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With the help of Humbert’s acquaintance Gaston Godin,
Humbert and Lolita move to 14 Thayer Street, an unimpressive house
in Beardsley. Humbert is disappointed in the Beardsley School for Girls,
which emphasizes social skills rather than intellectual achievement.
The headmistress, Pratt, believes that Beardsley girls must focus
on the “four D’s”: Dramatics, Dance, Debating, and Dating. Humbert
is appalled, but some teachers reassure him that the girls do some
good, solid schoolwork. The Thayer Street house has a view of the
school playground, which pleases Humbert, since he believes he will
be able to watch Lolita and, he hopes, other nymphets. Unfortunately,
builders arrive to make changes and block his view.
Humbert describes Beardsley and his neighbors, with whom
he is on civil yet distant terms. He constantly worries that they
might snoop on his arrangement. Humbert also worries that Lolita
might confide in their cook, Mrs. Holigan, and tries to make sure
that they are never left alone together.
Humbert’s friendship with Gaston Godin, a popular man
regarded as a French sophisticate and genius scholar, smoothes his
arrival in the new town of Beardsley. Gaston knows all of the small
boys in the neighborhood and has portraits of them, as well as famous
artists, in his home. Humbert enjoys their occasional chess games
but finds Gaston to be a mediocre scholar and somewhat dim-witted.
Humbert and Lolita’s relationship has become more strained. Despite
her allowance and many small presents, Lolita wants more money,
and she starts to demand it before performing sexual favors. Humbert
periodically breaks into her room to steal back her savings so she
cannot run away from him.
Humbert worries about Lolita attracting boys, and he reads
the local paper’s teen advice column for instruction. He allows
Lolita to interact with some boys in groups, but never alone, a
rule that upsets Lolita. Despite his attempt to control every aspect
of Lolita’s life, Humbert can’t be sure that she hasn’t stolen away
with a boy. However, he has no particular boy to suspect. Humbert
imagines how others see him and wonders how he has managed to fool
everyone. He still lives in a constant state of anxiety.
Humbert finds himself disappointed by Lolita’s friends,
few of whom are nymphets. He talks to Lolita’s friend Mona to discover
if Lolita has any boyfriends, but Mona, rather than supplying Humbert
with details, seems attracted to him instead.
In a brief aside, Humbert describes how, sometimes, he
would crawl over to Lolita’s desk while she was doing her homework
and beg for some affection. Each time, Lolita rebuffs him.
One day, Pratt informs Humbert that Lolita isn’t maturing
sexually and exhibits disciplinary problems. Pratt’s psychological
analysis bothers Humbert, as do the evaluations given by Lolita’s
teachers. Pratt ends by asking Humbert if Lolita knows about sex,
and she tells him that Lolita should start dating boys and, furthermore,
that she should be allowed to take part in the school play. Pratt
goes on to say that Lolita has an alarming vocabulary of curse words.
After his appointment with Pratt, Humbert goes to see Lolita in
the study room, where Lolita and another girl are reading quietly.
Sitting beside Lolita, and behind the other girl, Humbert pays Lolita
sixty-five cents to masturbate him.
Like Ramsdale, Beardsley is a quiet, placid little town
where neighbors are on good terms and families meet happily in the
streets. Even the Beardsley School for Girls is essentially an artistic
finishing school, designed to teach girls to be pleasant and polite
company. In many ways, Beardsley represents the very model of a
clean, family-oriented 1950s town, but, like Ramsdale, secrets lurk
just beneath the surface. Nabokov indicates, for example, that the
beloved Gaston is a pedophile with a penchant for small boys, luring
them to his home with the promise of chores and small chocolates.
The portraits of young boys which hang in Gaston’s home are matched
and echoed by the portraits of artists, all of whom are homosexual, which
also hang on Gaston’s walls.
Humbert doesn’t think much of Gaston, yet the bare facts
of their situations are remarkably similar, as both men are pedophiles
who manage to fool conventional society—particularly that element
of society with aesthetic and cultural pretensions. Similarly, Lolita’s friends,
though they are young teenagers in a small town, seem sexually knowledgeable
and experienced. Mona, for example, has already had a relationship
with a marine. And the Beardsley School, for all its old-fashioned
ideals, is nonetheless very concerned with the sexual and romantic
lives of its students. On the surface, Beardsley is a proper small
town, but, like Humbert, the genteel image hides darker lusts and
Humbert’s suddenly blocked view of the playground foreshadows
Humbert’s weakening grip on Lolita and her newly developed aptitude
for deception. Once established in the small town, Humbert expects
that he and Lolita will live as a normal family during the day while
continuing to be lovers at night. However, Lolita’s unhappiness,
as well as her normal adolescent tendencies, causes her both to
rebel against Humbert and to attempt to manipulate him. Humbert
bemoans her lack of morals as she starts demanding higher fees for
sexual favors, and he becomes increasingly paranoid as Lolita establishes
herself in her new community. The relationship parodies the standard
father–teenage-daughter relationship, with Humbert establishing
rules and Lolita finding ways to rebel. Ultimately, Humbert’s fears
are realized when Lolita joins the school play. The combination
of Quilty’s influence and her new dramatic training will teach Lolita
enough to escape her stepfather completely.
Nabokov’s humorous, though disturbing, depiction of an encounter
between Humbert and Pratt is indicative of the darkly ironic humor
that pervades the novel. The more Pratt talks about Lolita’s sexuality,
the more Humbert appears to be embarrassed. The more embarrassed
Humbert appears, the more Pratt engages in simplistic psychological
analysis of Lolita. Not only is her highly inaccurate diagnosis
of Lolita’s sexual knowledge a slight to the practice of psychology,
but it also reinforces Humbert’s belief that he has managed to fool
everyone. Pratt’s injunction that Humbert take charge of his daughter’s
sexual education gets fulfilled, but in a way that grossly parodies
her initial intent. Instead of going to Lolita and paternally teaching
her about proper, healthy relations with the opposite sex, Humbert
visits Lolita’s classroom and pays her sixty-five cents to discreetly
put her hands down his pants. The scene represents yet another moment
where Humbert passes a moral threshold in his actions. Humbert is
growing reckless, not only bringing their sexual relationship into
a public place, but doing so in the presence of another young girl.
The nameless other girl—who seems doll-like, with her porcelain
skin and platinum hair—and the classroom setting add a new element
of depravity to the act, as if Humbert is now guilty of violating
more than just Lolita.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lolita!