Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Lolita. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

In recounting his relations with Lolita, Humbert gradually moves from feeling only blind lust for the twelve-year-old “nymphet” girl, to genuine and everlasting love for a worn-out, old-before-her-time adult woman.  During the two years they live together, “The sensualist in me (a great and insane monster . . .”) (Nabokov 115), and (my) “monstrous appetite” puts in motion the “the writhing of desire again” (Nabokov 129). ” . . . Ready to repent, all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again” (Nabokov 260).  In the ensuing three years that Lolita is missing, Humbert comes to see that although his “accursed nature could not change” (Nabokov 234), his love for her did.  Although Humbert’s physiological lust for young preadolescent girls remains with him, when he finally meets Lolita again, he sees her “ruined looks and her adult, roped-veined narrow hands . . . unkempt armpits . . . hopelessly worn out at seventeen . . . knew . . . that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else” (Nabokov 253).  Earlier in the book, Humbert had had nothing but contempt and revulsion for the older high school and college girls as well as adult women.  Now, he states: “She (Lolita) was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet . . . but thank God it was not that echo alone that I worshipped” (Nabokov 253).  Although Humbert has no remorse for killing Quilty, neither does the reader.  The reader abhors Humbert’s lust, and using of Lolita, but can empathize with his constant guilt over his physiological addiction.  In the end, the reader can feel comfortable with the idea of an emotionally changed Humbert, and believes him when he says that in spite of her ruined looks he loves her still.  “I loved my Lolita this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child . . . ” (Nabokov 253).

Main Character Growth

The reader wants Humbert to stop molesting Lolita.

Main Character Approach

Humbert prefers to approach his problem internally and adapt himself to his environment (like a chameleon).  “Years of secret suffering have taught me superhuman self control” (Nabokov 28).  He puts up a romantic front for Charlotte: “Bland American Charlotte frightened me . . . I dared not do anything to spoil the image of me she had set up to adore” (Nabokov 78), and he internalizes and compartmentalizes his lust for Lolita by keeping a detailed diary.

Main Character Mental Sex

Humbert uses the male mental sex problem solving technique of cause and effect.  For example, he impresses upon Lolita exactly what will happen to her if she tells anyone the true nature of their relationship:
“. . . A nice grim matron . . . the reformatory, the juvenile detention home . . . By rubbing all this in, I succeeded in terrorizing Lo . . .” (Nabokov 138-9).

Story Driver

Until Humbert first lays eyes on Lolita, he has decided not to rent a room from Charlotte:  “Let’s get out of here at once, I firmly said to myself . . .” (Nabokov 37).  He instantly changes his mind when he sees Lolita out on the “Piazza.”  “Without the least warning, a blue sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turned about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses” (Nabokov 38).

Story Limit

The objective characters run out of options by the end of the story.  Quilty tries everything to talk his way out of being shot, but Humbert refuses to be bribed.  Lolita, worn-out, disillusioned, and old at age seventeen, has no choice but to stay with Dick: “He (Quilty) broke my heart.  You merely broke my life” (Nabokov 254).  Humbert, a physical and mental wreck after refused by Lolita and killing Quilty, must allow himself to be picked up by the police.

Story Outcome

In the end, most of the objective characters fail in their goal of keeping up appearances.  They had been posing as someone other than that which they really were.  Humbert cannot maintain his facade as the suave and confident stepfather—he’s eventually revealed as a cunning pedophile and later, a maniacal, boozy wreck, ” . . . bristly chin, my bum’s blood-shot eyes” (Nabokov 263).  Early on, Charlotte had pretended to be the epitome of the cultured, upper-class suburban matron, an act that the worldly Humbert immediately saw through.  On the surface, Quilty is the sophisticated and world-renowned playwright, but in reality he is also a bloated and drugged-out pervert.  Lolita’s character is like a wooden Russian doll: one opens it only to find a different one, and another inside that and yet another inside that—all becoming smaller and smaller until there is only an empty wooden chamber left.  In the beginning she appears to be a normal and healthy preadolescent.  After her mother’s death, Humbert is amazed (and enthralled) to find out that she has had some previous juvenile sexual escapades, and thrilled when she initially encourages his advances.  In public he has her act the role of his happy, insouciant, young daughter.  In private she must act the little “pubescent concubine” (Nabokov 136) to fulfill his insatiable sexual urges.  Before and after she would be (not surprisingly) whiny, bored, sulky, “sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed . . . mentally . . . a disgustingly conventional little girl” ( Nabokov 136).  In the inner sanctum of her mind and heart “there was in her a garden and twilight, and a palace gate-dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me . . .” (Nabokov 259).  Lolita, denied a normal upbringing, has to survive by assuming different roles, failing at the only one she should have played—that of a happy-go-lucky young girl.

