Part One, Chapters 23–27
Summary: Chapter 23
After receiving the phone call, Humbert races outside to discover Charlotte dead. She had tripped on the wet cement and fallen into the path of a car, which was swerving to avoid hitting a dog. Humbert quietly retrieves the letters she had been planning to mail and tears them up. The Farlows arrive, and Humbert begins drinking. That night, Humbert reads the letters, one of which is addressed to Lolita, one to a reformatory school where Charlotte planned to send Lolita, and one to Humbert himself. Later, Humbert implies to John and Jean Farlow that he and Charlotte had an affair many years ago, when he was still married to Valeria. Jean rushes to the conclusion that Humbert is Lolita’s real father. Humbert asks them not to tell Lolita of her mother’s death, so as not to ruin her time at camp. He tells them of his plans to take her away on a trip.
Summary: Chapter 24
The driver of the car that killed Charlotte, Mr. Frederick Beale, Jr., comes to apologize but states that Charlotte was at fault. Humbert agrees. In private, Humbert feels guilty over not having destroyed his journal, and weeps. The next day, as Humbert leaves to get Lolita, Jean, who has become very attracted to him, kisses him passionately.
Summary: Chapter 25
Humbert muses on the coincidences that have brought him to Lolita but doesn’t allow himself to become too excited by the thought of being with her. Trying to plan how to steal Lolita away without looking suspicious, Humbert becomes plagued by doubts. He plans to take her out of the camp by claiming that her mother has fallen sick, but he can’t be sure that Lolita hasn’t already heard about Charlotte’s death. Unfortunately, Lolita has gone on a hike and won’t return for two days. Humbert buys Lolita many presents, including clothing, as he knows her measurements almost by heart. He also makes a reservation at a hotel called the Enchanted Hunters, which Charlotte had mentioned to him before her death.
Summary: Chapter 26
Humbert, worn down by prison life, considers abandoning his account. He writes Lolita’s name out several times, and then commands the person who will eventually print his novel to keep repeating her name until the page is full.
Summary: Chapter 27
When Humbert picks up Lolita from the camp, he thinks for a moment that he might want to simply be a good father to her. That moment passes, however, and he realizes he still loves her. Humbert tells Lolita that her mother is in the hospital, and they drive off. Lolita tells Humbert that she’s been unfaithful to him, but then she kisses him flirtatiously. In the midst of their kiss, a policeman stops them and asks after the whereabouts of a blue sedan, which Humbert and Lolita profess not to have seen. They arrive at the Enchanted Hunters and take room 342. Unable to get a cot for Lolita, Humbert realizes they will have to share a double bed. Lolita giggles and says that would be incest. In the room, Lolita shows Humbert how to kiss, but she soon loses interest in what they’re doing. Downstairs, in the dining room, Lolita spots someone who looks like Quilty, the celebrity she admires. Back in the room, Humbert gives Lolita a sleeping pill, and she soon becomes drowsy. As she falls asleep, she tells Humbert that she has been a disgusting girl, but Humbert tells her to tell him tomorrow. Humbert locks the door and goes downstairs.
As Humbert settles into the role of the grieving widower, Charlotte’s death touches him with an apparently genuine remorse, but he still cannot bring himself to deny his desire for Lolita. The friction generated by Humbert’s intense appetites and his refusal to be bound by conventional morality will continue throughout the novel. Ever the sophisticated European, Humbert scoffs at Charlotte’s bourgeois morality and her vulgar pretensions to class, yet he too believes in presenting a façade of respectability that ultimately is not matched by an internal sense of decency. Whenever Humbert feels guilt or attempts to be fatherly, he lingers for a moment before brushing the feeling aside. Humbert continually mocks the adult women who are attracted to him, and their naively romantic notions. However, Humbert’s own desires are equally intense and equally starry-eyed, and those passions control Humbert as much, if not more, as the women’s passions control them. Despite the eloquence with which he argues his case, Humbert is guilty of precisely the same faults as the women he scorns.
The hand of McFate, which we have already seen working in previous sections of the novel, provides numerous coincidences in these chapters as well. For example, Lolita and Humbert stay in Room 342 at the Enchanted Hunters, the same number as the Hazes’ street address. At the hotel, Lolita spots a man who resembles Clare Quilty, the playwright whose picture she once had on her bedroom wall. In the car, Humbert and Lolita share a kiss that gets interrupted by a policeman looking for a blue sedan. He doesn’t comment on the kiss, even though Lolita states that Humbert should have been arrested—for speeding. This foreshadows the final section of the novel in which Humbert, after killing Quilty, is indeed arrested for speeding. The policeman’s lack of interest in the kiss implies a certain societal tolerance of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita, a situation that Humbert is more than willing to exploit.
A final instance of McFate at work can be seen in the name of the hotel, the Enchanted Hunters. Later in the novel, Lolita will star in a play of the same name, written by none other than Clare Quilty. The phrase itself represents many things, but it most clearly refers to Humbert himself. He frequently claims that he been spellbound by nymphets who possess magical powers and mythical qualities. Humbert is enchanted by Lolita, the object of his obsession, both in the charming, familiar sense of the word and the more distressing, literal sense of being bewitched or spellbound. Later in the novel, Humbert will also become a hunter—first of Lolita, then of Quilty. Humbert notices these strange coincidences in prison, as he writes the manuscript and ruminates on events from his past. Similarly, we won’t discover the full import of these clues until the novel has ended, and we can look backward to construct a pattern of incidents.
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