With Humbert as our controlling (and insane) narrator, the tone comes across as sly, superior, darkly comic, and intellectual, alternating between bemused weariness and sweeping romanticism. With very few emotional outbursts, Humbert's narrative remains cool and detached, amused in spite of itself. Humbert expresses both shame and bravado (I got her! I'm such a pig – my bad. But I'm the man!).
His constant addresses to the reader are difficult to take seriously, given that they are often followed by detailed exemplifications of his vile behavior. These addresses become failed efforts to set a tone of sympathy, to draw the reader into his point of view and thus to pull back our attention from the juicy story and consider the profoundly disturbing moral implications of what we are reading. In other words, if we like him or are like him, we won't condemn him; he thus uses tone to seduce us, make us comfortable, saying sit back and enjoy the ride. Humbert's dark humor and wit also serve as part of the narrative's smoke and mirrors, seeking to erase some of the horror trivializing the subject matter by offering jokes where shock may be more readily expected.
Lolita is such mash-up of different genres, it's impossible to label the novel as any specific one. Just when we think it complies with one generic category, Nabokov switches and plays on all of the conventions of another, readily combining realism, romance, erotic confessional, psychological case study, and detective fiction. It's also a tragedy – after all, everyone dies in the end and the hero destroys everyone and himself. The novel's Foreword has pretentions to realism, announcing that it's a "memoir" and "case study," a sort of academic examination of abnormal psychology – but that characterization is proven wrong from the novel's opening lines, which reads like nothing so much as a romance:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta […] she was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. (1.1.1)
Despite the brutal abuse throughout, Humbert claims that he loves Lolita, almost willfully trying to make us believe we are reading a romance.
In addition to realism and romance, satire runs from beginning to end, as Nabokov derides the high moral value Ray (the writer of the Foreword) attributes to the novel – and assures the reader in the Afterword that such moral lessons are simply not there. Lolita is certainly not a pious condemnation of child abuse or a moral story. Nabokov resists being didactic all the way, making Ray's Foreword read like a bit of dry psychological wishful thinking. Humbert's dark humor, puns, and exaggerations all contribute to the satiric effect. Words are his only playthings, so he is going to push their possibilities to the limit, as well as do his best to amuse himself in jail (and make himself appealing to his readers).
Elements of fantasy and fairy tale take hold as Humbert and Lolita approach The Enchanted Hunters hotel. Humbert's anticipation is high, and everything is colored with a supernatural feeling. Words like "magic," "forbid," "swoon," "dream," and "treasure," enter into Humbert's vocabulary, indicating we are entering another genre altogether – one in which instincts and desires prevail over rational decision making and reality. Notably, however, there is another shift as a sneaking paranoia begins to take hold of him immediately after he and Lolita have sex. A sense of tragedy begins to seep in:
More and more uncomfortable did Humbert feel. It was something quite special, that feeling: an oppressive hideous constraint as if I were sitting with the small ghost of somebody I had just killed. (1.32.25)
Though the "romance" commands our attention, we are also reminded throughout that we are reading a murder mystery. After all, Humbert is in jail for murder and intermittently reminds us with interjections such as:
Being a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and unorthodox memory, I cannot tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the exact day I knew with utter certainty that the red convertible was following us. (2.18.3)
The Aztec Red Convertible initiates the novel's turn toward the detective genre, as Humbert begins to accumulate clues that they are being trailed and that Lolita is not exactly being forthright. At this point in the novel, Humbert becomes both detective and criminal. Allusions to the classics of detective fiction such as Poe's "The Purloined Letter," Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, or Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced, announce these influences.
The name "Lolita" is everything, as Humbert indicates in the book's opening lines. It's poetry, a religious incantation, and an erotic gratification. Importantly, we know from the novel's Foreword that Lolita's name is the only one that has not been changed, which is interesting because she is really the only "innocent" to protect, as they say. But since the sound of her name – and Humbert's affection for the way it rolls off his tongue ("Lo-lee-ta") – is so integral to the attraction, the name goes unchanged. As Ray explains, "her name is too closely interwound with the inmost fiber of the book to allow one to alter it" (Fore.2). The novel would be quite different if it were titled Dolores Haze, which is Lolita's real name.
