Annabel Leigh is Humbert’s first love, and they meet as children when the Leigh family travels to the French Riviera. Approximately the same age, Humbert and Annabel very quickly become infatuated with each other and yearn to consummate their love. They fail to do so, however, when adults inadvertently disrupt their intimate moments, leading them to suffer as their desires go unfulfilled. Humbert recounts their two separate attempts to have sex in detail, and the vivid language that he uses to describe the setting and physicality of these moments emphasizes the almost magical nature of their relationship. When Annabel’s family leaves the Riviera and she unexpectedly dies, the wonder and passion that Humbert felt in her presence becomes mythic in his mind. Annabel transforms into an otherworldly figure that haunts Humbert’s imagination throughout the remainder of his adolescence and early adult years, and while he is uncertain of whether or not his unfulfilled desire for her inspired his attraction to little girls, losing her impacts how he navigates the possibility of losing Lolita. Initially viewing Lolita as a reincarnation of Annabel, Humbert vows to protect his new love in a way that he was unable to when he was a child himself.

One particularly notable element of Annabel’s character is that she shares her name with the primary subject of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “Annabel Lee.” In this poem, the speaker describes a young girl he once knew and fell in love with as a child. Their love, which blossomed “in a kingdom by the sea,” is so powerful and heavenly that the speaker still feels connected to her even after her unexpected death. The parallels between “Annabel Lee” and Humbert’s brief relationship with Annabel are numerous and work to emphasize just how overwhelming his feelings are for her. Choosing the name Annabel Leigh as the pseudonym for his childhood love allows Humbert to imbue her with the otherworldly and angelic qualities that Poe ascribes to his subject, and the connection between the French Riviera and the “kingdom by the sea” heightens the mystical mood of their environment. By alluding to Poe’s work through Annabel’s character, Nabokov invites the reader to consider how the poem’s themes of undying love and unconquerable grief manifest themselves in Humbert’s thoughts and behaviors throughout the novel.