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Literature Study GuidesLolitaPart 1 Chapters 4 5 Summary

Lolita | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita | Part 1, Chapters 4–5 | Summary



Chapter 4

Humbert begins the chapter wondering if his tendencies (i.e., his sexual interest in young girls) caused or resulted from his relationship with Annabel. He finds that his subsequent efforts to analyze his behavior are generally unproductive, though he concludes "that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel." He then describes the "perfection" of his union with Annabel, followed by a detailed account of their first tryst in the mimosa grove of her family's villa, prematurely interrupted by her father's entrance. He characterizes Annabel's sudden death as the summer's final frustration, a sexual frustration that haunted him for 24 years. Humbert concludes that he only broke Annabel's "spell by incarnating her in another" 24 years later.

Chapter 5

Humbert provides a history of his relationship with women, including prostitutes. He calls his earlier relationships with adult women "sanitary" and his approach to them "practical, ironical and brisk." Even though prostitutes did not preclude his interest in girls, he notes that he refrained from criminal activity. Instead he "took advantage" of connections at orphanages and reform schools, where no adult seemed to care if he stared at the young girls.

In this chapter Humbert defines the "nymphet" as a prepubescent girl who "bewitches" certain adults with her demoniac, rather than human, nature. He elaborates on their seductive and dangerous characteristics. Humbert, however, "tried hard to be good." He notes that he would never "have interfered with the innocence of a child," despite the temptations of "demon" (nymphet) children. Instead he describes how he would sit on a park bench while the children played around him. On one occasion he recalls how he "dissolved in the sun" after watching a particular child. He also alludes to historical and literary examples of adults' sexual love for children.


Though he claims to wonder which came first Humbert eventually answers that his frustrated sexual relationship with Annabel caused his "excessive desire" for young girls thereafter.

He presents himself and Annabel as ideal young lovers, aligned in their "strange affinities," with dreams and memories in common. Indeed he asserts that "the spiritual and the physical had been blended in us with ... perfection." Similarly their mimosa grove is Eden-like, a place where "a cluster of stars palely glowed above us." That "perfection" made it all the more terrible when they were interrupted. Humbert offers an ambiguous image of himself in his final statement of Chapter 4. He indicates that he only finally "broke [Annabel's] spell by incarnating her in another," a complex phrase that suggests he feels himself a haunted victim but with a god-like power in the ability to "incarnate."

Toward his defense Humbert presents his younger self as trying to cope with his improper urges as best he can, guilty only of looking. Yet he also comes across as coldly in control. Meanwhile his definition of nymphets suggests the extent of the challenge he will face in controlling himself.

He both dehumanizes and demonizes nymphets, suggesting that they have "fantastic power" over others. They "reveal their true nature" only to the unsuspecting or "bewitched." His definition implies that nymphets play an active role in initiating the relationships with the sickly "nympholepts." Here, like the rapist he becomes, he is blaming the victim. Watching these "nymphets" in a park could lead him to something like orgasm.

Humbert furthers his defense by aligning himself with, among others, Dante and Petrarch, great artists whose writing celebrated their love of Beatrice (9) and "Laura" (12), respectively.

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