As the Foreword indicates, Humbert's manuscript originally had the title, Lolita, or the Confessions of a White Widowed Male. The book's title may be Lolita, but it really should be Humbert's Lolita, because we never get a chance to hear from her at all. On that note, some critics differentiate "Dolores" (a character we never actually meet) from "Lolita," who is a projection of Humbert's fantasy. (For more discussion of names, see "Character Clues.")
On the one hand, the ending of Lolita is open-and-shut: everyone is dead. On the other hand, the conclusion is complicated by the fact that we only know everyone's fate by going back and re-reading John Ray, Jr.'s Foreword. In other words, the end is told at the beginning when Ray announces that "Humbert Humbert," the author of Lolita, or the Confessions of a White Widowed Male has "died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis […] a few days before his trial was scheduled to start" (Fore.1). Some paragraphs later, he relates what happened to Rita, Vivian Darkbloom, and most importantly, Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller," whom at that point we have no way of knowing is Lolita; we only know that she "died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest" (Fore.3). By putting the end at the beginning, Nabokov gets to resolve everyone's story and leave the memoir itself feeling really open-ended.
For its part, Humbert's "memoir" concludes with Humbert in prison. It has taken him 56 days to write the story. He comes across as rather pleased at having finished, announcing, "This then is my story" (2.36.4). Most important for Humbert is that finishing the memoir provides some sort of relief. After all, he does call it a "confession," and refers to it as such several times. He expresses concern about hurting the people who appeared in the story, so he changes their names and requests that the story not be published until everyone has died.
Do we believe that he really feels all of this guilt, compassion, and concern? His story has made him very difficult to trust. The final lines are deeply emotional, but also didactic (teacher-y), as he offers advice to Lolita about how to live a decent life. What's odd is that he gives all of these suggestions knowing that she would be dead and thus never actually read them.
The main events of the story take place in America from 1947 to 1952, but there are several other settings that bear mentioning. Setting is critical to identity in the Lolita, as Humbert is very aware of having come from Europe, where he lived in his father's luxury hotel on the Riviera and received a top-notch education in France. Humbert refers to the first half of his life as "the European period of my existence" (1.5.8). Though he grows to despise Europe for all of its musty old history, the fact that he is from there is integral to his personality and outlook on America. His European past is also tied up with how people like bourgeois Charlotte see him: as a cosmopolitan and elegant gentleman with "old-world" manners. Likewise, Lolita's image is very tied in to America, with all of its implications of youth, shallowness, and endless consumer possibilities.
Ramsdale "the gem of an eastern state" (1.9.9) sits in stark contrast to Europe. The Haze house, where Humbert falls in love with Lolita is "a white-frame horror […] looking dingy and old" (1.10.4). That the story takes place in North America with travels through dozens of states with all of their sights and tourist traps, motels and alluring giftshops is much more important than the smaller settings of Ramsdale and Beardsley, a town much like Ramsdale where their house bears a "dejected resemblance to the Haze home" (2.4.1). In their two trips around the U.S., Humbert and Lolita become all too familiar with the "Sunset Motels, U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View Courts, Mountain View Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green Acres, Mae's Courts" (2.1.3) – all of which are dramatically different from his father's palatial hotel on the Riviera. American motels, all interchangeable, lowbrow, and equally kitsch – provide the setting for their illicit relationship. (See "Visions of America" under Themes, for more detail.)
Above all the setting of the events is in Humbert's head. So much of what he describes is infused with his imagination. And because the story is told as a memoir through his point of view, we must realize that he filters all of the information through a perverse and yet sometimes romantic lens. As example, The Enchanted Hunters hotel is one "micro" setting that requires mentioning because of the way Humbert presents it to us. Of course, it is the setting of the "seduction" (where Humbert and Lolita first have sex):
The Park was as black as the sins it concealed—but soon after falling under the smooth spell of a nicely graded curve, the travelers became aware of a diamond glow through the mist, then a gleam of lakewater appeared–and there it was, marvelously and inexorably, under spectral trees, at the top of a graveled drive—the pale palace of the Enchanted Hunters. (1.27.86)
Now, how much do we actually learn about the appearance of the hotel and how much is a muddled and fairy-tale infused fantasy on Humbert's part? The point is: when Humbert describes a setting – and here he is anticipating getting Lolita drugged and under his spell – what he "sees" is colored by desire, fantasy, paranoia, and expectation.
