Study Guide

Lolita Language and Communication

By Vladimir Nabokov

Language and Communication

Book 1, Chapter 1
Humbert Humbert

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. (1.1.3)

Humbert loves to make striking statements. Not only does he confess a crime early in the novel, but he also draws attention to the quality of his own writing.

Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. (1.1.1)

Everything about Lolita fills Humbert with pleasure, even the feeling of saying her name. There is no single part of her that he does not turn into a fetish object.

Book 1, Chapter 5
Humbert Humbert

Let me remind you my reader that in England […] the term "girl-child" is defined as "a girl who is over eight but under fourteen. (1.5.9)

Humbert pays close attention to definitions. He is also eager to sway his readers, whom he often addresses as his "jury."

Book 1, Chapter 8
Humbert Humbert

Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with! (1.8.4)

Beware of anyone who has this much fun with words. Could be actually be telling us how to read his own book?

Book 1, Chapter 11

Humbert Humbert is also infinitely moved by the little one's slangy speech. (1.11.5)

Humbert is charmed by Lolita's misuse of the language. Part of her charm is her typical American adolescent way of talking.

Book 1, Chapter 17
Humbert Humbert

But I am no poet. I am only a very conscientious recorder. (1.17.7)

Do we believe either of Humbert's claims? Watch for contradictions to this claim of straightforward reporting.

Book 2, Chapter 1
Humbert Humbert

Let us, however, forget, Dolores Haze, so-called legal terminology, terminology that accepts as rational the term "lewd and lascivious cohabitation." I am not a criminal sexual psychopath taking indecent liberties with a child [. . .] I am your daddum. (2.1. 11)

Humbert spends a lot of time rationalizing his behavior. Somehow, if he can convince Lolita and the reader, perhaps he can also convince himself.

Book 2, Chapter 23
Humbert Humbert

At the very first motel office I visited, Ponderosa Lodge, his entry, among a dozen obviously human ones, read: Dr. Gratiano Forbeson, Mirandola, NY. Its Italian Comedy connotations could not fail to strike me, of course. (2.23.4)

Humbert had found in Clare Quilty a worthy rival. They are both lovers of language and of Lolita.

His allusions were definitely highbrow. He was well-read. He knew French. He was versed in logodaedaly and logomancy. (2.23.5)

Humbert cannot help but respect Lolita's abductor because of his deft language skills. Because Quilty is like him, Humbert both admires and despises him.

Book 2, Chapter 35
Humbert Humbert

"Quilty," I said, "do you recall a little girl called Dolores Haze, Dolly Haze? Dolly called Dolores, Colo.?" (2.35.2)

Even in the culmination moment of confrontation with Quilty, Humbert engages in word play with Lolita's name.