Part One, Chapters 28–33
Summary: Chapter 28
Humbert eagerly anticipates caressing the unconscious Lolita. He claims that he hadn’t planned on taking Lolita’s innocence or purity but merely wanted to fondle her while she slept. He admits that it should have been clear to him then that Lolita and Annabel were not the same, and that if he had known what pain and trouble would follow, he would have done things differently. Downstairs, Humbert wanders through the hotel’s public rooms. On the terrace, he encounters a man who insinuatingly accuses him of behaving inappropriately with Lolita. Each time Humbert asks the man to repeat himself, however, the man feigns innocence and pretends to make idle chit-chat about the weather. The man, who remains half-hidden in the shadows, invites Humbert and Lolita to lunch the following day, but Humbert plans to be gone with Lolita by then.
Summary: Chapter 29
Humbert returns to the hotel room to find Lolita half awake. He climbs into bed with her but doesn’t make any advances. Anxious and excited, Humbert stays awake all night. In the morning, Lolita wakes up and nuzzles him as he feigns sleep. She asks him if he ever had sex as a youth. When Humbert says no, Lolita has sex with him. Humbert states that, for her, sex was just another activity between children, unconnected to what adults do behind closed doors.
Summary: Chapter 30
Humbert launches into a dreamy description of how he would repaint the Enchanted Hunters hotel in order to make the setting of his first encounter with Lolita a more natural, romantic one.
Summary: Chapter 31
Humbert once again defends his actions as natural, using history as evidence. He notes that according to an old magazine in the prison library, a girl from the more temperate climates of America becomes mature in her twelfth year. He further reminds the reader, whom he calls his jury, that he wasn’t even Lolita’s first lover.
Summary: Chapter 32
Lolita recounts her first sexual experiences. Astonished by Humbert’s naïveté, she tells him that many of her friends have already experimented sexually with one another. At summer camp, she used to stand guard while her friend Barbara and Charlie, the camp-mistress’s son, copulated in the bushes. Soon, Lolita’s curiosity led her to have sex with Charlie as well, and she and Barbara began taking turns with the boy. Lolita says it was fun but expresses contempt for Charlie’s manners and intelligence. Humbert gives Lolita the various presents he bought for her, and they prepare to leave the hotel. He warns Lolita not to talk to strangers. He later notices a man, about his age, staring at Lolita while she reads a movie magazine in an armchair. Humbert thinks the man resembles his Swiss uncle Gustave.
Humbert becomes upset by Lolita’s shifting moods and her seeming disinterest in him, and he worries about how to keep their new arrangement a secret. As they drive off, he tries to uncover what Lolita’s friends know about her sexuality, but Lolita is in a bad mood and irritated by Humbert’s touches. Humbert feels guilty but still desires her, and she remains confused and unhappy. Even as he tries to cheer her up, Lolita says that she was only an innocent girl and that she should tell the police that Humbert raped her. Humbert can’t tell if she’s joking or not. Lolita complains of pains and accuses Humbert of tearing something inside her. Lolita becomes angry and upset and demands to call her mother. Humbert tells her that her mother is dead.
Summary: Chapter 33
Humbert buys Lolita many things in the town of Lepingville. In the hotel, they have separate rooms, and he can hear Lolita crying. Sometime in the night, she creeps into his bed because, as Humbert says, she has nowhere else to go.
As Humbert and Lolita’s relationship transforms into a blatantly sexual one, Humbert’s demonstrated duplicity and seductive skill with language should make us question whether we can fully trust his description of the affair. In particular, Humbert’s claim that Lolita seduced him, rather than the other way around, seems suspicious. Like many adolescents, Lolita appears to have mixed feelings toward sex, ranging from mild repulsion to enthusiastic curiosity. Until now, she has appeared to be a flirtatious, vulgar girl of mercurial moods, whose supposed crush on Humbert varies in intensity from moment to moment. As she eagerly questions Humbert about his sexual relationship with her mother, we can see that she clearly has a teenager’s typical interest in sexuality. However, despite the passionate kisses she shares with Humbert, sex seems mostly a game to Lolita. She describes her clandestine encounters with Charlie as fun, but in the same chapter she makes reference to the “disgusting” things that she learned at camp. She clearly enjoys Humbert’s attentions yet often grows bored with his unceasing ardor.
