Below you will find an assortment of notes and quotes. This post is apt for the student and deep reader.
About Dolores Hayes
We all must make some assumptions here since we are basing our understanding of Lo on a questionable narrator. Most importantly, Lolita is incredibly lonely. She has no active family members other than her mother, who provides only cold love. Her mother then perishes, and she is left with a predator, albeit a softer and more caring predator than usual (if we take HH at face value). HH exploits this loneliness and seeks to deprive her more. In a way, this drives her to him more fervently. However, he can only contain the loneliness for so long. Soon she is driven to CQ. Part of this appears to be that she learned to commodify her sexuality, but the bigger piece is more likely her desire to break from the mundane and repressive relationship with HH. Speaking of her sexual commodification, this is the one area where she has some power over HH. As the story progresses, she learns to wield it better. For better or worse, sex and lust become a source of strength for the nymphette. Beyond these observations, I would be assuming too much, so I reserve further analysis for someone more familiar with youth psychology.
Humbert Humbert’s Mental State
HH is disordered, but his impetuosity and many complexes make him delightful and comical to listen to. The book is filled with detailed humor. Small jokes and details nestled in between sometimes banal words. Also related to the mental state is the saga with CQ/Trap/whatever name you’d like to give him. I don’t quite understand why he lets CQ follow him. He seems to not have much power when in fact he is the man in charge. Why not confront him? Why run? Maybe because he could not bear to face any problems. Sometimes HH is very weak. This transitions to his immaturity. For being a learned man of many talents, he acts like a child. Reacting like a child is a common theme for HH. One example is his narcissism, which comes out in moments. Yet, he is simultaneously incredibly self-critical. The pain of the intellectual, disordered man. Elite and repressed and heady.
Confrontation with Claire Quilty
Despite CQ’s death, CQ came out victorious on the whole. Not only did he get the girl, he also bested HH psychologically and induced some of his mental spiraling. Even upon his fatal encounter, CQ maintained frame–he remained rather pensive and astute. HH was not able to draw out the reaction he wanted. In the end, HH did his duty, but he felt worse after the useless murder. A rush of sensation did not overcome HH making him feel alive. On the contrary, like the orgasmed man, the ejaculated shots represent the loss of the last drops of his life force. Subsequently, he sleepily submitted body and mind to the law.
This exchange has a surrealist nature to it. As HH alluded to, CQ (the man in automotive pursuit) could have been a figment of his imagination. While the plot confirms this is not the case, Nabokov might be prompting the reader to consider CQ as some part of HH. Yes, CQ is not an illusion, but he haunts HH and firmly exists in HH’s cerebrum. I find the HH-CQ relationship to be a worthwhile train of thought, and I might write an article solely on this.
He serves as a parallel to HH in that he is a foreign academic that may be inappropriately involved with youths. Yet, he also serves to juxtapose HH in that he is well-liked by everyone and doesn’t appear to deal with psychological toil.
HH’s Mother and Anabelle Leigh
I’ll leave interpretation to the well-versed psychoanalysts. Just note their significance in HH’s life and their role in his troubles and predilection for nymphettes.
Nabokov’s writing is accused of being poetry. It really is. He wields the language so skillfully. He dots the book with ticklish wordplay and unsuspected foreshadowing. He conveys the essence and visual of scenes so brilliantly, taking pointers from his Russian heritage I suppose.
Will any nymphette do?
For most of the story, I am under the impression that HH’s desire can be fulfilled with any nymphette. Lolita might be of higher quality, but any should do. I also figured he would rid of the waif upon her maturing. This assumption does not hold through to the end of the novel. When he pleads with Lolita to live with him for the rest of their lives, he implies that he would live and die by her. Is he being insincere, or is this true? It may be advisable to spend more time on this question.
I enjoy how HH personifies fate by giving it the name of one of Lolita’s classmates. Fate itself is an amorphous, slippery idea. Blaming fate is rather lame. However, it is much easier to pin blame if you imagine a mischievous character in the background—a McFate playing with your life for personal amusement.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. (1.1)
Comment: Lo-lee-ta. Lo-lee-ta. Lo-lee-ta….. One word. Chilling. Nabokov masterfully plots the route of your meaty word-maker as you slither it around your mouth to create the sounds: "Lo", "lee", and "ta". Nabokov’s poetry jumps off the first page and gives you a taste of what is to come. I prefer to say this line as a spoken word poet might. Say it with passion, emphasis, and pause. An intoxicating treat for the senses indeed.
The quote also conveys the significance of different names and how each one presents a different version of the child.
