Study Guide

Lolita Justice and Judgment

By Vladimir Nabokov

Justice and Judgment


"Humbert Humbert," their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start. (Fore.1)

Such information does not have much meaning to us yet. We know already though that a certain criminal will not be brought to justice.

References to "H.H."'s crime may be looked up by the inquisitive in the daily papers for September-October 1952; its cause and purpose would have continued to remain a complete mystery, had not this memoir been permitted to come under my reading lamp. (Fore.2)

The author of the words is at pains to present the facts. He also wants us to know about the significance of what we are about to read. Consider these words as you proceed into the "memoir."

Book 1, Chapter 1
Humbert Humbert

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one. (1.1.4)

Humbert is addressing the reader. Does he think a jury will read his novel, or does he see the readers as his ultimate judges?

Book 1, Chapter 20
Humbert Humbert

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deprivation without the police and society cracking down on them. We are not sex fiends! (1.20.33)

Be careful when Humbert plays the lawyer. He is very convincing and sympathetic. How does he get to us?

Book 1, Chapter 22
Charlotte Haze

"You're a monster. You're a detestable, abominable, criminal fraud. If you come near—I'll scream out the window. Get back!" (1.22.7)

Charlotte is one of the only people to express this disgust. Perhaps she is smarter than he gives her credit for.

Book 1, Chapter 27

"The word is incest," said Lo—and walked into the closet, walked out again with a young golden giggle […] (1.27.108)

Lolita is way more attuned than Humbert thought she was. She often has moments of keen realization. Why doesn't she just run away?

Book 1, Chapter 32

"You chump […] You revolting creature. I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you've done to me. I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me. Oh, you dirty, dirty old man." (1.32.33)

Lolita plays a lot of games with Humbert. She enjoys making these accusations and expressing disgust. Can we ever get a sense of what she is thinking?

Book 2, Chapter 35
Humbert Humbert

I stopped in the doorway and said: "I have just killed Clare Quilty." "Good for you," said the florid fellow as he offered one of the drinks to the elder girl. "Somebody ought to have done it long ago, remarked the fat man." (2.35.85)

There isn't much good behavior in this book. People often seem indifferent to death throughout the novel.

"Because you took advantage of a sinner/because you took advantage/because you took/because you took advantage of my disadvantage […] /because of all you did/because of all I did not/you have to die." (2.35.63, 73)

Humbert reads the allegations to Clare Quilty. How different is he from this enemy?

Book 2, Chapter 36
Humbert Humbert

For reasons that may appear more obvious than they really are, I am opposed to capital punishment; this attitude will be, I trust, shared by the sentencing judge. Had I come before myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape, and dismissed the rest of the charges. (2.36.6)

Not surprisingly, Humbert concludes his book by sentencing himself, in a way. Why does he think "the rest of the charges" should be dropped? What are "the rest of the charges"?