Lolita Summary

Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita

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Lolita Summary

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Lolita (1955) is a controversial and shocking novel by Vladimir Nabokov. It is a psychological and erotic thriller about a middle-aged man who has a troubling affair with a twelve-year-old girl.

The novel is narrated by HumbertHumbert, who is writing his story while in prison awaiting his murder trial. Humbert is a middle-aged European expatriate living in the United States. He is a hyper-civilized European who exemplifies Old World culture. He is highly-intellectual and well-educated, but he is also mentally unstable. The charming and debonair man is also depraved pedophile obsessed with young girls, who he refers to as “nymphets.”

The novel begins with a forward written by a fictional psychologist. Nabokov writes the forward as a parody of a scientific or medical case history. John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. explains that the novel was written by a man in prison, known by the pseudonym “HumbertHumbert.” The author died of coronary thrombosis before his murder trial began. Ray received the manuscript from Humbert’s lawyer. Ray acknowledges that the author writes beautifully about his despicable actions. Ray hopes the novel encourages parents to raise better children and predicts the novel will become popular among psychiatrists. All the names in the story, except for Lolita, have been changed. We learn that Mrs. Richard F. Schiller—Lolita—recently died during childbirth.

The narrator was raised on the French Riviera. His father owned the Hotel Mirana. As a thirteen–year-old, Humbert falls in love with 12-year old Annabel Leigh, who is the daughter of family friends. The two young lovers almost make love in a beachside cave but get interrupted by two men swimming. Humbert never gets to see his beloved Annabel again. She dies from typhoid a few months later, which haunts Humbert. Annabel is Humbert’s ideal nymphet. Nabokov named the young girl after the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Annabel Lee” about another girl who dies at a young age.

Humbert moves to Paris and London as a young man to receive a literary education. During this time, he remains attracted to young girls and tries to find excuses to be close to them. To satisfy his sexual desires, he visits prostitutes in Paris.

Humbert begins a career as a teacher of English literature. To quell his perverse sexual desires, he marries Valeria. His marriage does not end his obsession with young girls, who remind him of Annabel. The two are married for four years until she runs off with Maximovich, a Russian taxi driver.

After his failed marriage, Humbert moves to the United States. His uncle provides him with an annual stipend to help him immigrate. First, he lives in New York and writes a book on French literature while working at a university. After a decline in his mental health, he spends several years in and out of mental institutions. He holds a series of odd jobs including going to the Arctic on a scientific expedition.

After his release from the sanatorium, Humbert moves to suburban New England town. He lives as a boarder in the home of Charlotte Haze, a young widow who resembles a movie star. Charlotte dreams of moving up in the world and falls madly in love with the refined, educated, European Humbert. She has a 12-year old daughter named Dolores, also known as Lolita. Charlotte is prone to jealousy and views her daughter as a spoiled, bratty pest. Humbert falls in love with Lolita immediately when he spies her sunbathing.

While Charlotte falls for Humbert, he becomes obsessed with Lolita. He spies on her, finds excuses to touch her, and flirts with her. Lolita is a typical young girl interested in comics and singers. She wants to be a movie star. He also writes in a diary about his fantasies about the young girl. Charlotte sends Lolita off to summer camp to begin a romantic affair with Humbert. While Lolita attends summer camp, Charlotte and Humbert get married. Humbert does not marry Charlotte because he loves her, but rather to remain near Lolita and be her stepfather. Charlotte plans to send Lolita to a boarding school after she returns from camp. This announcement causes Humbert to consider killing Charlotte to have Lolita all to himself.

While Lolita is at camp, Charlotte discovers Humbert’s diary. She realizes that Lolita is the true object of her husband’s affections. After confronting him, she storms out of the house with his diary. While running across the street, she is hit by a car and dies instantly.

Humbert becomes Lolita’s legal guardian and picks her up from camp. For two years, stepfather and stepdaughter travel around the United States. They stay in motels and visit tourist attractions while having a sexual affair. Lolita is able to manipulate Humbert to give her anything she wants. Humbert and Lolita settle in an East Coast college town. Humbert works as a lecturer at Beardsley College while Lolita attends a local school until they set off on another roadtrip. During the course of their travels, a man begins following them. After Lolita becomes ill, Humbert takes ger to the hospital. Humbert is furious when he discovers that a man claiming to be her uncle picked her up.

Humbert searches high and low for Lolita for two years. He finally finds Lolita, who is now married to an engineer named Dick, and pregnant. He also learns that Clare Quilty, a playwright whom Lolita met while in a school play, was the man who took her from the hospital. Quilty was her lover until he wanted Lolita to pose for child pornography films and she refused. Humbert finds and kills Quilty and subsequently is arrested. In prison, he writes his memoir with the stipulation that it can only be published after Lolita’s death.