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As they continue heading west, Humbert becomes increasingly paranoid.
One day, Humbert catches Lolita talking to a strange man, who resembles
Humbert’s relative Gustave Trapp. Lolita says she was simply giving
him directions and shrugs off Humbert’s suspicions. On the road
the next day, Humbert suspects they’re being followed by a red car
but manages to evade it. Lolita says she has misread the tour book,
and by mistake they find themselves at a theater, watching a play
written by Clare Quilty and Vivian Darkbloom. Humbert is suspicious
about the play’s authors but cannot see them well in the shadows.
When questioned, Lolita states that Vivian is actually a man and
Clare is the female author of The Enchanted Hunters.
Humbert recalls that Lolita used to have a crush on the celebrity
Clare Quilty, but Lolita laughs off the idea.
At the post office, Humbert reads a letter to Lolita from
Mona, who describes the school production of The Enchanted
Hunters. When he finishes the letter, he realizes that
Lolita has disappeared. Humbert chases after her, and when he finds
her, Lolita says she had seen one of her friends from Beardsley.
Humbert interrogates her vigorously, but she does not budge in her
story. Humbert tells Lolita that he has written down the license
plate number of the car following them, but he discovers that Lolita
has erased the number and smacks her for it. Later, Humbert realizes
that the man following him—whom he has taken to calling Trapp, after
Humbert’s Swiss relative, whom the man resembles—has been switching
cars. When Humbert’s car gets a flat tire, Trapp stops not far behind
them. Humbert gets out of the car to confront him, but Trapp turns
and speeds away while Humbert’s car, with Lolita at the wheel, starts moving.
Lolita claims that she was trying to stop the car from rolling away.
Humbert begins to keep the gun in his pocket.
Despite believing that Lolita’s acting experience has
taught her to be deceitful, Humbert fondly remembers watching her
go through her drama exercises. However, that thrill doesn’t compare
to the joy he feels while watching Lolita play tennis. Humbert goes
on at length, describing how maddeningly attractive Lolita is on
the tennis courts. He admits that he finds all kinds of games romantic
and magical, including his chess games with Gaston. In the middle
of one tennis game, at a hotel in Colorado, Humbert receives an
urgent note that the Beardsley School has called. However, Humbert
realizes that the school would have no way of getting in touch with
him there. From a window in the hotel, Humbert looks back to the
tennis court and sees a strange man playing doubles with Lolita.
By the time Humbert returns, the man has left and neither Lolita
nor the other doubles pair will tell him about the mysterious stranger.
Lolita tells him she wants to go swimming.
Later, at the pool, Humbert sees a dark-haired man watching
Lolita lasciviously. He sees that Lolita can tell the man is watching
her, and he watches as Lolita flirts with the man from afar. Humbert
recognizes him as Trapp, the man who has been following them, but Trapp
disappears before Humbert can confront him. Humbert drinks heavily
and starts to wonder if he’s imagining Trapp.
Later that night, Lolita claims to be ill. Seeing that
she has a high fever, Humbert takes her to the hospital. He stays
in a nearby motel, separated from Lolita for the first time in two
years. Lolita recovers quickly, and Humbert visits her in the hospital,
bringing presents. He sees a letter on Lolita’s bed tray, but the
nurse insists that it belongs to her, not Lolita. Later, Humbert
himself becomes feverish, but he tells the hospital he’ll pick up
Lolita the following day. However, when he arrives at the hospital,
the doctors inform him that Lolita has already left with her uncle.
Humbert goes into a violent rage but manages to get himself out
of the hospital. He vows to kill Lolita’s abductor.
In this section, the novel begins to resemble a traditional
crime novel and detective story. As in the gangster movies Lolita
adores, Humbert and Lolita find themselves pursued by mysterious
cars and strange, shadowy men. Humbert begins to fall into the role
of a film noir protagonist, adopting the appropriate language and
habits, drinking heavily and calling his gun his “chum.” Both the
reader and Humbert find themselves awash in clues, but many of those clues
will end up as nothing more than red herrings, or dead ends. The
combination of Humbert’s paranoia, the mysterious cars, and Lolita’s
inexplicable absences make Humbert’s situation seem dire indeed.
The more Humbert tries to prevent the inevitable, the less control
he has over Lolita—or even himself. Despairing, he turns to violence,
hoping to eliminate his mounting sense of dread by eliminating his
shadowy pursuer, whom he refers to as “Trapp,” with a pun on “trap”
that is all too appropriate to Humbert’s situation. Humbert’s paranoia
can be attributed, in part, to this shift in the narrative’s genre.
Humbert considers himself an aesthete, an intellectual, and a romantic.
He enjoys styling himself the hero in a love story, but he’s profoundly
unsuited to the role of gumshoe in a hard-boiled thriller.
The butterfly motif continues in these chapters, as Lolita
transforms from girl to woman, from hapless innocent to seemingly
ruthless manipulator. If the novel undergoes a shift in genre, from romance
to crime thriller, Lolita’s role in the narrative shifts as well. Whereas
before, Lolita represented the idealized loved one, she now represents
the femme fatale, a crucial character type in the film noir genre.
Femme fatales are cruel yet irresistible, and, like that category of
character, Lolita grows increasingly indifferent to Humbert’s disintegration,
seducing him into trusting her only to betray him, leading him to
his destruction. Lolita lures Humbert to the summer production of
Quilty’s play but then hides what she knows about Quilty, convincing
Humbert that Quilty is actually a woman. She then defies Humbert
by secretly erasing Quilty’s license plate number. Humbert’s threats
and bribes are having less and less of an effect on Lolita, as she
slips out of Humbert’s control. Like a classic film noir protagonist,
Humbert begins to drink too much and rely too heavily on his gun.
We should note, however, that although Humbert seems to
have fallen into this crime thriller unwittingly, he remains the
narrator of this tale. This means that Humbert controls the shift
in genre, and that the decision to cast himself as the beleaguered,
hapless detective is, ultimately, his. Lolita may come across as
a femme fatale in these chapters, but her inner psyche and secret
intentions remain just as opaque as before: it’s never made clear
whether Lolita is masterminding the whole scheme or whether she’s
simply acting on Quilty’s instructions. Similarly, what Humbert
interprets as a cruel plot to destroy him may, in fact, be the desperate
actions of a girl trying to escape an oppressive, unhealthy situation.
After all, if Humbert can convince us, his jury, that the object
of his sincere devotion cruelly duped him, then he manages to cast
himself as the true victim in this situation, perhaps earning our
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lolita!