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Upon his release from the sanitarium, Humbert heads for
a small town to stay with a Mr. McCoo. A relative of a friend of
his uncle’s, McCoo has a twelve-year-old daughter, whom Humbert
fantasizes about. When he arrives in the town of Ramsdale, however,
he learns that the McCoos’ house has burned down. Mr. McCoo recommends
a boarding house at 342 Lawn Street, run by the widowed Mrs. Haze.
Neither Mrs. Haze nor the house impress Humbert. He describes her
as a fatally conventional woman, one who, despite her so-called
cultural and community activities, has many pretensions and little
imagination. He realizes with distaste that she will probably try
to seduce him. He finds the house horribly unappealing until he
sees Mrs. Haze’s twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores, sitting on the lawn.
Humbert finds her resemblance to Annabel uncanny and immediately
remembers his time with Annabel twenty-five years ago. He decides
From prison, Humbert recalls passages from his diary regarding
the time he lived at the Haze house in 1947 and his initial thoughts
of Lolita. Almost all his entries describe encounters with Lolita
and contain romantic descriptions of her nymphet qualities, as well
as his various attempts to lure her into his presence. Delighted,
he learns that he resembles a celebrity Lolita adores, which causes Charlotte
to tease Lolita about having a crush on Humbert. Though he knows
that he should not be keeping a journal of his attraction, Humbert
can’t help himself. He often goes into Lolita’s room and touches
her things. He describes Charlotte Haze disdainfully and hates her
for always complaining about Lolita. He knows that he must behave
himself with Charlotte around, so he daydreams about killing her.
Charlotte, Lolita, and Humbert plan to go to Hourglass
Lake for a picnic, but the trip continually gets postponed. Humbert
gets a further disappointment when he learns that a classmate of
Lolita’s will accompany them. Humbert learns that the previous boarder,
elderly Mrs. Phalen, broke her hip and had to leave suddenly, which enabled
Humbert to come and live with the Hazes. Humbert expresses amazement
at how fate led him here, to his dream nymphet.
One Sunday, when the trip to the lake gets postponed yet
again, Lolita becomes angry and refuses to go to church with Charlotte. Delighted,
Humbert has Lolita all to himself. When Lolita starts eating an
apple, Humbert teasingly takes it away from her. He finally returns
it and, as Lolita sings a popular song, discreetly rubs against her
until he climaxes. Lolita runs off, apparently without having noticed
Famished, Humbert goes into town for lunch. He feels proud
that he managed to satisfy himself without corrupting the child,
and he wavers between wanting to repeat the experience and wanting
to preserve Lolita’s purity. Later, Charlotte tells Humbert that
she is sending Lolita away to summer camp for three weeks. Humbert hides
his misery by pretending to have a toothache. Mrs. Haze recommends
that he see their neighbor, Dr. Quilty, a dentist and the uncle
of a playwright.
Humbert considers leaving the boarding house until Lolita
returns in the fall. Lolita doesn’t want to go to camp, but Charlotte
dismisses her tears. Humbert muses that Lolita might lose her purity while
she’s away and cease to be a nymphet. Just before she enters the
car to go to camp, Lolita rushes back and kisses Humbert.
The contrast between Humbert and Mrs. Haze exemplifies
the contrast between the old, sophisticated, decadent world Europe
and the artificial, pretentious world of the United States. Charlotte
Haze aspires to be the kind of woman Humbert could love, a worldly,
elegant, refined woman who appreciates finer things. Yet her house, with
its modern furniture, cheap art, and general untidiness, manifests
a different personality. Throughout the novel, Humbert’s European
manner and old-world aesthetics attract a number of American women,
each of whom he eventually rejects. This sexual clash between America
and Europe will be upended in the relationship between Humbert and
Lolita, when Humbert falls under the spell of Lolita’s fresh, vulgar
American sensibilities. Despite Humbert’s best efforts, any attempt
to educate and sophisticate Lolita will fail. Humbert generally
forgives and occasionally romanticizes Lolita’s vulgarity, unlike
Charlotte, who has little patience for her daughter’s shallowness.
Humbert describes Lolita as an object, focusing on the
nymphet qualities he finds so exciting while rarely addressing her
inner mind or feelings. Though he notes her bad moods and her vulgarities, Humbert
nonetheless remains convinced of Lolita’s essential connection to
Annabel. This connection is significant to Humbert and Humbert alone,
which reinforces his notion that only a special man like himself
could truly comprehend the rareness of a nymphet like Lolita. At
the same time, this reasoning reduces Lolita to a privately held
notion of Humbert’s and denies her the chance to grow or create
meaning in her life. The disconnect between Humbert’s romantic but
objectifying view of Lolita the nymphet and the real character of
Lolita the girl finds a correspondence in Humbert’s language, which
also romanticizes the unromanticizable. Humbert describes his perverse,
unlawful desires with elegant, beautiful prose, rendering attractive
what many readers would otherwise find repulsive. This effect of
language is particularly notable when Humbert masturbates against
Lolita. Despite the troubling nature of the encounter, the rapturous,
satisfying language complicates the reader’s reaction, as we may
simultaneously be disturbed by the events yet seduced by the prose.
Even at this early stage, the love triangle between Lolita,
Charlotte, and Humbert appears volatile, particularly as the characters seem
unaware of the darker elements of their emotional responses. Besides
the obvious, unsettling nature of Humbert’s infatuation, a strong
current of jealousy exists between Mrs. Haze and Lolita, above and
beyond the usual tensions between mother and daughter. Charlotte’s
attraction to Humbert parallels Humbert’s attraction to Lolita,
as neither will see the true nature of the object of their affections.
When Lolita kisses Humbert, he is ecstatic—Lolita has become real
to him, rather than just a dream. Yet, given her typically adolescent
temperament, most adults would venture that her crush is of the
schoolgirl variety and unlikely to develop into a serious adult
love. Humbert prolongs the crush through his manipulation of her.
Humbert believes his life is controlled by the odd, unpredictable presence
of McFate, his word for the particularly American
brand of fate that he believes explains the repeated patterns and
coincidences in his life. For Humbert, McFate wields its power arbitrarily,
bringing him to Lolita after Mrs. Phalen’s accident but then thwarting their
time together, such as with the planned trip to Hourglass Lake. McFate
also works in more subtle ways. For example, the Hazes live at 342
Lawn Street, and Humbert and Lolita will later stay at Room 342
in the Enchanted Hunters Hotel, and will eventually visit 342 hotels.
Also, McFate continually brings Humbert into contact with Clare
Quilty. Though he has not yet appeared physically in the narrative,
Quilty is never far from Humbert. Quilty is the celebrity whom Lolita
adores, and whom Humbert resembles. When Humbert gets a toothache,
Charlotte recommends Dr. Ivor Quilty, Clare Quilty’s uncle. Humbert
relies on McFate to explain the inexplicable and to give order to
his life. Similarly, Nabokov uses McFate to hide clues and highlight
thematic patterns in the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lolita!