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Lolita | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita | Part 2, Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

Humbert searches for a beach and water, "a Kingdom by the Sea" so he can truly relive his experience with Annabel, but he is continually frustrated. He tries to have sex with Lolita in a cave as girl scouts shriek in the ocean. He has sex with her outdoors near a mountain pass where they are interrupted by two children. Humbert takes Lolita to movie after movie, and he's critical of her taste: Lolita likes Westerns, musicals, and dark cop movies. A policeman stops them as they are fighting in the car, which makes Humbert realize that he's not really sure of his legal situation in relation to Lolita. He tells us that John Farlow, a lawyer who has been keeping track of his financial situation, is preoccupied with his wife's cancer. Humbert reads a parenting manual. Because they are running out of money they drive east to Beardsley College where an émigré friend of Humbert's has found him work.

Humbert describes how he vacillates between the idea of marrying Lolita when she comes of legal age in hopes of fathering her child (Lolita the Second) and grandchild (Lolita the Third), both of whom he could molest—and getting rid of her in two years when she is no longer a nymphet.

Chapter 4

Humbert enrolls Lolita in the Beardsley School for girls, even though he does not approve of its progressive educational ideas. Nabokov presents us with a parody of the values of some progressive educators, who, as Humbert's friend says, teach girls "not to spell very well, but to smell very well." Humbert is disappointed with their home but doesn't really mind as long as he can keep Lolita. He tells us that one thing he likes about the school is that he can see its playground from his home. That way, he hopes, he can keep Lolita in his sights and also look at the other young girls. But workmen come and put up a fence so he is thwarted.

Analysis

Humbert presents himself as becoming more fatherly and trying to steer Lolita away from the trash American culture she enjoys. He seems proud that her "passion" for typical American movies has declined "into tepid condescension" by the time she is back in school. His lecherous attitude appears just beneath the surface of his self-presentation and defense: readers see this lechery when, for example, he can't help noting that the title of a parenting manual Know Your Own Daughter is "unintentionally biblical." To "know" someone in the Bible often means to have sex with them.

As Humbert describes his hunt for a suitable beach he once again shows his disdain for modern psychological theory. He mocks an imagined psychiatrist who, reading his confession, would expect Humbert to gratify his desire and be rid of his obsession in just this way. Humbert's search for "a Kingdom by the Sea" is an allusion not only to his own childhood with Annabel but also to a line in "Annabel Lee," a poem by Edgar Allan Poe about a doomed love between two youths. (Poe, as Humbert notes elsewhere, is another luminary who married a young teen.)

Humbert's speculations about his future with Lolita when she is no longer a nymphet build suspense about who his murder victim will be.

Of the cross-county road trip Humbert finally says, "We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing." Unlike the beautiful vision of America that he presented earlier, he now sees their journey as negative, "a sinuous trail of slime." He finds the trips now only maps, tour books, old tires, and Lolita's "sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep." Once again Humbert has tried to live in his imagination appreciating only the aesthetic, but once again he has failed.

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