Story Judgment

Ultimately, Humbert succeeds in resolving his personal angst.  After a long and tortuous confession and an honest, objective, and analytical treatment of his sins, he lays down his burden of guilt and is ready to take his punishment.  The reader catches a glimmer of redemption, and “it makes us ‘pity the monsters’ (Robert Lowell) by taking to our hearts its repulsive hero - as he himself answers us as he is - with eventual sympathy and even love” (Norton 1733).

Overall Story Throughline

""Family Affair""

Overall Story Throughline

Most of the characters try and manipulate one another.  Charlotte schemes to shunt her daughter aside so that she can have a clear field with Humbert; she tries to manage Lolita’s behavior by withholding treats (to no avail).  Humbert spends hours minutely planning his wooing of Lolita and later, continually blackmails her into staying with him using blandishments.  He also handles Charlotte through the use of subterfuge and “a fantastic display of old-world endearments” (Nabokov 70).  Lolita, aware of her power over Humbert, gets him to buy her an extraordinary amount of worldly goods.  (The author recites lists and more lists of these purchases.)  Quilty and Lolita play mind games with Humbert through a series of clever missives and Humbert even admits that: “He succeeded in thoroughly enmeshing me and my thrashing anguish in his demoniacal game” (Nabokov 227).

Overall Story Concern

Most of the objective characters are intent on playing a specific role which masks the reality of their characters.  Humbert comes across as a worldly aristocratic intellectual (which he really is) and loving and kind husband and stepfather, (which he really isn’t).  Charlotte is very concerned about her role of upper class matron, speaking poor French and slavishly following the advice of women’s magazines.  Lolita, of course, must juggle many roles:  the average American preadolescent unconcerned with academics and keenly interested in movie stars, food, and clothes—“She sees herself as a starlet . . .” (Nabokov 61).  This is her surface role, the one under normal circumstances she would have, and should have, been allowed to follow exclusively.  Other roles forced upon her are the jaded and bored prostitute and the deadened, helpless, despairing child who “would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom” (Nabokov 259).  Quilty is indeed a brilliant playwright, which masks his drugged out private diversions.  Gaston Godin appears as a jolly and competent French teacher, yet he also has a secret predilection for young boys.  Valeria first appears to Humbert as “a pale little gutter girl,” but later is a “large, puffy, short-legged, big-breasted and practically brainless baba” (Nabokov 27).  (The amiable but ill-used Rita, the pedestrian Farlows, and Lolita’s young husband Dick, are exactly who they appear to be.)

Overall Story Issue

The objective characters all have different degrees of success in their ability to dissemble.  Humbert is well suited to the task, as is Quilty.  Both are extremely intelligent and worldly sophisticates.  Lolita has the horrendous burden of playing so many roles, and not only is her very young age and relative inexperience a hindrance, the unexpected death of her mother leaving her alone in the world deals a savage blow.  In light of what she is forced to go through, she should be given high marks for her performances.  Charlotte was not well suited to handle Humbert; she is terribly outmatched and outclassed by him from the very beginning.

