Set in the late 1940’s, “Lolita” is a story of a possessive, pedophilic obsession. The story begins with a manuscript given to the author by a fictitious lawyer. Since the author is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in abnormal psychology, the lawyer, C.C. Clark has given him permission to publish the story if he uses pseudonyms. The original writer of the manuscript agreed to allow it to be published after the death of the girl. Since she, Lolita, had recently died in childbirth, and the writer of the manuscript, Humbert Humbert, had died in prison, Clark was sending it to John Ray, Jr., Ph. D. in hopes he would be able to use it in his work.
As a young man of 13, Humbert had fallen in love with a girl of 12. The girl was ill and died after about four months. Humbert never got over his first love, and stayed attracted to girls of that age, especially if he considered them to be sexually aware. When he rents a room, he becomes obsessed with the 12 year old daughter of his landlady, Lolita. In order to spend time with the girl, he marries her mother, who he can barely tolerate. Whenever the woman discovers his fixation on her daughter, she tells him she is leaving, and taking her daughter with her. He vows to kill her, but, as she is leaving, she is hit by a car and killed.
Now, he has Lolita to himself. He takes the girl on a road trip, where, according to him, she learns how to manipulate him sexually to achieve her goals. They settle in a small college town, where he gets a job as a professor and tries to keep her isolated. She insists on working in a play and he becomes more and more jealous of her relationships with people her own age, especially boys.
Lolita becomes ill and is admitted into the hospital. When Humbert arrives to pick her up, the nurses tell him she left with her uncle. Humbert searches for her for two years, when he finally receives a letter from her asking for help. He rushes to her determined to kill her kidnapper. Humbert finds that Lolita had left voluntarily with a man who had been in the background of the whole story, Quilty. She loved the man, but refused to participate in his pornography films, so he spurned her. Now she is 17, married , broke and pregnant.
Humbert begs her to come back to him, but she refuses. He gives her four thousand dollars, and leaves to search for the Quilty. After finding Quilty, Humbert shoots him multiple times. From his jail cell, Humbert continues to write his memoir. After his death of heart failure, shortly after Lolita’s death during childbirth, his manuscript is sent to the psychologist, Ray.
In 1952 a manuscript arrived at the home of John Ray, Jr., Ph. D., a published psychologist specializing in abnormal behavior. The work had been sent to him by a lawyer, C. C. Clark, who had contacted Ray upon the death of his client, Humbert Humbert while awaiting trial. Humbert had written a memoir that Clark thought Ray would be able to use in his studies and might be able to publish. The stipulations were the use of pseudonyms and the death of the young girl Humbert had written about. Ray went on to say the manuscript was so well written, he hardly had to edit it at all, and although, he changed the girl, Lolita’s (Deloris) last name to Haze, he left the first because it was too important to the story, and besides, Lolita is a nickname.
As further validation on the truth of the manuscript, Ray summarizes the outcome of various characters, and relates a confirmation from at least one person. He goes on to point out that with a little research anyone can match up dates and court cases to get past the pseudonyms. Ray believes the work will become a classic in psychological circles. He contends that with intense psychological help Humbert and the 12% of the male population with a similar condition would be able to overcome their abnormal behavior. He also hopes the book will teach parents to be more vigilant.
After the introduction by Ray, the story changes to Humbert’s voice. It is his memoir. Humbert’s childhood is one of privileged wealth. Although his mother died while he was very young, an aunt took over his care along with his father, a hotelier in the Rivera. His father is busy and absent, so Humbert is left to his own devices. Without many children his own age about, Humbert’s views of love become what he sees in French movies and novels. When he meets his first love at the age of 13, he moves into a more adult feeling. She is 12 and although they never completely consummate their relationship, his passionate feelings and fumbling influence his sexual desires for the rest of his life. The girl, Annabel, dies of typhus, shortly thereafter, so she remained 12 years old in his fantasies.
In college, Humbert leaves the study of psychology to study English Literature. He publishes a few books, but is only moderately successful. Humbert sex life involves a few women his own age, but he is basically repulsed by them. He is only attracted to what he calls, “nymphets”. Girls between 9 and 14, who are sexually aware. To justify his desires, Humbert makes references to relationships in history involving 30 year age gaps between men and young girls. He finds it unfair that a man can have sex with a 17 year old girl, but not a 12 year old girl. He spends some of his free time at the playground, watching young girls, but only acts on his obsession with paid companions.
