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Humbert retraces the tour he and Lolita took across the
country, attempting to find some clues as to Lolita’s whereabouts.
As he revisits the 342 hotels and motels they stayed at, he learns
that Lolita’s abductor had been following them for some time. The
abductor has signed into various hotel registers with a series of
sophisticated, wittily allusive fake names. Humbert deduces that
Lolita and the kidnapper have been in touch since the beginning
of their road trip.
Upon returning to Beardsley, Humbert plans to accost an
art professor at Beardsley College, who once taught a class at Lolita’s
school. As he sits outside the professor’s classroom with the gun
in his pocket, Humbert realizes that his suspicions have made him
paranoid. Humbert hires a detective, who proves to be useless.
Humbert imagines he sees Lolita everywhere and tries rid
himself of her possessions. He writes a missing persons ad in verse.
Humbert psychoanalyzes his own poem but does not post it.
In his loneliness, Humbert begins a relationship with
Rita, a woman in her late twenties with a checkered history. Humbert
finds her ignorant but comforting, and their relationship lasts
for two years. During this time, Humbert gives up his search for
Lolita’s abductor and spends his time wandering with Rita, drinking
heavily. Nonetheless, he finds himself returning to the old hotels
to relive memories of Lolita. He cannot, however, bring himself
to go to the Enchanted Hunters hotel. Meanwhile, Rita grows increasingly unstable
and becomes convinced that Humbert will leave her.
Gradually, Rita and Humbert begin to live apart, though
Humbert visits her frequently. During one visit, Humbert discovers
that two letters have been forwarded to him. The first is from John
Farlow, who remarried after Jean died of cancer. John states that
he has handed over the complicated case of the Haze estate to an
attorney named Jack Windmuller. The second letter is from Lolita.
Addressing Humbert as “Dad,” she writes that she has become Mrs.
Richard F. Schiller and is currently pregnant. She writes asking
for money but withholds her home address in case Humbert is still angry.
After reading the letter, Humbert goes in search of Lolita
and her new husband. Taking the gun along with him, Humbert plans
to kill Lolita’s husband, whom he assumes is the same man who abducted Lolita
from the hospital. Though Lolita didn’t give her specific address,
Humbert manages to find the town she lives in, Coalmont. Nervous
and agitated, Humbert bathes and dresses in his finest clothes before
inquiring after the Schillers.
Humbert finally tracks Lolita down to a small, clapboard
house on Hunter Road. Lolita has grown taller and wears glasses
now, and is hugely pregnant. Though she has matured past the nymphet
stage, Humbert realizes he still loves her deeply. Humbert sees
Lolita’s husband, Dick, a simple working man, outside in the yard.
Lolita tells Humbert that Dick knows nothing about their past sexual
relationship. Humbert realizes that Dick didn’t abduct Lolita from
the hospital, and Lolita, wanting Humbert’s financial help, confesses
that the man who took her was the playwright Clare Quilty.
Lolita describes Quilty as the great love of her life.
She tells Humbert that Quilty knew Charlotte and had come to Ramsdale
many times to visit his uncle, Ivor Quilty, the dentist. Dick comes
inside the house, and Lolita introduces Humbert as her father. Humbert realizes
that he bears the man no ill will. When Dick returns outside, Lolita
continues her story. After she ran away with Quilty, she lived on
his ranch with his friends, all of whom engaged in strange sexual practices.
Lolita refused to participate, claiming that she only loved Quilty,
and Quilty kicked her out. She found work as a waitress and eventually
met Dick. Humbert realizes that he will love Lolita until he dies
and begs her to come away with him. Lolita thinks Humbert might
give her money if she goes to a motel with him, but Humbert says
he’ll give her the money regardless of her answer and hands her four
thousand dollars. Lolita is excited by the money but firmly and gently
refuses to go away with Humbert, saying she would rather go back
to Quilty. Humbert leaves her with the money and drives off, weeping.
These chapters continue to play with the idea that Lolita has
transformed into a detective novel. After losing Lolita, Humbert
goes on a wild goose chase, retracing their previous road trips.
He uncovers seemingly incredible coincidences, such as when he realizes
that he and Lolita met at 342 Lawn Street, consummated their relationship in
Room 342 of the Enchanted Hunters hotel, and registered in 342 hotels
across the United States. However, these clues don’t add up to anything.
In the end, the presence of these incessant, repetitive numbers
shows that Humbert was right, and McFate did indeed play a role
in his journey. Beyond that, they represent nothing more than a meaningless
string of fascinating flukes.
Similarly, the clues that Lolita’s abductor has scattered
along the way prove to be nothing more than teases, providing insights
into the personality of the kidnapper but no concrete evidence as
to his identity. We learn that the mysterious stranger is witty
and well read, and shares Humbert’s own interest in puns and word
games. However, the anagrams, Latin phrases, and literary allusions
seem to do nothing more than proclaim their own presence, since
Humbert eventually gives up on the prospect of finding Lolita. The
mystery of Lolita’s disappearance can’t be solved by any ordinary
kind of investigation, as we learn from the comically ineffectual
detective Humbert ends up hiring. Long after any information might
have proved useful, the private eye reports “an eighty-year-old
Indian by the name of Bill Brown lived near Dolores, Colo.” The
fake registry entry for a “Will Brown, Dolores, Colo.” ends up having
an unexpected basis in reality, but the connection remains a specious
one; for all the names and numbers Humbert collects, they end up amounting
to nothing more than “nonsense data.”
Humbert’s reaction to losing Lolita, as well as his reaction
to seeing her again, exemplifies just how complicated his feelings
for Lolita truly are. Over the course of the novel, Humbert has
always strived to demonstrate that he’s not a common pedophile.
For example, he grants his desire mythic qualities, describing the
objects of his affection as magical creatures capable of bewitching
a man. Humbert believes that, rather than signifying some kind of
deviant tendency, his love for young girls demonstrates his refined
aesthetic sense. By linking all subsequent girls to the original
girl, Annabel Leigh, Humbert also situates the girls within the
dramatic narrative arc of his own life. The nymphets become symbols
of Humbert’s deep, innate romanticism, not victims of his abnormal
appetites. In this section of the novel, his attitude toward nymphets
changes. Now that he’s lost Lolita, Humbert still finds himself
sexually drawn to young girls, but he suppresses that craving more
forcefully and can’t imagine copulating with them anymore. When
he sees her again, he realizes that Lolita is now long past her
nymphet phase, yet he finds that he’s still smitten with her. It’s
up to the reader, as Humbert’s jury, to decide whether this devotion
constitutes a genuinely selfless love and, if so, whether that excuses
Similarly, we have to determine whether Clare Quilty’s
crimes are categorically worse than Humbert’s. Humbert would argue
that his feelings for Lolita are authentically romantic, while Clare’s
are basely sexual. Humbert has always situated his relationship
with Lolita in a larger artistic context, comparing the two of them
to figures from literature and history. Clare is an artist as well
but produces the kind of art Humbert denigrates as vulgar and unsubtle. Given
that Humbert has always tried—unsuccessfully—to cultivate a taste
for fine art in Lolita, the fact that Lolita believes Clare to be a
“genius” seems cruelly ironic. Humbert feels disgusted by Clare’s attempt
to use his status as an artist to shield and excuse his perverse behavior.
However, Humbert is just as guilty of artistically manipulating
the situation. After all, Lolita is not a straightforward,
disinterested account of the events in question. Humbert has taken literature,
his chosen medium, and fashioned a piece of art that beguiles its
audience as cleverly as Lolita beguiles him.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lolita!