Overall Story Counterpoint

The objective characters imagine that something better exists for them.  Humbert is highly motivated by his incessant sexual desires to clear the way for his total possession of Lolita.  Once back in school Lolita begins to see and envy the fact that other girls have wonderful, normal home lives “and Lolita had nothing” (Nabokov 261).  Charlotte is not only aware that her position in the community will improve by her marriage to Humbert, but she is also helplessly in love with him.  Quilty desires Lolita and accurately guesses her relationship with Humbert.  This causes him to try and add her to his odd assortment of sexual partners.  Valeria wants out of her unpleasant marriage to Humbert.  To Rita, anything is better than her loveless and aimless existence.  There is also a hint that Jean Farlow has subconscious designs on Humbert.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Ability vs.Desire

Charlotte desires Humbert but lacks the ability to hold his interest.  Quilty covets Lolita, but she refuses to use her capabilities to further his schemes.  Humbert and Annabel desire each other, and have the ability to consummate their love, but are watched too carefully to be able to follow through.  Humbert does not desire Charlotte, Valeria, or Rita but he does have the knack to fake it when necessary.  Perhaps this conflict between ability and desire is best illustrated by the adage: “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”  Lolita wanted a little safe and temporary sexual experimentation: “She had entered my world, umber and black Humberland, with rash curiosity; she surveyed it with a shrug of amused distaste; and it seemed to me now that she was ready to turn away from it with something akin to plain revulsion” (Nabokov 152).

Overall Story Problem

The underlying cause of the objective story’s problem is the characters’ deviations from accepted social, legal, and moral norms.  Humbert leads the way with his deviant sexual behavior.  Quilty’s request for group sex causes problems for Lolita, and she refuses to participate.  Charlotte is totally unprepared to take on, less much satisfy, Humbert (although she doesn’t know it right away), and when she reads his diary, her mind snaps.  Humbert lodges alone on a teaching assignment “While Rita whom I preferred not to display vegetated” (Nabokov 238) in a nearby inn.  (He knows that her wobbly and unpredictable presence just wouldn’t do on campus.)

Overall Story Solution

The solution to the objective story’s problem would be to have the objective characters act within societal boundaries.  Humbert is unable to do so, to the detriment of other characters.  He can’t simply be the good husband/father to Charlotte and Lolita.  Quilty’s private life lies totally outside of society’s norms, which causes problems for Lolita, and ultimately for himself.  Even Rita, though essentially harmless, must be hidden from view because of her chronic alcoholism.

Overall Story Symptom

Examples of how attention is focused on cause in the objective story are: Humbert is the reason for most of the trouble—Charlotte’s death, Lolita’s misery, Valeria’s desire for a divorce, Quilty’s death, and Humbert’s own misery, which was preceded by his beloved Annabel’s death and to which he attributes, at least in part, his “skewed” sexual mores: “ keep asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote summer, that the rift in my life began; or was my excessive desire for that child only the first evidence of an inherent singularity?  When I tried to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions . . . I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination . . . which causes each visualized route to fork and refork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of my past” (Nabokov 15-16).

Overall Story Response

The objective characters attempt to rectify their various untenable situations in which Humbert’s desires have placed them.  Lolita, with Quilty’s help, is finally able to escape Humbert; Charlotte is killed by a car while trying to get away from the shock of his diary’s contents; Valeria divorces Humbert (with Mr. Taxovich’s help); Quilty is forced to endure a drawn-out, very bizarre death at Humbert’s hands.

Overall Story Catalyst

The catalyst of desire is incorporated in the character of Humbert and is what drives his actions, thus moving along the objective story.  Humbert marries Charlotte in order to get at Lolita; he keeps moving around the country fearful lest his and Lolita’s liaison be discovered; he takes on Rita as a safety valve for his unnatural desires; he murders Quilty, spurred on by thwarted desire.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Humbert may be very skillful at dissembling, but it is the objective characters’ lack of skill in detecting his real relationship with Lolita that slows down the objective story’s progress.

Overall Story Benchmark

The objective characters apply their efforts to coming up with various ideas to achieve their goals.  Charlotte schemes to marry Humbert, then plans to separate from him upon discovering his diary.  Quilty invents challenging and cryptic postcards that he sends to Humbert in order to thumb his nose at him.  Later, he expends all of his imaginative powers trying to talk Humbert out of killing him.  Valeria and her secret beau, Mr. Taxovich, originate a plan to get rid of Humbert, and Lolita spends almost two years desperately thinking up ideas on how to escape from him.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

The characters use up all of their mental and physical resources looking for love, in all of its disguises.

