Humbert reveals the darker side of his personality during his adult years, which are marked with periods of anger, rage, and lust. Though Humbert speaks eloquently and persuasively, he is also prone to volcanic rages and cold, calculating cruelty. For example, his terrific anger and murderous thoughts upon learning of Valeria’s affair foreshadow his many instances of violence later in the novel. Also, Humbert alludes to several nervous breakdowns and bouts of madness. Though he attributes these breakdowns to melancholia, he does not describe them in detail, and the reader must wonder what kind of mental illness Humbert suffers from. Humbert once again dismisses the practice of psychology by playing games with the psychologists who analyze him. Yet he will describe himself as a madman numerous times, and his tenuous grasp on sanity will be tested throughout the book. Humbert’s tendency toward violence, along with his obsessive nature, will prove to be his downfall in the novel, and more powerful forces than his eloquence or his education.
Humbert’s encounters with adult women are often darkly comic. He enters into both his marriages with coldly rational motives that have little to do with love or affection. He marries Valeria because his obsession with nymphets worries him, and he wants to become a normal man. However, this attempt at normalcy fails, and he finds both his wives coarse and intellectually inferior. He does not describe his encounters with Valeria in detail, and the reader will see later in the novel that he was quite cruel to her. When Valeria confesses her infidelities in this section, however, Nabokov infuses the scene with black humor. As Humbert seethes in anger, Valeria’s taxi driver lover apologizes for his transgression in bad French and Valeria dissolves into hilariously melodramatic tears as she packs. The comic action of the scene thwarts Humbert’s attempts to demand satisfaction, but the sparing of Valeria spares Humbert, as well. Driven to laughter by the antics of the two lovers, the reader becomes distracted and shielded from the extremes of Humbert’s rage. And by not killing his wife, Humbert manages to hold onto the reader’s sympathy for a while longer.