Though the plot is very straightforward, Lolita challenges its readers for three fundamental reasons. One, the language is ornate and complex. Part of the narrator's charm, and the prose's strength, is based upon the wide-range of vocabulary and literary and cultural references. It's definitely a good idea to have a dictionary nearby, as you will not only better understand what Humbert is saying, but also get a lot more out of the book, including understanding the full depth of his perversions.
Another element that contributes to the difficulty at the book is the subject matter. Simply put, the pedophilia is hard to stomach; the fact that Humbert preys so relentlessly on Lolita can sometimes make for tough reading.
A final factor is the reliability of the narrator. We are basically reading the story of a self-confessed madman, someone who enjoys games, and is presenting the story to a "jury" of readers. He occasionally contradicts himself or muddles facts, which can contribute to the reader's confusion. All told, however, getting to the end is rewarding – it's worth every challenge.
For a book known for being very risqué, Lolita has no four-letter words or graphic sex; that's because of Humbert's style, which combines the lyrical and clinical, the poetic and the academic, evoking Edgar Allan Poe and then height-charts, road maps, post cards, "evidence" and exhibits. Our narrator, Humbert, riddles the narrative with wordplay and wry observations of American culture, while his black humor provides an effective counterpoint to the pathos of the tragic plot.
The novel's humorous and ornate style is the result of double entendres, multilingual puns, anagrams, and coinages. The style is also highly visual; Humbert often compels the reader to see what he describes. [What do you expect from someone who says in the opening chapter "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style" (1.1.3)?] In this sense, the American love of cinema (and Humbert's feeling that he has screen-star virility) seeps into the style of the novel.
Like the novel's genre, style often changes to serve Humbert's purpose. Half-way through the novel, he reminds us:
My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the itinerary [Lolita and I] followed, and I suppose I have reached here a point where I cannot avoid that chore. (2.1.17)
Despite claiming an inconvenience at having to relate the details, Humbert clearly relishes it. He is at his best when he lapses into the lyrical language of enchantment – that's when he gets really fancy. Speaking of a shopping trip for Lolita, Humbert muses:
Lifesize plastic figures of snug-nosed children with dun-colored, greenish, brown-dotted, faunish faces floated around me. I realized I was the only shopper in that rather eerie place where I moved about fishlike, in a glaucous aquarium. I sensed strange thoughts. (1.25.7)
Before going into symbols, imagery, and allegory in Lolita, it is important to note that Nabokov himself was very resistant, and in fact mocked, the idea that the book was full of such literary trickery. In "On A Book Entitled Lolita," an essay written one year after the book was published in France (and often included at the end of the novel), Nabokov expressed deep cynicism about the efforts of literature teachers to find deep meaning in novels, seeking to answer such questions as "What is the author's purpose?" or "What is the guy trying to do?" He claims he had "no other purpose than to get rid of that book," in other words, to purge the ideas from his head. His purpose in writing the novel, as he explains it, is to produce "aesthetic bliss." To him so-called "Literature of Ideas" is pure nonsense – "topical trash." As one critic explained it: "Mr. Nabokov explicitly denies any symbolism" (source) and in interviews he explained that he detests symbols and allegories.
Part of Nabokov's resistance to making objects deeply meaningful and figurative relates to his dislike of psychoanalysis, which posits that everything has hidden meaning. That said, there are certain images that appear and reappear throughout the novel, more motifs than hard-and-fast symbols. You will not find any symbols so strong as The Great Gatsby's green light; as Freud himself (maybe) said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
"Nymphet" is Humbert's word for an attractive young girl, but he goes to great lengths to define it precisely, particularly the age range and the exact physical qualities a "girl-child" (what we might today call a "tween") must have in order to qualify for nymphet status:
Between the age limit of nine and fourteen there occurs maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human but nymphic (that is demonaic); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets." (1.5.6)
Now, whether or not anyone would agree to call these girls "nymphets" remains unknown. This definition is Humbert's own, for Humbert's pleasure, and to clarify for the reader ("the jury") and his lawyer, who prompted him to write the account, exactly what constitutes the object of his lust.
