Lolita

by: Vladimir Nabokov

Part Two, Chapters 12–17

Summary Part Two, Chapters 12–17

Analysis

In these chapters, Humbert grows intensely suspicious of both Lolita’s increasing ability to deceive him, as well as the various men they meet on their travels. However, despite his mounting paranoia, Humbert remains unable to grasp the truth of his situation. For example, though he reads The Enchanted Hunters carefully and recognizes the strange coincidence between the play’s title and the name of the hotel where he and Lolita first consummated their relationship, he doesn’t take the production as a warning sign. Unable to see this coincidence as foreshadowing anything, Humbert can only offer a passive, ineffectual response: a intellectual, critical analysis of the play’s literary value. Meanwhile, The Enchanted Hunters brings Clare Quilty directly into Lolita’s life and, presumably, causes her to reevaluate her relationship with Humbert. The production of The Enchanted Hunters is the turning point at which Humbert first begins to lose Lolita, and he fails to recognize its significance.

Humbert’s inability to see the reality of his predicament also extends to his relationship with Lolita. Humbert loves what Lolita represents: a perfect specimen of his ideal type of female, the nymphet. Humbert loves an image of a girl, but not the girl herself. This refusal to acknowledge the real Lolita allows him to observe all the human elements of his iconic woman—her vulgarity, her duplicity, her rebelliousness—and remain steadfastly assured that, somehow, he can possess Lolita forever. Only after losing Lolita will Humbert realize how mistaken he was. At this point in the novel, however, Humbert is still the enchanted hunter, too spellbound by his obsession to comprehend the reality of his lover or the imminent threat Quilty represents.

In these chapters, Lolita seems less whimsical and more calculating. Up to this point, we might have assumed that Lolita’s temperamental moods could be attributed to the typically mercurial nature of all teenagers or to the extreme pressure of leading a secret, deviant lifestyle. However, Lolita’s moods seem more planned now. For example, she explains away her missed piano lessons with preternatural calm, even arranging for Mona to lie for her. For once, Humbert’s suspicions seem justified. Humbert blames her dramatic training for teaching Lolita to dissemble, and he’s not entirely wrong: the theater is responsible for her duplicity, but not quite in the way Humbert imagines. Once again, Humbert offers an ineffectual, intellectual response, making a symbolic connection between the necessary pretense involved in acting and the apparent pretense Lolita is employing.

Humbert misses the more simple, straightforward explanation for Lolita’s lies: the theater is responsible for Lolita’s betrayal because the school play introduces her to Quilty. Humbert’s attempts to keep their relationship from changing, as well as his attempt to arrest Lolita’s growth and keep her in a perpetual state of nymphethood, end up having the opposite effect: pushing Lolita away and resisting his fantasy role for her. Lolita and Humbert act out a version of a more traditional parent-child relationship, with Lolita lying and evading her father figure in order to challenge his strict, oppressive regulations. Humbert doesn’t grasp this element of their relationship, which leads him to unquestioningly accept her decision to leave Beardsley.

Even at this early stage, we can see how this journey represents a reversal of the earlier road trip. Whereas Humbert himself planned the first trip, in order to assert his control over and possession of Lolita, he now follows Lolita’s whims and desires, unknowingly facilitating her escape. Previously, Humbert was the enchanted hunter, charmed and fascinated by his prey, Lolita. Now Humbert has become a different kind of enchanted hunter: he’s bewitched and spellbound by Lolita’s duplicity, and, blinded by his own obsession, he is never able to clearly spot his prey, Clare Quilty. If Humbert has become an ineffectual hunter in these chapters, he soon realizes that he’s also become the hunted, as his shadowy double, Clare Quilty, tracks him down in order to steal Lolita.