In order to put away his proclivities, Humbert decided to marry. He met a young woman who initially attracted him because of her childlike qualities. But, after marriage he began to find her irritating and stupid. He rarely slept with her, but was enraged when he discovered she had been having an affair with a taxi driver. After receiving a substantial inheritance from an uncle in America, Humbert is tasked with moving there to take care of his uncle’s business. He tried to get his wife to accompany him, only to discover she wanted to stay in France with her lover. So, he goes to America without her.
After arriving in America, Humbert worked for awhile translating French literature and writing perfume ads. Soon, he had a breakdown and was institutionalized. After he was released, Humbert accepted a job with an expedition to the Arctic, studying the effects on his teammates. Bored with the data, he falsified his report, and came back to the states only to have another breakdown. While in the sanitarium this time, he amused himself making up symptoms for the psychologists.
After a few months, Humbert checked himself out of the sanitarium and moved to a small town to stay with a friend of a relative of his uncle, Mr. McCoo. When he learned McCoo had a 12 year old daughter, his fantasies took off. But, the McCoo house burned down, so Humbert has to rent a room in a boarding house nearby. It was run by a widow by the name of Charlotte Haze. Humbert was disgusted by her. She acted like she was a credit to the community and culturally aware, but Humbert thought she was a joke. He assumed she would probably try to seduce him, to his distaste. But, when he saw her 12 year old daughter, Deloris, he became excited. Deloris looked almost exactly like his first love, Annabel. He decided to rent the room.
Finding little ways to spend time with Deloris, nicknamed, Lolita, he learned he resembled an actor the girl had a crush on. This delighted Humbert. He knew he had to endure her mother in order to be around Lolita, so he would daydream about killing the woman.
Weeks went by with plans for a trip to the lake for the three of them, continually being canceled. One Sunday, when the trip is canceled, again, Lolita threw a tantrum and refused to accompany her mother to church. Humbert was delighted to get some time alone with Lolita. He got her to sit on his lap while she sang a song, ate an apple, and he climaxed. Later, while he walked around town, he fantasized about more ways to have that happen again, but still wanted to keep her pure, since she obviously didn’t realize what had happened.
When Charlotte told Humbert she was planning on taking Lolita away to summer camp he was devastated. In order to hide his emotions, Humbert told Charlotte he had a toothache. She suggested he visit their neighbor, Dr. Quilty. He was a dentist and his uncle was a playwright. Although, Humbert considered moving out while they were away, Lolita changed his mind by giving him a kiss goodbye. While exploring Lolita’s room, he found a picture of the actor that resembled him and his initials, H.H., written on it. This made him really want to stay. Especially after he received a letter from Charlotte expressing her love for him. She said that if he didn’t feel the same he should leave. With that he decided to marry her and be closer to Lolita. When he called the camp to tell Charlotte, he spoke to Lolita, who seemed distracted. But, he believed he could regain Lolita’s interest after the wedding.
Being engaged to Charlotte wasn’t as bad as Humbert thought it would be. Sex with her wasn’t all bad, and he liked her doting on him. She even became a little bit prettier to him. But, she was jealous and wanted to know all his past romances. He made a few up, just to entertain her. The relationship went along fine, although he disliked her criticisms of Lolita, until Charlotte said she wanted to get a maid and send Lolita off to boarding school. Humbert seethed. Not wanting to make the same mistakes he made with his first wife, he kept his anger to himself.
Later, while he was at the doctors procuring sleeping pills so he could use them on Charlotte and Lolita, Charlotte broke into a small table in his room and read his journal. In it he had written all about his lust for Lolita. Charlotte was furious and said she would leave him, taking her daughter with her. While he was trying to come up with a plausible argument to prevent her taking Lolita away, he received a phone call telling him Charlotte had been hit by a car, and was dead. Humbert asked Charlotte’s friends not to tell Lolita, who is still away at camp, so as not to ruin her stay. He then went to the camp to pick her up early on the pretense that her mother was in the hospital. He found out she wouldn’t be back for a few days because she was on a hike, so he bought her some clothes and other gifts, then made reservations at a motel Charlotte had spoken of. They had to share a bed, and Lolita tried to teach him how to kiss. After she went to sleep, he went to the bar. He briefly considered playing the role of father to her, but decided he wanted her too much for that to work.
After waking up together the next morning, Lolita instigated sex. She had already had other experiences with a boy at camp, so Humbert wasn’t her first lover. He tried to keep her happy with gifts, but her interest often strayed from him. When they left the motel, he told her not to speak to people. Her mercurial temperament kept Humbert guessing as to her feelings for him. She complained about pains from their copulation and insisted on speaking to her mother. He told her then that her mother was dead. He tried to cheer he up with more gifts. When they stopped at another motel, he got separate rooms, but during the night she crawled into his bed.
