Lolita – Part Two, Chapters 12–17

Summary: Chapter 12
After Lolita recovers from an illness, Humbert allows
her to throw a small party with boys. The party isn’t a success,
and the boys don’t impress Lolita, which is such a relief for Humbert
that he buys her a new tennis racket. For her birthday, he buys
her a bicycle and a book of modern American paintings, and while
he enjoys watching her ride the bike, he remains disappointed by
her inability to appreciate fine art.
Summary: Chapter 13
Lolita begins rehearsing for a play entitled The
Enchanted Hunters, in which she plays a farmer’s daughter
who bewitches a number of hunters. Humbert notes that the play has
the same name as the hotel he and Lolita first stayed in, but he
doesn’t think much of it. He also doesn’t mention the coincidence
to Lolita, for fear that she’ll mock him and his nostalgia. At the
time, Humbert assumes the play is nothing more than a trifling work
written specifically for schoolchildren. He tells the reader that
he now knows the play to be a recent composition, written by a noted
playwright. Humbert scoffs at the play’s overt romanticism and fantasy.
One day, as Lolita rides her bike, she teasingly asks Humbert if
the Enchanted Hunters was, in fact, the name of the hotel where
he first raped her.
Summary: Chapter 14
Some days later, Humbert becomes outraged when he gets
a call from Lolita’s piano teacher, who tells him that Lolita has
been missing her lessons. When confronted, Lolita claims she has
been rehearsing for the play in a local park. Lolita’s friend Mona
corroborates the story, but Humbert assumes both girls are lying.
While Humbert and Lolita discuss the issue heatedly, he realizes
that she’s changed and possesses fewer nymphet qualities. Humbert
panics and threatens to take her away from Beardsley if she continues lying.
Lolita becomes furious, and they have a loud, angry fight in which
she accuses him of violating her and murdering her mother. Humbert
grabs her by the wrist and attempts to restrain her. Just then,
a neighbor calls to complain about the noise, and as Humbert apologizes,
Lolita escapes from the house. Humbert drives around looking for
her and finally finds her in a telephone booth. Lolita tells Humbert
that she hates the school and the play and wants to leave Beardsley,
but only if they go where she wants to go. Relieved, Humbert agrees
to her demands. At home, Lolita tells Humbert to carry her upstairs,
as she’s feeling romantic. Humbert confesses that this brought him
to tears.
Summary: Chapter 15
Humbert tells the school that he’s been hired as a consultant
for a movie in Hollywood, but promises to return. Excited to be
traveling again, Lolita plans out where they’ll go and where they’ll
stay. As they’re driving away from the town, Edusa Gold, the acting
coach, pulls up alongside them in her car. She says it’s a shame
Lolita couldn’t finish the play, since the playwright himself was
so taken with her. As Edusa drives off, Humbert asks Lolita who
wrote the play. Lolita tells him it was some old woman, “Clare Something.” With
that, Humbert and Lolita start their travels.
Summary: Chapter 16
Humbert and Lolita stay in a succession of hotels. Humbert
keeps a very close watch on Lolita, to keep her from communicating
with anyone he doesn’t know. However, Lolita occasionally manages
to disappear, even under Humbert’s watchful eye. She changes her mind
often about their destinations, sometimes wanting to stay on for
no apparent reason. One day, Humbert goes out but suddenly feels
nervous, and he returns to the hotel room to find Lolita completely
dressed. Humbert’s suspicions, while still vague, grow stronger.
Summary: Chapter 17
Humbert secretly keeps a gun that belonged to Lolita’s
father and stands guard with it at night. He reminds the reader
that, in Freudian analysis, a gun represents the father’s phallus.
In these chapters, Humbert grows intensely suspicious
of both Lolita’s increasing ability to deceive him, as well as the
various men they meet on their travels. However, despite his mounting
paranoia, Humbert remains unable to grasp the truth of his situation.
For example, though he reads The Enchanted Hunters carefully
and recognizes the strange coincidence between the play’s title
and the name of the hotel where he and Lolita first consummated
their relationship, he doesn’t take the production as a warning
sign. Unable to see this coincidence as foreshadowing anything,
Humbert can only offer a passive, ineffectual response: a intellectual,
critical analysis of the play’s literary value. Meanwhile, The
Enchanted Hunters brings Clare Quilty directly into Lolita’s
life and, presumably, causes her to reevaluate her relationship
with Humbert. The production of The Enchanted Hunters is
the turning point at which Humbert first begins to lose Lolita,
and he fails to recognize its significance.
Humbert’s inability to see the reality of his predicament
also extends to his relationship with Lolita. Humbert loves what
Lolita represents: a perfect specimen of his ideal type of female,
the nymphet. Humbert loves an image of a girl, but not the girl
herself. This refusal to acknowledge the real Lolita allows him
to observe all the human elements of his iconic woman—her vulgarity,
her duplicity, her rebelliousness—and remain steadfastly assured
that, somehow, he can possess Lolita forever. Only after losing
Lolita will Humbert realize how mistaken he was. At this point in
the novel, however, Humbert is still the enchanted hunter, too spellbound
by his obsession to comprehend the reality of his lover or the imminent threat
Quilty represents.
In these chapters, Lolita seems less whimsical and more
calculating. Up to this point, we might have assumed that Lolita’s
temperamental moods could be attributed to the typically mercurial
nature of all teenagers or to the extreme pressure of leading a
secret, deviant lifestyle. However, Lolita’s moods seem more planned
now. For example, she explains away her missed piano lessons with
preternatural calm, even arranging for Mona to lie for her. For
once, Humbert’s suspicions seem justified. Humbert blames her dramatic training
for teaching Lolita to dissemble, and he’s not entirely wrong: the
theater is responsible for her duplicity, but not
quite in the way Humbert imagines. Once again, Humbert offers an
ineffectual, intellectual response, making a symbolic connection
between the necessary pretense involved in acting and the apparent
pretense Lolita is employing.
Humbert misses the more simple, straightforward explanation for
Lolita’s lies: the theater is responsible for Lolita’s betrayal because
the school play introduces her to Quilty. Humbert’s attempts to
keep their relationship from changing, as well as his attempt to
arrest Lolita’s growth and keep her in a perpetual state of nymphethood,
end up having the opposite effect: pushing Lolita away and resisting
his fantasy role for her. Lolita and Humbert act out a version of
a more traditional parent-child relationship, with Lolita lying
and evading her father figure in order to challenge his strict,
oppressive regulations. Humbert doesn’t grasp this element of their
relationship, which leads him to unquestioningly accept her decision
to leave Beardsley.
Even at this early stage, we can see how this journey
represents a reversal of the earlier road trip. Whereas Humbert
himself planned the first trip, in order to assert his control over
and possession of Lolita, he now follows Lolita’s whims and desires,
unknowingly facilitating her escape. Previously, Humbert was the
enchanted hunter, charmed and fascinated by his prey, Lolita. Now
Humbert has become a different kind of enchanted hunter: he’s bewitched and
spellbound by Lolita’s duplicity, and, blinded by his own obsession,
he is never able to clearly spot his prey, Clare Quilty. If Humbert
has become an ineffectual hunter in these chapters, he soon realizes
that he’s also become the hunted, as his shadowy double, Clare Quilty,
tracks him down in order to steal Lolita.