Lolita – Part One, Chapters 28–33

Summary: Chapter 28
Humbert eagerly anticipates caressing the unconscious
Lolita. He claims that he hadn’t planned on taking Lolita’s innocence
or purity but merely wanted to fondle her while she slept. He admits
that it should have been clear to him then that Lolita and Annabel
were not the same, and that if he had known what pain and trouble
would follow, he would have done things differently. Downstairs,
Humbert wanders through the hotel’s public rooms. On the terrace,
he encounters a man who insinuatingly accuses him of behaving inappropriately
with Lolita. Each time Humbert asks the man to repeat himself, however,
the man feigns innocence and pretends to make idle chit-chat about
the weather. The man, who remains half-hidden in the shadows, invites
Humbert and Lolita to lunch the following day, but Humbert plans
to be gone with Lolita by then.
Summary: Chapter 29
Humbert returns to the hotel room to find Lolita half
awake. He climbs into bed with her but doesn’t make any advances.
Anxious and excited, Humbert stays awake all night. In the morning,
Lolita wakes up and nuzzles him as he feigns sleep. She asks him
if he ever had sex as a youth. When Humbert says no, Lolita has
sex with him. Humbert states that, for her, sex was just another
activity between children, unconnected to what adults do behind
closed doors.
Summary: Chapter 30
Humbert launches into a dreamy description of how he would repaint
the Enchanted Hunters hotel in order to make the setting of his
first encounter with Lolita a more natural, romantic one.
Summary: Chapter 31
Humbert once again defends his actions as natural, using
history as evidence. He notes that according to an old magazine
in the prison library, a girl from the more temperate climates of
America becomes mature in her twelfth year. He further reminds the
reader, whom he calls his jury, that he wasn’t even Lolita’s first
lover.
Summary: Chapter 32
Lolita recounts her first sexual experiences. Astonished
by Humbert’s naïveté, she tells him that many of her friends have
already experimented sexually with one another. At summer camp,
she used to stand guard while her friend Barbara and Charlie, the
camp-mistress’s son, copulated in the bushes. Soon, Lolita’s curiosity
led her to have sex with Charlie as well, and she and Barbara began
taking turns with the boy. Lolita says it was fun but expresses
contempt for Charlie’s manners and intelligence. Humbert gives Lolita
the various presents he bought for her, and they prepare to leave
the hotel. He warns Lolita not to talk to strangers. He later notices
a man, about his age, staring at Lolita while she reads a movie
magazine in an armchair. Humbert thinks the man resembles his Swiss
uncle Gustave.
Humbert becomes upset by Lolita’s shifting moods and her
seeming disinterest in him, and he worries about how to keep their
new arrangement a secret. As they drive off, he tries to uncover
what Lolita’s friends know about her sexuality, but Lolita is in
a bad mood and irritated by Humbert’s touches. Humbert feels guilty
but still desires her, and she remains confused and unhappy. Even
as he tries to cheer her up, Lolita says that she was only an innocent
girl and that she should tell the police that Humbert raped her.
Humbert can’t tell if she’s joking or not. Lolita complains of pains
and accuses Humbert of tearing something inside her. Lolita becomes
angry and upset and demands to call her mother. Humbert tells her
that her mother is dead.
Summary: Chapter 33
Humbert buys Lolita many things in the town of Lepingville.
In the hotel, they have separate rooms, and he can hear Lolita crying. Sometime
in the night, she creeps into his bed because, as Humbert says,
she has nowhere else to go.
Analysis
As Humbert and Lolita’s relationship transforms into a
blatantly sexual one, Humbert’s demonstrated duplicity and seductive
skill with language should make us question whether we can fully
trust his description of the affair. In particular, Humbert’s claim
that Lolita seduced him, rather than the other way around, seems
suspicious. Like many adolescents, Lolita appears to have mixed
feelings toward sex, ranging from mild repulsion to enthusiastic
curiosity. Until now, she has appeared to be a flirtatious, vulgar
girl of mercurial moods, whose supposed crush on Humbert varies
in intensity from moment to moment. As she eagerly questions Humbert
about his sexual relationship with her mother, we can see that she
clearly has a teenager’s typical interest in sexuality. However,
despite the passionate kisses she shares with Humbert, sex seems
mostly a game to Lolita. She describes her clandestine encounters
with Charlie as fun, but in the same chapter she makes reference
to the “disgusting” things that she learned at camp. She clearly
enjoys Humbert’s attentions yet often grows bored with his unceasing
ardor.
