4. “Do you really want to know who it was? Well, it was—”
And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows and puckering her parched lips, she emitted, a little mockingly, somewhat fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted whistle that name that the astute reader had guessed long ago.
In this passage, located in the middle of Chapter 29 of Part Two, Lolita solves the novel’s mystery by revealing the identity of her kidnapper and Humbert’s pursuer. Yet Nabokov still plays games with the traditional mystery genre. Like a good mystery writer, he builds suspense with the large string of adjectives describing Lolita’s answer—all of which (mocking, fastidious, not untenderly) indicate her feelings for Quilty. Then, even at the end, Nabokov withholds the answer, giving not the name but the shape of Lolita’s lips making the name, something that the enamored Humbert would no doubt focus on. Nabokov does not reveal the name itself, and though Lolita will describe Quilty and their circumstances in more detail later, at this point the reader is supplied only with the word waterproof. Though seemingly out of context, waterproof refers to a comment made by Charlotte at Hourglass Lake about Humbert’s watch, just as Jean Farlow began a story about Ivor Quilty’s dangerous nephew Clare Quilty. The story was never finished, but it was the first time that Quilty was referred to in the novel.
The presence of the word waterproof, as a substitute for the easy answer of “Quilty,” indicates that Nabokov expects the reader to be an active participant throughout the novel. He includes dozens of references to Quilty before this point, and, as Humbert states, an astute reader who participates in the games in and patterns of the novel would have guessed this name long ago. Humbert himself was too blinded by desire and his own lack of self-awareness to see his double in Quilty. The use of waterproof as an answer also indicates Nabokov’s method of linking fact with memory, which comes not in clean lines, but in instinctive recollections and associations. The name Quilty brings Humbert back to the moment where he might first have realized the danger Quilty represented to him and to Lolita. Nabokov uses the word waterproof to evoke memory instead of explicitly alluding to the scene at Hourglass Lake. Memory and thought, for Nabokov, are less scientific and rather a matter of jumbled images and moments.
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