Monday. Rainy morning. “Ces matins gris si doux… ” My white pajamas have a lilac design on the back. I am like one of those inflated pale spiders you see in old gardens. Sitting in the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or that strand. My web is spread all over the house as I listen from my chair where I sit like a wily wizard. Is Lo in her room? Gently I tug on the silk. She is not. Just heard the toilet paper cylinder make its staccato sound as it is turned; and no footfalls has my outflung filament traced from the bathroom back to her room. Is she still brushing her teeth (the only sanitary act Lo performs with real zest)? No. The bathroom door has just slammed, so one has to feel elsewhere about the house for the beautiful warm-colored prey. Let us have a strand of silk descend the stairs. I satisfy myself by this means that she is not in the kitchen - not banging the refrigerator door or screeching at her detested mamma (who, I suppose, is enjoying her third, cooing and subduedly mirthful, telephone conversation of the morning). Well, let us grope and hope. Ray-like, I glide in through to the parlor and find the radio silent (and mamma still talking to Mrs. Chatfield or Mrs. Hamilton, very softly, flushed, smiling, cupping the telephone with her free hand, denying by implication that she denies those amusing rumors, rumor, roomer, whispering intimately, as she never does, the clear-cut lady, in face to face talk). So my nymphet is not in the house at all! Gone! What I thought was a prismatic weave turns out to be but an old gray cobweb, the house is empty, is dead. And then comes Lolita’s soft sweet chuckle through my half-open door “Don’t tell Mother but I’ve eaten all your bacon.” Gone when I scuttle out of my room. Lolita, where are you? My breakfast tray, lovingly prepared by my landlady, leers at me toothlessly, ready to be taken in. Lola, Lolita! (1.11)
Comment: A few things are going on here. First, Nabokov is associating HH with a spider. A predatory creature that entraps insects in its web, including young nymphs. There are a host of implications that come with this likening. I also find this passage a highly accurate, beautiful description of human senses and how we use them to identify activity in our surroundings.
Oh my carmen, my little carmen
Something, something those nights,
And the stars, and the cars, and the barmen
And, O my charmin', our dreadful fights
And the something town where so gaily
Arm , we went, and our final row
And the gun I killed you with,
O my Carmen, The gun I am holding now.
(Drew his .32 automatic, I guess, an put a bullet through his moll's eye.)
Comment: This misremembered pop song is another common thread we find woven into the many phases of the novel. A nice little whimsical tune. It serves to add another dimension to the text and fits in well with Nabokov’s writing style. The song often flickers in the background of HH’s mind. These fleeting recollections reveal the inner workings of HH’s mind. As a reader, this glimpse of natural thought suggests to me that the window we have into HH has a great deal of sincerity—free of fanciful, ornate staining.
Carmen also becomes an epithet for Lolita. HH was originally introduced to the song at a hopeful time in his life: when Lolita was yet to be had and hot desire burned inside him. The Carmen version of Lolita was when the mutual sexual tension climaxed, and he is fond of this time. I suppose that might be why he so oft harkens back.
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.” (1.15)
We wish you to feel at home while here. All equipment was carefully checked upon your arrival. Your license number is on record here. Use hot water sparingly. We reserve the right to eject without notice any objectionable person. Do not throw waste material of any kind in the toilet bowl. Thank you. Call again. The Management. P.S. We consider our guests the Finest People in the World. (1.16)
Comment: A wry jab at the pretense of the motels and US practices.
“No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it.” (1.20)
“Suddenly, gentlemen of the jury, I felt a Dostoevskian grin dawning (through the very grimace that twisted my lips) like a distant and terrible sun.” (1.17)
Comment: HH shares more than just smiles with the likes of Raskolnikov and the Underground Man.
When that stopped, a toilet immediately north of my cerebellum took over. It was a manly, energetic, deep-throated toilet, and it was used many times. Its gurgle and gush and long afterglow shook the wall behind me. (1.29)
Comment: This must be one of the best lines in the book. Vivid. HH is describing the torment of falling asleep in a US hotel—a toilet being one of the prominent demons.
“At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.” (1.33)
Comment: These two sentences are damning and disturbing. Most of the time, HH does not reveal the truth of Lolita’s predicament. This is the crux of the suffering and abuse.
Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise - a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames - but still a paradise. (2.3)
And so we rolled East, I more devastated than braced with the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health, her bi-iliac garland still as brief as a lad's, although she had added two inches to her stature and eight pounds to her weight. We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep. (2.3)
“Humbert was perfectly capable of intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for.” (2.5)
“And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears.” (2.29)
All of a sudden I noticed that he had noticed that I did not seem to have noticed Chum protruding from beneath the other corner of the chest. We fell to wrestling again. We rolled all over the floor, in each other's arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us. (2.35)
“…and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.” (2.36)
Comment: I’ve been trying to decipher this. Does this mean that he missed the voice (i.e., the person and the human relationship), not the physical (i.e., the sex)? Maybe I’m too generous, but this could hint at some personal growth for our scaly hero.