Because we're dealing with a verbal trickster, it's important to pause and consider Humbert's definition. Words like "bewitched" echo his whole Enchanted Hunters theme of magic, casting spells, and fairy lands, but it also implies that the man who loves the nymphet almost cannot help himself because he is in her power, she is the one casting as spell and is thus in control – as Humbert suggests of Lolita when he tells us that she seduced him. After his initial more physical description of "nymphet," Humbert makes a further point:
What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet—of every nymphet […] of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity. (1.11.13)
Not only does Humbert delineate "nymphet," but he also explains that one who loves nymphets must be an "artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy" (1.5.6) – like him.
This phrase comes up many times during the course of the novel, and often in highly suggestive variations, such as "The Hunted Enchanters." It is first mentioned by Charlotte, who proposes that she and Humbert have a romantic little getaway at a hotel by that name. Most importantly, The Enchanted Hunters is the name of the hotel where Humbert and Lolita first have sex. Later, Clare Quilty names his play The Enchanted Hunter and clever Humbert doesn't make the connection – remember that man who speaks to him about Lolita on the dark porch of hotel? Quilty, gathering material. Humbert admits that he thought the name of the hotel and the name of the play was a coincidence.
The phrase echoes some of the meanings of "nymphet" because it implies that the one who hunts is "enchanted," almost under the spell of the girl being hunted. The hunter is drawn as if by a supernatural power that cannot be helped or hindered. Despite this connotation, the object of the hunt is clearly Lolita. Along these lines, Humbert often characterizes himself as a predator – like a spider or a monster, at one point saying that he prefers his prey to be moving rather than motionless. Clare Quilty is another of Lolita's hunters, following Humbert and Lolita around the country and finally snatching her up in Elphinstone.
Lolita is a very cinematic novel. Not only is the style highly visual, but Humbert also constantly imagines scenes unfolding as if they are up on the big screen. Lolita is also obsessed by movies, slick movie mags, and Hollywood hunks. Humbert is both compelled by Lolita's obsession and repulsed by its vulgarity. He likens himself to a virile movie actor and appreciates the comparison Lolita has drawn between himself and a "haggard lover" (1.16.7) in an ad ripped out and stuck above her bed. He is fully prepared to exploit Lolita's affection for movie-land illusions and Hollywood glamour. To Nabokov, Lolita's love of movies serves as a commentary on the larger American infatuation with movies. (And let's not forget that Quilty makes porn movies.)
The very style of the novel has a debt to the cinematic arts, as Humbert often refers to a keen awareness of being watched, referring to himself as the "glamorous lodger" with Lolita as the "modern child, an avid reader of movie magazines, an expert in dream-slow close-ups" (1.11.22). Scenes are often told in cinematic fashion with references to "Main Character […] Time […] Place […] Props" (1.13.5), when Humbert has his covert gratification on the couch.
America is one of the most prominent "symbols" in the book (for extended discussion see "Visions of America" under Themes). What America stands for – consumerism, kitsch culture, excessive advertising – is more of an allegory than a symbol. Humbert makes a lot of the differences between old Europe and the relatively new America, which he closely associates with Lolita and her desires. Charlotte embodies some of the worst of American tastes an impulses, in particular the bourgeois inclination to appear sophisticated by cluttering one's house with international knick-knacks. To Charlotte, Humbert is the epitome of European elegance and intelligence; by having him in her home, she hopes that some of that class will rub off on her.
Theater plays an important symbolic role, because Lolita's involvement in it not only trains her to trick Humbert even better, but also becomes the way she gets closer to Clare Quilty, whose play, The Enchanted Hunter, is being staged at her school. As Humbert soon fears, perhaps Lolita's involvement in theater has trained her in the art of deception and performance:
By permitting Lolita to study acting I had, fond fool, suffered her to cultivate deceit. It now appeared that it had not been merely a matter of learning the answers to such questions as what is the basic conflict in 'Hedda Gabler' […] it was really a matter of learning how to betray me. (2.20.1)
Lolita is full of doubles, also knows as doppelgängers: Humbert and Quilty, Annabel and Lolita. (Even the name "Humbert Humbert" reflects an in inner duality.) In spite of Humbert's deep resentment of Quilty, he cannot help but admire the playwright's verbal skills. Quilty is the one person in the novel whose intelligence Humbert even remotely respects. They are bound by their perverse desire for Lolita. That Quilty follows Humbert around the United States emphasizes the sense that Quilty is a shadow figure to Humbert.