Overall Story Backstory

Most of the characters had suffered loss before the story begins.  Humbert had lost his mother at age three and his beloved Annabel when they were both thirteen.  His first wife, Valeria, had subsequently left him.  Charlotte had lost a baby son, and her husband (and father to Lolita) had died.  Rita had suffered through three divorces and “had been abandoned by her seventh ‘cavalier servant’—the others . . . were too numerous . . . to tabulate” (Nabokov 235).

Main Character Throughline

Humbert Humbert — Lolita's seducer and stepfather

Main Character Throughline

Humbert is a supreme egoist; he maintains the fixed attitude that his outlook and ideas are correct, contrary to society’s norms.

Main Character Concern

Humbert has built-in reflexes when it comes to prepubescent girls.  These innate responses are a great aid to him when he is sizing up a potential prostitute, or when he is surreptitiously scanning a playground or a park for young girls.  When he meets Lolita, he knows immediately that she is his ultimate goal.  His instincts and his amazing talent for picking out “nymphets” from ordinary young girls stands him in good stead:  “A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts . . . will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them.  You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins . . . in order to discern at once . . . the little deadly demon among the wholesome children . . .” (Nabokov 19).

Main Character Issue

Because Humbert has a fixed attitude in regard to his and Lolita’s relationship (every aspect of her life is dictated and controlled by him) he is prone to all kinds of worries.  He is frightened that society will figure out his unnatural liaison, especially the law.  He is very apprehensive that Lolita, who, when she shows overt signs of distaste towards him, will try to run away.  He becomes paranoid about people, places, and especially, the future.  This concern for his future motivates him to prepare for the worst as “the continuous risk and dread . . . ran through my bliss . . .” (Nabokov 153).

Main Character Counterpoint

Humbert is an extremely self-assured, almost cocky individual, with “imperious charm and sardonically elegant tenor of his style” (Norton 1733): “Humbert is a narcissist” (Amis IX).  We observe him admiring himself in the mirror, and all throughout the novel he inserts descriptions of his physical characteristics, as he preens and seems to take invisible bows.  He prides himself on packing his memoir with allusions and references to artwork, music, classical poems and books.  These are usually tossed in as asides.  The offhand use of other languages also underscores his pride of scholarship, as do the clever puns and acronyms he employs.  His incredible vanity shows through when he pokes fun at philistines and the bourgeoisie.  He derides Charlotte’s attempts at foreign language and interior decoration, winces at Lolita’s pedestrian teenage interests, shudders at “any other deadly conventionality . . .” (Nabokov 37) and groans at all popular tastes of the general public.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Worry vs.Confidence

The struggle between Humbert’s overwhelming confidence and his fear of exposure and losing Lolita, begins to wear him down to the point that worry gets the upper hand.  He begins to become truly agitated—paranoid about everything as his confidence wanes.  He talks about “figments of my persecution mania . . .” (Nabokov 218).  “I imagined that secret agent, or secret lover, or prankster, or hallucination, or whatever he was, prowling around . . .” (Nabokov 220).  When Lolita does make her escape and Humbert barely prevents himself from being arrested in a hospital scuffle, his confidence returns, because now he has nothing whatsoever to lose:  “Freedom for the moment is everything . . . .To myself I whispered that I still had my gun, and was still a free man—free to trace the fugitive, free to destroy my brother” (Nabokov 225).

Main Character Problem

Humbert is frequently overwhelmed by guilt over his obsessive lust and intolerable use of Lolita.  At times he comes to hate himself for his unpardonable actions.  However, his lust comes roaring back and all of his good intentions (to stop his behavior) go out the window.

Main Character Solution

Humbert needs to adhere to society’s acceptable standards of conduct.

Main Character Symptom

Humbert is well aware that he has an insatiable lust for Lolita.  The principal symptom of this realization causes him to focus on keeping everything in their relationship running smoothly: their itinerary, the physical state of their car, their well rehearsed “father/daughter” scenes, and his bribes and threats, designed to keep Lolita from straying.  By constantly honing, refining, and tinkering with these procedures, he hopes to create the desired result of enjoying a worry-free sexual relationship with Lolita for as long as he should wish.

