Written by the fictional John Ray Jr., Ph.D., the foreword informs us that the author of this manuscript, entitled Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male, died of heart failure in 1952, while imprisoned and awaiting trial. He does not mention what the author was arrested for. The author’s lawyer, C. C. Clark, contacted Ray to edit and possibly publish the manuscript, but only after the death of the title character. Ray, who had previously edited works on abnormal psychology, makes some changes to ensure the anonymity of the characters. He states, however, that he had very little editing to do, and the book is entirely the invention and creation of the author. He feels that to change it further would not be true to the author’s intent or to the richness of the subject matter.
Ray states that while the story in the manuscript is entirely true, almost all names have been changed because its sordid nature. The exception is the name Lolita, which is the title character’s nickname (her real name is Dolores) and too intertwined with the tale to be changed. Lolita’s last name, however, has been changed to the pseudonym “Haze.” The author had chosen his own pseudonym, “Humbert Humbert.” Ray notes that a diligent reader would be able to ascertain the events of the novel by researching news events in the fall of 1952. He then summarizes the fates of various characters in the novel, including the death of a Mrs. Richard Schiller. He states that he received some confirmatory details from at least one person, a Mr. “Windmuller,” who does not want his family to be connected with the author or his crimes in any way.
Ray admits that despite its lack of four-letter words, the book may be considered very offensive by some. Nonetheless, he argues that to change the language or wording of the novel would be to dilute its essence and its sensuous detail. Ray states that he finds Humbert Humbert’s actions reprehensible and his opinions ludicrous. However, he nevertheless thinks that the author manages to be very persuasive, articulate, and seemingly sincere in his love for Lolita. Given his background as an editor of psychology, Ray provides some psychological insight into the author’s character. He suggests that about 12 percent of the adult male population may share Humbert’s condition and further posits the notion that, with the help of a competent psychoanalyst, the tragedies in the novel might have been avoided. Ray believes that this manuscript will become a classic in psychiatric circles, where it will be read as a personal study of abnormal behavior. It may also prove to be a cautionary tale, encouraging parents to be vigilant in the rearing of their children.
The title of the manuscript clearly indicates that the story is a confession, but the title also provides for the doubling of stories with its use of the word or. Since the author died in jail, the reader may assume that he is confessing to a crime. Ray does not say what crime the author is in jail for, but he does indicate that Humbert is a pedophile. The reader will later learn that Humbert is in fact being tried for murder rather than pedophilia. Yet the confession concerns itself almost entirely with the pedophiliac affair (or love affair, as Humbert argues) between the “widowed white male” and the title character, Lolita. The doubling of the title also indicates that more than one story will be told. Indeed, the manuscript tells not only of the confession of the Humbert, but of the strange life of its nymphet character, Lolita. Finally, the doubling of the title mimics the doubling of the author’s pseudonym, Humbert Humbert. Nabokov uses the linguistic pattern of doubled words and doubled characters to suggest the play of—and overlap between—opposites. .
Ray’s assertion that the novel tells a true story mocks the popular fascination with lurid crimes and tabloid newspaper articles. Painstakingly, Ray comments on the fates of many of the characters. Even here, Nabokov plays games in order to keep the reader guessing. Though Ray admits that there is indeed a real Lolita, he notably does not identify her fate during this time. He does, however, note the demise of a Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, a ploy that will become clear to the reader only near the end of the book. Nabokov also invites the reader to investigate the factual events in newspaper archives but explains that those events will not provide the whole story. Throughout the novel, many characters will claim to be honest, only to have ulterior motives and trick the reader as well as other characters. The factual truth is ultimately less interesting than the manner in which that truth is recounted
In both his narrative voice and his point of view, the framing device of John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., creates a point of view distinct from both Humbert and Nabokov. Ray represents the book’s first reader, and, like him, we may have many contradictory responses toward Lolita. While clearly disgusted by Humbert’s crimes, Ray nonetheless admires Humbert’s literary skill and his honest passion for Lolita. Ray, a believer in psychology and an editor of psychological books, does not represent Nabokov’s attitude toward psychology. Nabokov was, in real life, an outspoken critic of psychoanalysis and Freud, and Ray’s reliance on a psychological explanation for Humbert’s actions will soon seem comical as the story unfolds. For Nabokov, psychology was often a simplistic and rudimentary explanation for complex human behavior. Though many characters pay lip service to psychology throughout the novel, sheer psychological explanations soon prove inadequate. In particular, Ray’s insistence that Lolita is a “cautionary” tale will appear less like a valid analysis and more like a desperate attempt to justify his admiration for a manuscript of such objectionable subject matter.