2. In a nervous and slender-leaved
mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the
ruins of a low stone wall. Through the darkness and the tender trees
we could see arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by
the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing
cards—presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy.
This quotation appears toward the end
of Part One, Chapter 4, as Humbert describes his first unsuccessful
tryst with Annabel Leigh. He portrays the location as a fairy-tale
setting, a hidden grove of adolescent love forbidden to adults.
Because of the deep personal significance the event holds for him,
his assignation with Annabel grows to mythic proportions in Humbert’s
memory. Memory, for Nabokov, is not a matter of remembered sentences
and scenes, but a jumble of emotions and images that recreate particular
feelings. Humbert’s association of the windows with the adults’
bridge game reinforces the urgency of the secret encounter, as well
as the ever-present threat of society’s intrusion. From this point
forward, part of Humbert’s attraction to nymphets will forever be
tied to the illicit nature of his desire. Additionally, when Humbert
first consummates his passion with Lolita in the Enchanted Hunters
hotel, he daydreams about making the hotel into a more natural setting.
Though this daydream isn’t explicitly connected to Humbert’s first
encounter with Annabel, the sexual connotations are clear.
Readers have often accused the novel of being pornographic because
it addresses pedophilia so directly, but portraying sex explicitly
was not Nabokov’s intention. Humbert’s description of his encounter
with Annabel is as sexual as the novel gets. He rarely describes
his sexual relations with Lolita in any detail, preferring to describe
the details before and the satisfaction afterwards. Though his encounter
with Annabel has been romanticized in his head, his affair with
Lolita is too close to his heart even to share with the reader.
Nabokov, like Humbert himself, is less interested in sexuality or
pedophilia than in the insurmountable nature of desire itself. Humbert
describes Lolita’s shoes or skin with great detail but omits portraying
the act of consummation. Desire makes him fixate upon the smallest
detail of Lolita’s existence and does not limit itself to merely
the sexual act. Lolita often misinterprets Humbert’s desire to be
close to her as a desire for sex, which is not always the case.