Main Character Response

Humbert, highly focused on keeping his liaison going smoothly—obsessed with lists, duties, maps, carefully rehearsed dialogue/facades, and regular threatening reminders to Lolita—is so intent on the end product of a glorious, undetected relationship, that the direction of this relationship takes an unexpected turn before he can attain his goal.  He fails to notice Lolita’s unusual physiological and verbal indications that signify something is up with her; the unusual genuine smile for him, the laughter, heretofore so infrequent, “her eyes . . . calculating . . .” (Nabokov 217) and above all, the out-and-out seduction of him a short while before she leaves:  “Carry me upstairs, please.  I feel sort of romantic tonight” (Nabokov 189).

Main Character Unique Ability

Humbert is unable to stop worrying over his and Lolita’s future.  If he had allayed this anxiety by dissolving his relationship with Lolita, he would have been able to solve the objective and subjective story problems.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Humbert is determined to protect and keep Lolita after the extraordinary luck of her mother’s death.  He is so concerned with the safety and security of his and Lolita’s world that he both over and under prepares for real and imagined threats.  He follows a rigid plan to keep Lolita in check, but he underestimates her depression and wiliness.

Main Character Benchmark

Humbert’s unalterable and instinctual response to nymphets has aided him in recognizing Lolita as one of them.  Their relationship progresses and he, time and again, suffers guilt and remorse.  He is in full possession of the negative impact of this relationship, yet he still stays his course of action.  He knows the moment he meets Lolita “that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that ‘princedom by the sea’ in my tortured past” (Nabokov 39).

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Good looking.  “European intellectual and pedophile” (Merriam Webster 692).  “. . . a great big handsome hunk of movieland manhood” (Nabokov 39).  “. . . with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, and a cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile” (Nabokov 43).

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

“The novel is presented as the posthumously published memoirs of its antihero Humbert Humbert.  A European intellectual and pedophile, Humbert lusts obsessively after 12-year old nymphet Lolita . . . . The work examines love in the light of lechery” (Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature 692).

Main Character Backstory

European professor Humbert lost his mother when he was three, and his true love Annabel when they were both thirteen.  These events left a tragic mark, and during his college years he developed a taste for young girls.  Rather than act upon this lust, he stuck to young looking prostitutes until he met his first wife, Valeria, whom he married basically to keep him from acting upon these unnatural desires.  After mistreating her, she divorced him and left with her lover.  Humbert embarks on a new life in America; he decides to rent rooms from Charlotte Haze, specifically because she has a twelve-year-old daughter.

Influence Character Throughline

Lolita (Dolores Haze) — Humbert's adolescent step-daughter

Influence Character Throughline

Lolita’s situation is that of an orphan in the care of her stepfather—a pedophile.  This state of affairs seems fixed because of Humbert’s desire for her and his meticulous attention to those details necessary to the maintenance and continuance of their relationship.

Influence Character Concern

Lolita’s sole purpose is to proceed from her static, unchanging relationship with Humbert to freedom.  During her two years of virtual sexual servitude she is slowly able to advance to her goal by means of a set of successive maneuvers on her part; increasingly evasive and crafty actions that eventually help her reach her freedom.

Influence Character Issue

Lolita is in a horrendous situation.  She is controlled by Humbert’s desires and fears.  In the beginning, she avoids “rocking the boat” because his seemingly real threats terrify her into keeping quiet about their abhorrent liaison.  She knows she is all alone and at her young age, is very vulnerable to Humbert’s menacing ways.

Influence Character Counterpoint

Lolita has evaluated her defenses and has found they come up short.  The safeguards she employs against Humbert’s sexual advances and threats are: building a hard shell around herself, maintaining a studied indifference to her situation, and using sarcasm and withering putdowns.  Humbert: “You would give me one look . . . ‘Oh no, not again’ (incredulity, exasperation);”  and, “Pulease leave me alone, will you . . . for Christ’s sake leave me alone” (Nabokov 176).

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Threat vs.Security

As Lolita and Humbert’s relationship continues, she is able to reevaluate her vulnerability and perceived danger and take an active role in planning her escape.  She enjoys watching Humbert squirm when he begins to feel threatened by her subterfuges.  The fear of losing her eventually causes him to become paranoid, and to feel extremely insecure himself.  The tension between threat and security starts to change in the balance:  In the beginning Lolita felt threatened and insecure, and now it is Humbert who feels the weight of both.

