Lolita – Part One, Chapters 23–27

Summary: Chapter 23
After receiving the phone call, Humbert races outside
to discover Charlotte dead. She had tripped on the wet cement and
fallen into the path of a car, which was swerving to avoid hitting
a dog. Humbert quietly retrieves the letters she had been planning
to mail and tears them up. The Farlows arrive, and Humbert begins
drinking. That night, Humbert reads the letters, one of which is
addressed to Lolita, one to a reformatory school where Charlotte
planned to send Lolita, and one to Humbert himself. Later, Humbert
implies to John and Jean Farlow that he and Charlotte had an affair
many years ago, when he was still married to Valeria. Jean rushes
to the conclusion that Humbert is Lolita’s real father. Humbert
asks them not to tell Lolita of her mother’s death, so as not to
ruin her time at camp. He tells them of his plans to take her away
on a trip.
Summary: Chapter 24
The driver of the car that killed Charlotte, Mr. Frederick
Beale, Jr., comes to apologize but states that Charlotte was at
fault. Humbert agrees. In private, Humbert feels guilty over not
having destroyed his journal, and weeps. The next day, as Humbert
leaves to get Lolita, Jean, who has become very attracted to him,
kisses him passionately.
Summary: Chapter 25
Humbert muses on the coincidences that have brought him
to Lolita but doesn’t allow himself to become too excited by the
thought of being with her. Trying to plan how to steal Lolita away
without looking suspicious, Humbert becomes plagued by doubts. He
plans to take her out of the camp by claiming that her mother has
fallen sick, but he can’t be sure that Lolita hasn’t already heard
about Charlotte’s death. Unfortunately, Lolita has gone on a hike
and won’t return for two days. Humbert buys Lolita many presents, including
clothing, as he knows her measurements almost by heart. He also
makes a reservation at a hotel called the Enchanted Hunters, which
Charlotte had mentioned to him before her death.
Summary: Chapter 26
Humbert, worn down by prison life, considers abandoning
his account. He writes Lolita’s name out several times, and then
commands the person who will eventually print his novel to keep
repeating her name until the page is full.
Summary: Chapter 27
When Humbert picks up Lolita from the camp, he thinks
for a moment that he might want to simply be a good father to her.
That moment passes, however, and he realizes he still loves her.
Humbert tells Lolita that her mother is in the hospital, and they
drive off. Lolita tells Humbert that she’s been unfaithful to him,
but then she kisses him flirtatiously. In the midst of their kiss,
a policeman stops them and asks after the whereabouts of a blue
sedan, which Humbert and Lolita profess not to have seen. They arrive
at the Enchanted Hunters and take room 342. Unable to get a cot
for Lolita, Humbert realizes they will have to share a double bed.
Lolita giggles and says that would be incest. In the room, Lolita
shows Humbert how to kiss, but she soon loses interest in what they’re doing.
Downstairs, in the dining room, Lolita spots someone who looks like
Quilty, the celebrity she admires. Back in the room, Humbert gives
Lolita a sleeping pill, and she soon becomes drowsy. As she falls
asleep, she tells Humbert that she has been a disgusting girl, but
Humbert tells her to tell him tomorrow. Humbert locks the door and
goes downstairs.
As Humbert settles into the role of the grieving widower,
Charlotte’s death touches him with an apparently genuine remorse,
but he still cannot bring himself to deny his desire for Lolita.
The friction generated by Humbert’s intense appetites and his refusal
to be bound by conventional morality will continue throughout the
novel. Ever the sophisticated European, Humbert scoffs at Charlotte’s
bourgeois morality and her vulgar pretensions to class, yet he too
believes in presenting a façade of respectability that ultimately
is not matched by an internal sense of decency. Whenever Humbert
feels guilt or attempts to be fatherly, he lingers for a moment
before brushing the feeling aside. Humbert continually mocks the
adult women who are attracted to him, and their naively romantic
notions. However, Humbert’s own desires are equally intense and
equally starry-eyed, and those passions control Humbert as much,
if not more, as the women’s passions control them. Despite the eloquence
with which he argues his case, Humbert is guilty of precisely the
same faults as the women he scorns.
The hand of McFate, which we have already seen working
in previous sections of the novel, provides numerous coincidences
in these chapters as well. For example, Lolita and Humbert stay
in Room 342 at the Enchanted Hunters, the same number as the Hazes’
street address. At the hotel, Lolita spots a man who resembles Clare Quilty,
the playwright whose picture she once had on her bedroom wall. In
the car, Humbert and Lolita share a kiss that gets interrupted by
a policeman looking for a blue sedan. He doesn’t comment on the
kiss, even though Lolita states that Humbert should have been arrested—for
speeding. This foreshadows the final section of the novel in which
Humbert, after killing Quilty, is indeed arrested for speeding.
The policeman’s lack of interest in the kiss implies a certain societal
tolerance of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita, a situation
that Humbert is more than willing to exploit.
A final instance of McFate at work can be seen in the
name of the hotel, the Enchanted Hunters. Later in the novel, Lolita
will star in a play of the same name, written by none other than
Clare Quilty. The phrase itself represents many things, but it most
clearly refers to Humbert himself. He frequently claims that he
been spellbound by nymphets who possess magical powers and mythical
qualities. Humbert is enchanted by Lolita, the object of his obsession,
both in the charming, familiar sense of the word and the more distressing, literal
sense of being bewitched or spellbound. Later in the novel, Humbert
will also become a hunter—first of Lolita, then of Quilty. Humbert
notices these strange coincidences in prison, as he writes the manuscript
and ruminates on events from his past. Similarly, we won’t discover
the full import of these clues until the novel has ended, and we
can look backward to construct a pattern of incidents.