Still, Humbert and Quilty have more in common that even Humbert would like to admit. To Humbert, Quilty is the evil one, the depraved one, praying on Lolita. When Humbert finally confronts Quilty in the end, he announces that Lolita was his child, as though he has played a role of concerned parent and protector. In a sense, then, killing Quilty is Humbert's way of doing himself in since he knows he will go to jail where he belongs. As they fight in the end, their bodies blend together, as Humbert describes the scene: "We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us" (2.35.55). Between Humbert and Quilty, there is a constant switching back and forth between who is the hunter and who is the hunted. They are also both "enchanted hunters" of Lolita because they are both mesmerized by her as they prey on her.
As for the Annabel and Lolita doubling, Humbert sees Lolita as Annabel's reincarnation and the cure to his life-long ache over losing Annabel. Most importantly, they are both nymphets.
Clothing plays a huge symbolic role in the novel, as Humbert loves to buy clothes for Lolita. Clothes are a way for Humbert to project his fantasies onto Lolita, a way to bribe her, and a way to show his own perverse form of affection. His first mention of her includes a mention of her sock, and the first thing he does before he goes to pick up Lolita from Camp Q is buy her a bunch of clothes. His journal holds his obsessive record of what she is wears daily, "plaid shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers" (1.11.4); "rolled-up jeans" (1.11.5); "Checked frock" (1.11.10); "pretty print dress […] ample in the skirt, tight in the bodice, short-sleeved, pink, checkered with darker pink" (1.13.5). You get the point.
One of Humbert's favorite little catch phrases refers to the strange coincidences and convergences that Humbert experiences:
As for me, although I had long become used to a kind of secondary fate (McFate's inept secretary, so to speak) pettily interfering with the boss's magnificent plan. (27.85)
One of the most notable quirks is the reappearance of the number 342: it's the street number of the Haze home, the room number at The Enchanted Hunters, and the total number of hotels in which Humbert and Lolita stay during their travels. What the number ultimately signifies is unknown.
With the exception of John Ray, Jr.'s academic and self-important prologue to the memoir, the novel offers one point of view, one voice, and one side of the story: that of Humbert the victimizer, whose skill with language surpasses just about any reader who comes across the novel. Humbert's superiority (to Lolita, to everyone, to the "jury" he dramatically addresses from time to time, and to us) is something that Humbert banks on.
Humbert is about as far from a reliable narrator as can be. He has had numerous stints in psychiatric clinics. One example: "A dreadful breakdown sent me to a sanitarium for more than a year; I went back to my work—only to be hospitalized again" (1.9.1). The reasons he gives for his four recorded "bouts of insanity" are "melancholia and a sense of insufferable oppression" (1.9.5), a "sexual predicament" (1.9.5), and "losing contact with reality" (2.25.5). These are what we call narrative red flags: the guy is nuts.
Still, Humbert the narrator is the ultimate manipulator and seducer, extending his skills to his storytelling techniques. He teases the reader with hints – "a bad accident is to happen quite soon" (1.19.1) – and makes constant direct addresses to the reader, saying such things as, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one" (1.1.4) and "I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay" (1.13.5). He also provokes the readers: "Let readers imagine" (1.15.3), wanting them to enter his mind, which itself does a lot of imagining. "Imagine me," he says, "I shall not exist if you do not imagine me" (1.29.5). He wants the reader to envision, invent, participate, approve, and speculate. Keep in mind that his lawyer has prompted him to write this account, which unfolds as a strange combination of self-incrimination and self-defense.
Bottom line: we cannot trust a word he says.
As a young boy, Humbert falls in love with his first nymphet. When she is taken away from him before they can consummate their love, he feels a permanent emptiness. In Lolita, he finds Annabel's reincarnation and the possibility of fulfilling his childhood lust.
In order to be near Lolita, Humbert must endure the bourgeois uncultured companionship of Charlotte Haze, who, as it turns out is in love with him. He is full of daydreams of how to rid himself of her and even comes close to murdering her at Hourglass Lake. He ends up marrying her just to stay near Lolita and believes that he will have to gratify himself by drugging both of the women into a stupor. Fate intervenes and he gets his wish (as well as getting off scot-free) when a car kills her, thus clearing his path to Lolita.
