Study Guide

Lolita Youth

By Vladimir Nabokov


Book 1, Chapter 1
Humbert Humbert

In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. (1.1.3)

Humbert often describes Lolita as his own creation, his figment of nymphet perfection. We need to be careful as readers, because all we know of Lolita comes from him.

Book 1, Chapter 4
Humbert Humbert

The spiritual and the physical had been blended in us with a perfection that must remain incomprehensible to the matter-of-fact, crude, standard-brained youngsters of today. (1.4.2)

Humbert has very romantic ideas about his first love. He also doesn't think much of the manners of children. How do these two points work together?

Book 1, Chapter 5
Humbert Humbert

Never grow up. (1.5.11)

Humbert has a lot of strange notions about children. He often expresses contradictory feelings of desire and disgust toward children.

The bud-stage of breast development begins early (10.7 years) in the sequence of somatic changes accompanying pubescence. And the next maturational item available is the first appearance of pigmented pubic hair (11.2 years). (1.5.9)

Humbert has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the bodies of adolescent girls. His scientific descriptions make him seem like an even bigger pervert.

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur 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, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets." (1.5.5)

Humbert's definition of nymphet is very precise. He wants to make sure that the reader knows exactly the kind of girl he adores. Why is this information so important to him? Isn't it incriminating?

Book 1, Chapter 11
Humbert Humbert

A modern child, an avid reader of movie magazines, an expert in dream-like close-ups, might not think it too strange, I guessed, if a handsome, intensely virile grown-up friend […] (1.11.22)

Humbert's self-perceptions are full of references to the movies. He often exploits the fact that others are so wrapped up in images from Hollywood. Does he love movies as much as Lolita does? How are movies a tool of his exploitation?

Book 1, Chapter 28
Humbert Humbert

The whole point is that the old link between the adult world and the child world has been completely severed nowadays by new customs and new laws […] After all, Lolita was only twelve, and no matter what concessions I made to time and place—even bearing in mind the crude behavior of American schoolchildren—I still was under the impression that whatever went on among those brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different environment. (1.28.2)

Humbert struggles with the obvious unattractive qualities in children. He often reluctantly confesses that Lolita is just as ordinary as the rest.

Book 2, Chapter 3
Humbert Humbert

And so we rolled East, I more devastated than braced with the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health; her bi-iliac garland still as brief as a lad's, although she had added two inches to her stature and eight pounds to her weight. (2.3.19)

OK, time to get out your dictionary. Humbert's obsession with certain parts of Lolita's young body is downright disturbing.

Book 2, Chapter 29

She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf of the nymphet I had rolled myself upon with such cries in the past (2.29.67)

At only seventeen, Lolita has lost the bloom of youth. Shades of the nymphet can barely be discerned when Humbert visits a pregnant and married Lolita. But he still loves her. What does that suggest?

Book 2, Chapter 32
Humbert Humbert

Mid-twentieth century ideas concerning child-parent relationship have been considerably tainted by the scholastic rigmarole and standardized symbols of the psychoanalytic racket. (2.32.6)

Humbert is really down on psychoanalysis, but he also really likes invoking Freud's ideas. What's with his deep dislike of these ideas?