Study Guide

Lolita Innocence

By Vladimir Nabokov


Book 1, Chapter 5
Humbert Humbert

Humbert tried hard to be good. Really and truly, he did. He had the utmost respect for ordinary children, with their purity and vulnerability, and under no circumstances would he have interfered with the innocence of a child, if there was the least risk of a row. (1.5.9)

This is a typical Humbert sentence. He loves to defend his ways, but ends up expressing something altogether different: he just doesn't want to get caught.

Book 1, Chapter 29
Humbert Humbert

[…] it was she who seduced me. (1.29.12)

OK, this one's a real shocker. After all of his plans, Lolita is the one who makes the first move. Do we even believe him?!

Book 1, Chapter 32
Humbert Humbert

This was a lone child, an absolute waif, with whom a heavy-limbed, foul-smelling adult had had strenuous intercourse three times that very morning. (1.32.25)

Sometimes Humbert manages to express some objectivity. Rather than seeing himself as a devilishly handsome movie actor, he sees himself for the beast he really is.

Book 2, Chapter 29

She groped for words. I supplied them mentally "He broke my heart. You merely broke my life." (2.29.81)

Humbert finds the truth from Lolita. His feelings of culpability are confirmed: he really did destroy Lolita's life.

Book 2, Chapter 31
Humbert Humbert

[…] nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I had inflicted upon her. Unless it can be proven to me—to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac. (2.31.1)

Humbert considers the implications of what he has done. How does it affect her? How does it affect him? What does it mean in the larger scope of things? Is he even sincere?

Book 2, Chapter 32
Humbert Humbert

And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller. (2.32.4)

Humbert does actually experience feelings of empathy. But his urges were always stronger than his compassion.

It had become gradually clear to my conventional Lolita during our singular and bestial cohabitation that even the most miserable of family lives was better than the parody of incest, which, in the long run, was the best I could offer the waif. (2.32.6)

Humbert acknowledges the depth of his depravity. Interesting that he sees it as the only option he had. Do we believe that he believes this nonsense?

Book 2, Chapter 33
Humbert Humbert

All at once I noticed that from the lawn I had mown a golden-skinned, brown-haired nymphet of nine or ten, in white shorts, was looking at me with wild fascination in her large blue-black eyes. (2.33.3)

Returning one last time to the old Haze home, Humbert sees a nymphet. Has he changed at all?

Book 2, Chapter 35
Humbert Humbert

"She was my child, Quilty." (2.35.25)

Humbert's long-awaited encounter with his nemesis. Should we be surprised that he plays the dad card? Why does he use this approach?

Book 2, Chapter 36
Humbert Humbert

Reader! What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic—one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter […] I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope […] and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord. (2.36.3)

Humbert makes a broad assessment of his crime. Humbert wants us to feel his pain. Should we?