Humbert starts to get very possessive and paranoid. Though their relationship had its troubles (like Lolita hates him and cries every night), she was still complying with his desires. Now, on their second road trip, someone in an Aztec Red Convertible is following them and Lolita is possibly in on it.
Humbert loses Lolita and begins a frantic search for her. He traces back through every motel they stayed at only to find that her abductor was following them all along. Humbert is teased and tormented by the abductor's inscriptions in the motel registries.
After wandering around for a few years in search of Lolita, Humbert finally receives a letter that provides clues as to her whereabouts. Almost as important as locating her is determining who abducted her. When he finds out that it is Clare Quilty, he tracks the playwright down at his family manor and shoots him like a dog. Without Lolita, Humbert has nothing, so after he shoots Quilty he drives down the wrong side of the street and just waits to be arrested.
From the Foreword to Humbert's memoir, we find out that Humbert died in captivity. Soon we begin reading Humbert's story, which begins by describing the childhood love that led him to his obsession with what he describes as "nymphets." A young woman named Annabel Leigh is his first love, but before gratifying his desire for her, Annabel's parents take her away. Humbert's enduring desire for young girls is established in these early chapters. He expresses a range of feelings about it – guilt, desire, rationalization – and explains that, other than nymphets, he only sleeps with prostitutes.
Humbert falls in love with Lolita, the daughter of his landlady, the mediocre and lowbrow Charlotte Haze. He doesn't stand a chance of getting to Lolita as long as Mrs. Haze is around.
Humbert accepts that in order to continue being around Lolita he will have to bite the bullet and marry Charlotte. Soon after they marry, Charlotte discovers all of Humbert's dirty little secrets, threatens to tell Lolita, but gets killed by a car, freeing up Humbert to pursue Lolita.
Humbert finally gets what he has desired for so long. Ironically, before he swoops up Lolita from Camp Q, she has already lost her virginity to Charlie Holmes, with whom she has sex by the aptly named Lake Climax. Being the sex-filled book that it is, Lolita naturally has the climax of the story coincide with Humbert's own sexual gratification. What will Lolita do now that she has given herself to Humbert? As mentioned, one of the shocks of the novel is Humbert's assertion that Lolita seduces him. Once that has happened, we still wonder: Will she leave him? Will she turn him in? They end up going on a year-long trip around the United States and then shacking up in Beardsley.
After being together for several years, things start to go sour between Lolita and Humbert. Lolita gets a role in The Enchanted Hunters, the school play. Lolita and Humbert set off on another trip. This trip is quite different from the last. Humbert's levels of paranoia and jealousy are high. He suspects but cannot confirm that someone is following them and that Lolita is being unfaithful. Finally, as he has feared, Lolita disappears.
On a second reading, you can find many clues that indicate Clare Quilty is around and possibly preying on Lolita from early on. It all adds up at the end. Now that Humbert knows who took her, he sets off to kill him.
The long-awaited revenge is enacted. Humbert tracks Quilty down and, after reading him "the charges" in the form of a poem, shoots him several times. No one cares. Humbert goes to jail.
Humbert develops a taste for young girls. He earns an education on the continent and marries Valeria in an effort to cure himself and be taken care of. They divorce. Humbert moves to United States and after some peculiar adventures and several stays in a sanitarium, moves to Ramsdale. He becomes a boarder in the Haze household, immediately falling in love with the daughter, Lolita. Desperate to stay near Lolita, Humbert marries Charlotte Haze, who conveniently dies, leaving Humbert to gratify his passion.
Humbert and Lolita begin their affair. They undertake a year-long trip around the United States, an odyssey filled with cheap motels, souvenirs, and tourist traps. They end up in Beardsley because Lolita has to go to school and Humbert must work. They live together, continuing their torrid affair, but Lolita is getting ornery. Humbert starts to become possessive. He lets her take part in the school play, which makes matters worse. After a big blow-up, Lolita proposes taking another trip. They set off.
Lolita is kidnapped. Humbert undertakes an extensive effort to find her, but is only tormented by provocative clues that prove nothing other than that her abductor is Humbert's intellectual equal. Finally after several years, and in need of money, Lolita contacts him. Humbert tracks her down, tries to win her back, finds out who she bailed with, gives her money, then leaves to kill Clare Quilty. Humbert shoots and kills Quilty and ends up in jail.