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Literature Study GuidesLolitaPart 1 Chapters 16 17 Summary

Lolita | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita | Part 1, Chapters 16–17 | Summary



Chapter 16

Humbert is in Lolita's closet smelling her clothes when the maid, Louise, hands him a letter from Charlotte detailing her love for him and telling him to leave if he doesn't love her back. He notes that he recalls the letter (which he flushed down the toilet) from memory, though he admits he left out a passage or two. Alone in the house he gets into Lolita's bed to reread it.

Chapter 17

With an address to "gentlemen of the jury" he explains the process of his decision to marry Charlotte. He explains how he came to the revelation that, as Lolita's stepfather, he could lavish her with physical affection. That daily bliss would make him "a healthy man." Thus he "conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate." He then calls Lolita, stocks the kitchen, drinks, and cleans the patio while he waits for Charlotte to return.


Humbert immerses himself in Lolita's closet as if he could have sex with her clothes: "There was particularly one pink texture, sleazy, torn, with a faintly acrid odor in the seam," in which, he says, he wrapped his "huge engorged heart." There he reads Charlotte's desperate confession of her love, which arouses so much of his contempt that he flushes it down the toilet. He also "more or less skipped at the time" a passage about the death of her son at two, when Lolita was four. That such potentially meaningful and traumatic details—for Lolita, and of course for Charlotte—are irrelevant to him is further evidence of Humbert's pathological lack of sympathy.

After feelings of "repulsion and retreat" Humbert indicates that a calm settled, and he hints at evil machinations. He wanders into Lolita's room and notes that she has written "H.H." on a handsome actor's face. Perhaps the confidence that inspires makes him choose to get into Lolita's bed to reread the letter.

Humbert begins Chapter 17 with some provocative confessions, including that he has considered marrying a widow for access to her child and that he had tried to desire Charlotte in order to do so. Interestingly he addresses his audience, "Gentlemen of the jury!" as if he seems to believe that they will somehow understand his plight.

Though he is not guilty of planning to kill Charlotte, he is guilty of—and has no trouble confessing—the idea of drugging both mother and daughter so that he can fondle the latter throughout the night. He also fantasizes that he could blackmail Charlotte by threatening to leave her if she doesn't let him molest her daughter. For Humbert these possibilities make him as "helpless as Adam ... in his apple orchard." He's only as guilty as the original Adam, he implies.

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