The second part of this book began with a road trip. In trying to keep their affair secret, Humbert kept moving. The two went from motel to motel. They stopped at various attractions. He tried to find sights that would entertain Lolita. But, in the usual teenage form, Lolita was more interested in movies and people, than educational beauty. She especially was interested in boys. Humbert blamed her continual sexual awaking, caused by him, on the notice she received from the male sex. Men of all ages and stations were drawn to her. This caused Humbert endless jealousies. This was another reason he kept moving, to keep her from forming attachments. He was always on his guard, afraid of being arrested. At the same time, he was relentlessly trying to keep Lolita happy, so she would have sex with him. He kept buying her more and more presents, until she began to equate sex with money. Whenever she didn’t get her way, she would throw tantrums and threaten to tell the police he had raped her. In retaliation, he told her that he is all she has. If she lost him, she would go to an orphanage. But, with all the gifts and pampering, she still cried at night often. Humbert would pretend not to hear her.
Finally, with finances running low, Humbert took a job as a professor at a women’s college, while he enrolled Lolita in a girl’s school. He was appalled when he learned the girl’s school leaned more toward social than academic. But, consoled himself with a house that had a view of the playground where he hoped to watch Lolita play with her girlfriends. Unfortunately for him, builders arrived to erect a wall blocking his view of the nymphets.
Even with the allowance Humbert gave her and the gifts, Lolita would still demand money from him, often refusing sex without more money. Humbert would give her the money, then sneak into her room when she was out and take some of it back. He wanted to ensure she didn’t have enough money to leave him. He lived in a constant state of anxiety that she would leave or someone would find out about their arrangement. Humbert tried to control every aspect of Lolita’s life. Especially with her dealings with boys. He would allow her to interact with boys in groups, but never alone. Her teacher called Humbert in to discuss Lolita’s lack of social interaction with boys. Her teacher asked Humbert to discuss the subject of sex with her and let her date. Humbert didn’t like any of Lolita’s friends. He discovered none of her girl friends fit his nymphet pattern, and were too promiscuous.
Allowing her to participate in the school play was a big concession for him. But, she continued to rebel and demand more money for sex. Finally, he acquiesces to her throwing a party with boys. To his relief, she is not impressed with any of the boys. He was so pleased that he bought her a tennis racket, then for her birthday he bought her a bike and a book on famous art. Humbert loved to watch her ride the bike, but was saddened over her lack of interest in art.
Lolita began to be more distant. Humbert found out she was missing her piano lessons. When he confronted her, he knew she was lying. After a heated argument she ran away. When he finally found her in a phone booth, she said she hated the town and the school. She wanted to leave. So, Humbert told the school he worked for and her school that he had been hired to consult on a movie, and the pair hit the road, again. But, this time their destinations were determined by Lolita.
Along the way, little hints were beginning to show about Lolita’s secret boyfriend. Humbert couldn’t pinpoint exactly who, but his suspicions were rising. He began to stand guard at night, secretly, with a gun that had belonged to Lolita’s father. Humbert felt Lolita slipping away from him. He also knew they were being followed. The name of the person who wrote the play Lolita was supposed to be in popped up often, Clare Quilty. But, Lolita contended the playwright was a woman. Although he grew more suspicious, Humbert couldn’t prove anything, so he began to carry the gun in his pocket.
Finally, Lolita became ill and had to be hospitalized. Humbert visited her quite often, bringing gifts. When it was time to pick her up, he was ill himself, but still arrived on time. Unfortunately, Lolita was gone. He demanded to know where she was, and was informed by the nurses Lolita had checked out, leaving with her uncle. Humbert was enraged, tossing things about violently. After being evicted, he vowed to find her and kill her abductor.
Humbert began his years long search for Lolita. He retraced their trip, discovering in almost all the 342 motels they stayed at, they had been followed, from the beginning of their road trip. Realizing he could not find her on his own, Humbert hired a detective, who proved to be useless. Almost accepting he would never see Lolita again, he disposed of some of her things, and began a relationship with a 20 year old woman, Rita. He never completely commited to their affair and still visited the motels he stayed at with Lolita, reliving their liaisons. Humbert began to drink heavily, and began to drift apart from Rita, who became more unstable as she began to suspect his lack of interest.
