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Literature Study GuidesLolitaPart 2 Chapters 19 20 Summary

Lolita | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita | Part 2, Chapters 19–20 | Summary



Chapter 19

As they head toward Wace they stop at a post office to check for forwarded mail. Dolly/Lolita has a letter from her friend Mona; suspicious, Humbert reads the letter first: the play was a success and her family is moving to Paris. Lolita disappears, and when Humbert finds her, she tells him she was speaking to a Beardsley girl. He quizzes her fiercely. Humbert becomes more and more paranoid, believing he sees the detective Trapp's "Aztec Red convertible" everywhere. On a mountain road their car has a flat, and he sees Trapp driving behind them. Lolita starts their car and the convertible that has been following them turns and drives away.

Dead or destroyed children accumulate through this portion of Lolita. Earlier in Chapter 16 the barber in Kasbeam speaks of his son as if he were still alive, but his baseball-playing son has been dead for 30 years; Humbert watches a pregnant young woman, so preoccupied by her unborn child that she ignores her live son who has been shouting but is not being listened to. Humbert later calls that shouting boy a "cancelled child." In Chapter 19 in the letter from Mona at Beardsley, Humbert reads that Mona's baby sibling is dead "(our baby, alas, did not live!)." And in the post office there is a snapshot about a "Missing Girl, age fourteen." All these missing, dead, or "cancelled" children wherever Humbert goes! Dolly Haze is, of course, a missing child too, whose childhood has been "cancelled" by Humbert.

Quilty, or "Detective Paramour Trapp," is coming closer to Humbert and Lolita, and Humbert becomes jealous and also more violent. He strikes Lolita across her cheek and realizes, as she takes over the car when it is sliding downhill, that she has somehow learned to drive. He even realizes that she's keeping him from confronting "Trapp."

Chapter 20

Lolita has been with Humbert for almost two years now; she's 14. Humbert is beginning to wish he had never allowed her to be involved in dramatics: he thinks she has learned, through the theater, how to deceive him. He plays tennis with her and two people join them. Humbert is about to get rid of them when he is called to the phone, but the call is hoax. Humbert watches Lolita playing tennis with the two strangers, and there's an additional man there who, before he leaves, pats Lolita on the bottom with his tennis racket.


As the text, seemingly beyond Humbert's control, begins to shift away from the romance story Humbert desires and adopts the elements of a crime or detective story, Humbert succumbs to paranoia. Humbert is unsuited to the elements of this genre such as the presence of puzzling cars, secret figures, strange disappearances, and red herrings or false clues. As Humbert becomes a fish-out-of-water in this strange setting he loses control over the situation and ultimately Lolita.

Humbert reflects that Lolita imitates the form of tennis, rather than showing true mastery of it. This observation echoes Lolita's imitation of romance, as when she asks Humbert to carry her up the stairs the day before they left Beardsley. Humbert sees that her tennis playing is somehow inauthentic because of him.

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