clash between America and Europe will be upended in the relationship between Humbert and Lolita, when Humbert falls under the spell of Lolita’s fresh, vulgar American sensibilities. Despite Humbert’s best efforts, any attempt to educate and sophisticate Lolita will fail. Humbert generally forgives and occasionally romanticizes Lolita’s vulgarity, unlike Charlotte, who has little patience for her daughter’s shallowness.
Humbert describes Lolita as an object, focusing on the nymphet qualities he finds so exciting while rarely addressing her inner mind or feelings. Though he notes her bad moods and her vulgarities, Humbert nonetheless remains convinced of Lolita’s essential connection to Annabel. This connection is significant to Humbert and Humbert alone, which reinforces his notion that only a special man like himself could truly comprehend the rareness of a nymphet like Lolita. At the same time, this reasoning reduces Lolita to a privately held notion of Humbert’s and denies her the chance to grow or create meaning in her life. The disconnect between Humbert’s romantic but objectifying view of Lolita the nymphet and the real character of Lolita the girl finds a correspondence in Humbert’s language, which also romanticizes the unromanticizable. Humbert describes his perverse, unlawful desires with elegant, beautiful prose, rendering attractive what many readers would otherwise find repulsive. This effect of language is particularly notable when Humbert masturbates against Lolita. Despite the troubling nature of the encounter, the rapturous, satisfying language complicates the reader’s reaction, as we may simultaneously be disturbed by the events yet seduced by the prose.
Even at this early stage, the love triangle between Lolita, Charlotte, and Humbert appears volatile, particularly as the characters seem unaware of the darker elements of their emotional responses. Besides the obvious, unsettling nature of Humbert’s infatuation, a strong current of jealousy exists between Mrs. Haze and Lolita, above and beyond the usual tensions between mother and daughter. Charlotte’s attraction to Humbert parallels Humbert’s attraction to Lolita, as neither will see the true nature of the object of their affections. When Lolita kisses Humbert, he is ecstatic—Lolita has become real to him, rather than just a dream. Yet, given her typically adolescent temperament, most adults would venture that her crush is of the schoolgirl variety and unlikely to develop into a serious adult love. Humbert prolongs the crush through his manipulation of her.
Humbert believes his life is controlled by the odd, unpredictable presence of McFate, his word for the particularly American brand of fate that he believes explains the repeated patterns and coincidences in his life. For Humbert, McFate wields its power arbitrarily, bringing him to Lolita after Mrs. Phalen’s accident but then thwarting their time together, such as with the planned trip to Hourglass Lake. McFate also works in more subtle ways. For example, the Hazes live at 342 Lawn Street, and Humbert and Lolita will later stay at Room 342 in the Enchanted Hunters Hotel, and will eventually visit 342 hotels. Also, McFate continually brings Humbert into contact with Clare Quilty. Though he has not yet appeared physically in the narrative, Quilty is never far from Humbert. Quilty is the celebrity whom Lolita adores, and whom Humbert resembles. When Humbert gets a toothache, Charlotte recommends Dr. Ivor Quilty, Clare Quilty’s uncle. Humbert relies on McFate to explain the inexplicable and to give order to his life. Similarly, Nabokov uses McFate to hide clues and highlight thematic patterns in the novel.
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