Two letters arrived for Humbert. One was from a lawyer about the settlement of the Haze estate and the other was a letter forwarded to him from Lolita. She addressed the letter to “Dad” and said she was married, pregnant and in need of money. After reading the letter, Humbert went in search of Lolita. He took his gun, planning to kill her new husband, who he suspected was the same man who kidnapped her. When he arrived at her clapboard house, Humbert discoverd Lolita past the nymphet stage, but he still loved her and wanted her. She pointed out her husband in the yard, a regular working guy. Then she explained to him what happened.
The man she left with was the playwright, Clare Quilty. He was an older man who knew her mother and visited his uncle, their next door neighbor. She said he was the great love of her life. So, she went with him. They stayed on his ranch with several of his friends. There they made porn films. Lolita refused to participate, since she only wanted Quilty. So, he kicked her out. After being forced to leave, Lolita drifted around, taking waitress jobs, where she met her husband, Dick.
When Humbert tried to get her to leave with him, she thought she would have to go with him in order to get any money. But, he told her he would give her four thousand dollars, regardless. She took the money, but, gently told him turned him down. Weeping, Humbert left her and went in search of Quilty. Lolita had said that if she did leave, it would be to go to Quilty. Obviously, the scoundrel had to die. After visiting Clare’s father, the dentist, Humbert found the location of Clare. When he finally confronted Clare, Humbert had his gun. He told Clare of his many crimes and reminded him of Lolita. Clare tried to bribe and beg for his life, but, Humbert shot him multiple times, chasing him around while firing.
Afterward, Humbert didn’t feel as vindicated as he expected to. Upon going downstairs he found a group of men and women, drinking. The didn’t even notice the shooting. Humbert drove away, but was arrested for running a red light.
From his jail cell, he believed his real crime wasn’t murder, but the ruining of Lolita’s life. He wrote her a letter begging her to not mourn for Quilty, but to be true to her husband, Dick, and don’t talk to strangers.
Humbert Humbert – a pseudonym for the fictional writer and narrator of the book. He is a handsome, suave man in his forties. A pedophile who justifies his actions and tries to gain sympathy and support from the reader with his florid writing style. He is arrogant, confident, and boastful. Believing his European birth makes him above the Americans around him, he sees them all as bourgeois. Since the book is written in his voice, he colors the girl as being in control of their relationship. He almost sees himself as the seduced, not the seducer. Obviously psychologically damaged, he lusts after what he calls nymphets, (girls between 9 and 14). He sees their innocence as seductive. Although, he marries women and has sexual relationships with them, his desires are always towards young girls. He becomes obsessively controlling of Lolita, and only when he is writing his story from prison after murdering her lover, does he admit that he stole her childhood from her.
Deloris (Lolita) Haze – another pseudonym. The name, Lolita, has been used to identify an underage sexpot since the popularity of this novel, but the character in Nabokov’s book is not at all sexy, except maybe, to a pedophile. She is not pretty, nor charming. She is skinny, freckled, and uses profanity. Lolita is not very bright, and avoids education. Humbert tries to make her more sophisticated while keeping her childlike naivete, but she rebels. She obviously sees herself as trapped, but through Humbert’s eyes, she is uncaring about the sexual abuse.
Her character changes drastically throughout the novel. She begins as an innocent, living with her mother. Though she has some sexual experience at age 12, Humbert forces her to mature sexually before she matures physically or emotionally. In the six years of the novel, she becomes more and more emotionally distant. Before her 18th birthday, she has been sexually abused by at least two older men. She is worn and haggard, married to another man and pregnant. She dies while delivering the child.
Charlotte Haze – Lolita’s mother, a pseudonym. She is in her forties, a widow. Blond and buxom, she fills the Nabakov’s idea of the typical, pathetic middle age American woman. Through Humbert’s eyes she doesn’t have any class, but sees herself as sophisticated. She sees Lolita’s youth as a threat. So, when she wants to move her relationship with Humbert into romance, she sends her daughter away to camp. To even make her more pathetic, Nabakov has her find out about her new husband’s desire for her daughter just before being hit by a car.
Clare Quilty – a more typical pedophile. He lurks in the shadows throughout the book, only becoming physical when Humbert confronts him and the executes him. Quilty is a successful playwright. But, also produces pornographic movies. Through Humbert’s eyes, Quilty never cared for Lolita, was just using her because she was a nymphet. His character is written as a dark side of Humberts. Throughout the novel there are clues of him. Initials, references, place names, etc. are all used to build suspense. He is also well educated and eloquent. He tries to convince Humbert not to kill him with flowery speech and convincing argument. When that fails to work, Quilty moves on to bribery. He offers a variety of perverse diversions. But, Humbert shoots him, anyway.