Part Two, Chapters 4–11
Summary: Chapter 4
With the help of Humbert’s acquaintance Gaston Godin, Humbert and Lolita move to 14 Thayer Street, an unimpressive house in Beardsley. Humbert is disappointed in the Beardsley School for Girls, which emphasizes social skills rather than intellectual achievement. The headmistress, Pratt, believes that Beardsley girls must focus on the “four D’s”: Dramatics, Dance, Debating, and Dating. Humbert is appalled, but some teachers reassure him that the girls do some good, solid schoolwork. The Thayer Street house has a view of the school playground, which pleases Humbert, since he believes he will be able to watch Lolita and, he hopes, other nymphets. Unfortunately, builders arrive to make changes and block his view.
Summary: Chapter 5
Humbert describes Beardsley and his neighbors, with whom he is on civil yet distant terms. He constantly worries that they might snoop on his arrangement. Humbert also worries that Lolita might confide in their cook, Mrs. Holigan, and tries to make sure that they are never left alone together.
Summary: Chapter 6
Humbert’s friendship with Gaston Godin, a popular man regarded as a French sophisticate and genius scholar, smoothes his arrival in the new town of Beardsley. Gaston knows all of the small boys in the neighborhood and has portraits of them, as well as famous artists, in his home. Humbert enjoys their occasional chess games but finds Gaston to be a mediocre scholar and somewhat dim-witted.
Summary: Chapter 7
Humbert and Lolita’s relationship has become more strained. Despite her allowance and many small presents, Lolita wants more money, and she starts to demand it before performing sexual favors. Humbert periodically breaks into her room to steal back her savings so she cannot run away from him.
Summary: Chapter 8
Humbert worries about Lolita attracting boys, and he reads the local paper’s teen advice column for instruction. He allows Lolita to interact with some boys in groups, but never alone, a rule that upsets Lolita. Despite his attempt to control every aspect of Lolita’s life, Humbert can’t be sure that she hasn’t stolen away with a boy. However, he has no particular boy to suspect. Humbert imagines how others see him and wonders how he has managed to fool everyone. He still lives in a constant state of anxiety.
Summary: Chapter 9
Humbert finds himself disappointed by Lolita’s friends, few of whom are nymphets. He talks to Lolita’s friend Mona to discover if Lolita has any boyfriends, but Mona, rather than supplying Humbert with details, seems attracted to him instead.
Summary: Chapter 10
In a brief aside, Humbert describes how, sometimes, he would crawl over to Lolita’s desk while she was doing her homework and beg for some affection. Each time, Lolita rebuffs him.
Summary: Chapter 11
One day, Pratt informs Humbert that Lolita isn’t maturing sexually and exhibits disciplinary problems. Pratt’s psychological analysis bothers Humbert, as do the evaluations given by Lolita’s teachers. Pratt ends by asking Humbert if Lolita knows about sex, and she tells him that Lolita should start dating boys and, furthermore, that she should be allowed to take part in the school play. Pratt goes on to say that Lolita has an alarming vocabulary of curse words. After his appointment with Pratt, Humbert goes to see Lolita in the study room, where Lolita and another girl are reading quietly. Sitting beside Lolita, and behind the other girl, Humbert pays Lolita sixty-five cents to masturbate him.
Like Ramsdale, Beardsley is a quiet, placid little town where neighbors are on good terms and families meet happily in the streets. Even the Beardsley School for Girls is essentially an artistic finishing school, designed to teach girls to be pleasant and polite company. In many ways, Beardsley represents the very model of a clean, family-oriented 1950s town, but, like Ramsdale, secrets lurk just beneath the surface. Nabokov indicates, for example, that the beloved Gaston is a pedophile with a penchant for small boys, luring them to his home with the promise of chores and small chocolates. The portraits of young boys which hang in Gaston’s home are matched and echoed by the portraits of artists, all of whom are homosexual, which also hang on Gaston’s walls.
Humbert doesn’t think much of Gaston, yet the bare facts of their situations are remarkably similar, as both men are pedophiles who manage to fool conventional society—particularly that element of society with aesthetic and cultural pretensions. Similarly, Lolita’s friends, though they are young teenagers in a small town, seem sexually knowledgeable and experienced. Mona, for example, has already had a relationship with a marine. And the Beardsley School, for all its old-fashioned ideals, is nonetheless very concerned with the sexual and romantic lives of its students. On the surface, Beardsley is a proper small town, but, like Humbert, the genteel image hides darker lusts and motives.
Humbert’s suddenly blocked view of the playground foreshadows Humbert’s weakening grip on Lolita and her newly developed aptitude for deception. Once established in the small town, Humbert expects that he and Lolita will live as a normal family during the day while continuing to be lovers at night. However, Lolita’s unhappiness, as well as her normal adolescent tendencies, causes her both to rebel against Humbert and to attempt to manipulate him. Humbert bemoans her lack of morals as she starts demanding higher fees for sexual favors, and he becomes increasingly paranoid as Lolita establishes herself in her new community. The relationship parodies the standard father–teenage-daughter relationship, with Humbert establishing rules and Lolita finding ways to rebel. Ultimately, Humbert’s fears are realized when Lolita joins the school play. The combination of Quilty’s influence and her new dramatic training will teach Lolita enough to escape her stepfather completely.
Nabokov’s humorous, though disturbing, depiction of an encounter between Humbert and Pratt is indicative of the darkly ironic humor that pervades the novel. The more Pratt talks about Lolita’s sexuality, the more Humbert appears to be embarrassed. The more embarrassed Humbert appears, the more Pratt engages in simplistic psychological analysis of Lolita. Not only is her highly inaccurate diagnosis of Lolita’s sexual knowledge a slight to the practice of psychology, but it also reinforces Humbert’s belief that he has managed to fool everyone. Pratt’s injunction that Humbert take charge of his daughter’s sexual education gets fulfilled, but in a way that grossly parodies her initial intent. Instead of going to Lolita and paternally teaching her about proper, healthy relations with the opposite sex, Humbert visits Lolita’s classroom and pays her sixty-five cents to discreetly put her hands down his pants. The scene represents yet another moment where Humbert passes a moral threshold in his actions. Humbert is growing reckless, not only bringing their sexual relationship into a public place, but doing so in the presence of another young girl. The nameless other girl—who seems doll-like, with her porcelain skin and platinum hair—and the classroom setting add a new element of depravity to the act, as if Humbert is now guilty of violating more than just Lolita.
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