Lolita – Plot Overview

In the novel’s foreword, the fictional John Ray, Jr.,
Ph.D., explains the strange story that will follow. According to
Ray, he received the manuscript, entitled Lolita, or the
Confession of a White Widowed Male, from the author’s lawyer.
The author himself, known by the pseudonym of Humbert Humbert (or
H. H.), died in jail of coronary thrombosis while awaiting a trial.
Ray asserts that while the author’s actions are despicable, his
writing remains beautiful and persuasive. He also indicates that
the novel will become a favorite in psychiatric circles as well
as encourage parents to raise better children in a better world.
In the manuscript, Humbert relates his peaceful upbringing
on the Riviera, where he encounters his first love, the twelve-year-old Annabel
Leigh. Annabel and the thirteen-year-old Humbert never consummate
their love, and Annabel’s death from typhus four months later haunts
Humbert. Although Humbert goes on to a career as a teacher of English
literature, he spends time in a mental institution and works a succession
of odd jobs. Despite his marriage to an adult woman, which eventually
fails, Humbert remains obsessed with sexually desirable and sexually
aware young girls. These nymphets, as he calls them, remind him
of Annabel, though he fails to find another like her. Eventually,
Humbert comes to the United States and takes a room in the house
of widow Charlotte Haze in a sleepy, suburban New England town.
He becomes instantly infatuated with her twelve-year-old daughter
Dolores, also known as Lolita. Humbert follows Lolita’s moves constantly,
occasionally flirts with her, and confides his pedophiliac longings
to a journal. Meanwhile, Charlotte Haze, whom Humbert loathes, has fallen
in love with him. When Charlotte sends Lolita off to summer camp,
Humbert marries Charlotte in order to stay near his true love. Humbert
wants to be alone with Lolita and even toys with the idea of killing
Charlotte, but he can’t go through with it. However, Charlotte finds
his diary and, after learning that he hates her but loves her daughter,
confronts him. Humbert denies everything, but Charlotte tells him
she is leaving him and storms out of the house. At that moment,
a car hits her and she dies instantly.
Humbert goes to the summer camp and picks up Lolita. Only when
they arrive at a motel does he tell her that Charlotte has died. In
his account of events, Humbert claims that Lolita seduces him, rather
than the other way around. The two drive across the country for
nearly a year, during which time Humbert becomes increasingly obsessed
with Lolita and she learns to manipulate him. When she engages in
tantrums or refuses his advances, Humbert threatens to put her in
an orphanage. At the same time, a strange man seems to take an interest
in Humbert and Lolita and appears to be following them in their
travels.
Humbert eventually gets a job at Beardsley College somewhere in
the Northeast, and Lolita enrolls in school. Her wish to socialize with
boys her own age causes a strain in their relationship, and Humbert
becomes more restrictive in his rules. Nonetheless, he allows her
to appear in a school play. Lolita begins to behave secretively
around Humbert, and he accuses her of being unfaithful and takes
her away on another road trip. On the road, Humbert suspects that
they are being followed. Lolita doesn’t notice anything, and Humbert
accuses her of conspiring with their stalker.
Lolita becomes ill, and Humbert must take her to the hospital. However,
when Humbert returns to get her, the nurses tell him that her uncle
has already picked her up. Humbert flies into a rage, but then he
calms himself and leaves the hospital, heartbroken and angry.
For the next two years, Humbert searches for Lolita, unearthing clues
about her kidnapper in order to exact his revenge. He halfheartedly
takes up with a woman named Rita, but then he receives a note from
Lolita, now married and pregnant, asking for money. Assuming that
Lolita has married the man who had followed them on their travels,
Humbert becomes determined to kill him. He finds Lolita, poor and
pregnant at seventeen. Humbert realizes that Lolita’s husband is
not the man who kidnapped her from the hospital. When pressed, Lolita
admits that Clare Quilty, a playwright whose presence has been felt
from the beginning of the book, had taken her from the hospital.
Lolita loved Quilty, but he kicked her out when she refused to participate
in a child pornography orgy. Still devoted to Lolita, Humbert begs
her to return to him. Lolita gently refuses. Humbert gives her 4,000
dollars and then departs. He tracks down Quilty at his house and
shoots him multiple times, killing him. Humbert is arrested and
put in jail, where he continues to write his memoir, stipulating
that it can only be published upon Lolita’s death. After Lolita
dies in childbirth, Humbert dies of heart failure, and the manuscript
is sent to John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.