Humbert doesn’t describe the actual act of sex with Lolita
in any detail. One reason may be that his desire for Lolita encompasses something
beyond physical lust—even when Humbert drugs Lolita, he mostly daydreams
about examining her body, rather than about actually forcing himself
on her. In some sense, Humbert’s refusal to describe the event explicitly
may represent a desire to preserve the sanctity of the act, or of
Lolita herself. However, Humbert’s reticence about the physical
act of sex may be simply a strategy to keep the reader from being
too disgusted with him, enabling him to keep alive the romantic
element of his narrative.
Whether or not Lolita initiates the seduction, it would
be hard to argue that Lolita consciously intends to transform her
relationship with Humbert into a real love affair. Left to her own
devices, Lolita might not have chosen to continue with Humbert after
their initial sexual encounter. Indeed, after their first night
together, Lolita becomes sullen. Her frequent references to rape
and incest indicate that she understands the impropriety of their
relationship, but her cool self-awareness suggests that she isn’t
as outraged as we might expect. However, despite the fact that Lolita
often seems quite composed and self-controlled for a child, the
fact remains that she is deeply affected by her first sexual encounter
with an adult. Like many adolescents, she isn’t prepared to handle
the emotions that arise from sex, let alone the emotions that arise
from sex with a grown man who happens to be her stepfather. The
next morning, she wants to call her mother. While she may not exactly
understand what has gone wrong, she still seeks consolation from
the person who was supposed to be her protector.
Just as Humbert consummates his relationship with Lolita,
Clare Quilty appears as Humbert’s dark shadow. Quilty remains a
mysterious form throughout the novel, a trickster figure and a game player
who never quite comes to light. Lolita fascinates him, but Quilty
doesn’t seem as controlled by his desires as Humbert is by his.
This self-control will eventually distinguish Quilty from Humbert
in Lolita’s eyes. Humbert, unaware of the role that Quilty will play
in his life and the danger he represents, fails to recognize him
as the celebrity that Lolita adores, and whom he himself resembles. Instead,
he notes Quilty’s resemblance to a Swedish relative of his, Gustave
Trapp. This represents an ironic kind of recognition, since Trapp
and Humbert, being relatives, presumably resemble each other as
well. The fact that Humbert links Quilty with Trapp, rather than
himself, seems a perverse refusal to admit how he and Quilty are
connected—and, ultimately, very similar. Humbert’s inability to see
Quilty—to neither recognize nor to literally see him, since he is often
standing at a distance, or in the shadows—represents an powerlessness
on Humbert’s part to accurately see himself.
Freed from the constraint of friends, family, and watchful
society, Humbert can now take advantage of Lolita, since, as he
himself observes, Lolita has nowhere else to go. As the novel progresses, Humbert’s
control over Lolita becomes more and more forceful, just as she
tries harder and harder to escape. Significantly, Lolita surrenders
to Humbert in the town of Lepingville, a name that recalls Nabokov’s
fascination with lepidoptery, or the study of butterflies. Like
a butterfly collector, Humbert will pin Lolita down and eventually
drain her of the lively, whimsical quality that he loved in the
first place.
By the end of this section, Humbert seems to have passed
a point of no return, abandoning his already tenuous commitment
to morality or decency. For example, despite her problems with her mother,
Lolita becomes understandably distraught upon hearing of Charlotte’s
death and cries herself to sleep. Yet Humbert remains steadfastly
attached to his plan, even as he knows that she crawls into bed
with him because she has nowhere else to go. His obsession leads
him to believe that he can fulfill all of Lolita’s needs and keep her
from needing anyone else besides him. This belief represents one of
Humbert’s many delusions about Lolita. He remains remarkably insensitive
to her feelings, ascribing her sullenness to mysterious bad moods
rather than genuine grief at her mother’s death or genuine disgust
with the sexual act. Humbert sees only his own nymphet, not the
real thirteen-year-old girl. Charlotte was similarly obsessed with
Humbert and saw only an erudite European, rather than a dissolute,
middle-aged pedophile. Both parental figures are blinded by their
own passion and fail to be proper parents and protectors to Lolita.