Humbert doesn’t describe the actual act of sex with Lolita in any detail. One reason may be that his desire for Lolita encompasses something beyond physical lust—even when Humbert drugs Lolita, he mostly daydreams about examining her body, rather than about actually forcing himself on her. In some sense, Humbert’s refusal to describe the event explicitly may represent a desire to preserve the sanctity of the act, or of Lolita herself. However, Humbert’s reticence about the physical act of sex may be simply a strategy to keep the reader from being too disgusted with him, enabling him to keep alive the romantic element of his narrative.
Whether or not Lolita initiates the seduction, it would be hard to argue that Lolita consciously intends to transform her relationship with Humbert into a real love affair. Left to her own devices, Lolita might not have chosen to continue with Humbert after their initial sexual encounter. Indeed, after their first night together, Lolita becomes sullen. Her frequent references to rape and incest indicate that she understands the impropriety of their relationship, but her cool self-awareness suggests that she isn’t as outraged as we might expect. However, despite the fact that Lolita often seems quite composed and self-controlled for a child, the fact remains that she is deeply affected by her first sexual encounter with an adult. Like many adolescents, she isn’t prepared to handle the emotions that arise from sex, let alone the emotions that arise from sex with a grown man who happens to be her stepfather. The next morning, she wants to call her mother. While she may not exactly understand what has gone wrong, she still seeks consolation from the person who was supposed to be her protector.
Just as Humbert consummates his relationship with Lolita, Clare Quilty appears as Humbert’s dark shadow. Quilty remains a mysterious form throughout the novel, a trickster figure and a game player who never quite comes to light. Lolita fascinates him, but Quilty doesn’t seem as controlled by his desires as Humbert is by his. This self-control will eventually distinguish Quilty from Humbert in Lolita’s eyes. Humbert, unaware of the role that Quilty will play in his life and the danger he represents, fails to recognize him as the celebrity that Lolita adores, and whom he himself resembles. Instead, he notes Quilty’s resemblance to a Swedish relative of his, Gustave Trapp. This represents an ironic kind of recognition, since Trapp and Humbert, being relatives, presumably resemble each other as well. The fact that Humbert links Quilty with Trapp, rather than himself, seems a perverse refusal to admit how he and Quilty are connected—and, ultimately, very similar. Humbert’s inability to see Quilty—to neither recognize nor to literally see him, since he is often standing at a distance, or in the shadows—represents an powerlessness on Humbert’s part to accurately see himself.
Freed from the constraint of friends, family, and watchful society, Humbert can now take advantage of Lolita, since, as he himself observes, Lolita has nowhere else to go. As the novel progresses, Humbert’s control over Lolita becomes more and more forceful, just as she tries harder and harder to escape. Significantly, Lolita surrenders to Humbert in the town of Lepingville, a name that recalls Nabokov’s fascination with lepidoptery, or the study of butterflies. Like a butterfly collector, Humbert will pin Lolita down and eventually drain her of the lively, whimsical quality that he loved in the first place.
By the end of this section, Humbert seems to have passed a point of no return, abandoning his already tenuous commitment to morality or decency. For example, despite her problems with her mother, Lolita becomes understandably distraught upon hearing of Charlotte’s death and cries herself to sleep. Yet Humbert remains steadfastly attached to his plan, even as he knows that she crawls into bed with him because she has nowhere else to go. His obsession leads him to believe that he can fulfill all of Lolita’s needs and keep her from needing anyone else besides him. This belief represents one of Humbert’s many delusions about Lolita. He remains remarkably insensitive to her feelings, ascribing her sullenness to mysterious bad moods rather than genuine grief at her mother’s death or genuine disgust with the sexual act. Humbert sees only his own nymphet, not the real thirteen-year-old girl. Charlotte was similarly obsessed with Humbert and saw only an erudite European, rather than a dissolute, middle-aged pedophile. Both parental figures are blinded by their own passion and fail to be proper parents and protectors to Lolita.
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