Influence Character Problem

The problem of Humbert’s sexual obsession is the cause of Lolita’s difficulties.  Since he is clearly unable to put a stop to his behavior, it is up to her to solve the story problem by dealing with it.  After awhile—after she has had time to observe the many facets of Humbert’s control, she proceeds to concoct a plan, and through a series of clever actions, is able to finally get away from him.

Influence Character Solution

When Lolita is finally able to free herself of Humbert with the help of Quilty (and her own acting skills), the impact on Humbert is enormous.  He spends the next three years (“Dolores departed”) (Nabokov 231) going from bad to worse: hallucinating, losing contact with reality and finally checking himself into a sanitarium.  The consequences of separation from Lolita are such that Humbert has time to think about his obsessions and, although he admits his lust is still with him, he finds that he has an ever abiding love for Lolita, something he never really had before.

Influence Character Symptom

Lolita’s curiosity, adolescent vulnerability, and natural preteen interests in Hollywood stars and celebrity glamour, along with having no father and a difficult mother, all lead to her interest in Humbert.  She wants to know more about him, she sees him as affable and entertaining and as a co-conspirator against her mother’s unfair edicts.  This attitude of course leads to big trouble.  Lolita doesn’t know it right away, but she is Humbert’s “raison d’ etre.”  He now has a focus for his lust.  Here is the nymphet Annabel, reincarnated, in a sense, in Lolita.

Influence Character Response

When Humbert sees Lolita again after a three-year absence, she has grown considerably.  She appears to have emotionally disengaged from him and, at least on the surface, is able to handle him with great aplomb.  It is she who controls the situation; who sets the pace.  “She was, as I say, talking.  It now came in a relaxed flow . . . in her washed-out gray eyes, strangely spectacled, our poor romance was for a moment reflected, pondered upon, and dismissed like a dull party . . . like a humdrum exercise . . .” (Nabokov 248).

Influence Character Unique Ability

After being with Humbert for a long stretch of time, Lolita is able to accurately assess the intensity of his behavior.  She develops the ability to neutralize any danger when he is bluffing, when he will be off-guard, and when to pay particularly close attention to his moods.  She understands when his threats are hollow and she begins to ascertain when she can threaten him and make her own mark.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

In the beginning of the story, Lolita’s young age and inexperience, up against the worldly Humbert, adds to natural preadolescent lack of confidence in herself and in her altered world.  It is to be expected that early in the game she will lack optimism, but as she grows during the two years she is with Humbert, she gradually builds confidence in herself and is thus able to find the fortitude to escape.

Influence Character Benchmark

Lolita uses all of her energy to deal with Humbert and all of his demands, and at the same time she is secretly casting about for a means of escape.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

” . . . frail, honey-hued shoulders . . . silky supple bare back . . . juvenile bare breasts . . . indrawn abdomen . . . puerile hips” (Nabokov 38-9). “I really think she should wash her hair once in a while” (Nabokov 42). ” . . . slangy speech . . . harsh high voice” (Nabokov 41).

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Lolita Haze is a twelve-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother in the house where Humbert comes looking for lodging.  Humbert, with his secret obsession for young adolescents, steps into a pseudo-fatherly role with great alacrity and secret joy.  (It is apparent that he must marry Charlotte, her mother, to have closer contact with Lolita.)  Shortly thereafter, a providential accident removes Charlotte from the scene.  Thus, Lolita is thrust into what turns out to be a harrowing two year ordeal of sexual subjugation.  During this time, she develops a strong sense of survival and is ultimately able to escape, with the middle-aged Quilty’s help.  Toughened and crafty by the abuse she received from Humbert, she is fully equipped to immediately leave the repulsive Quilty when it becomes apparent that he didn’t return her love but was merely trying to cast her in a pornographic romp.  After drifting for a couple of years, she hooks up with and marries Dick Schiller.  Lolita is pregnant with his child when Humbert finds her again (at her behest).  She doesn’t seem to harbor the extreme hate and loathing for Humbert that one would expect.  (Abusive relationships die hard and the subject of abuse has great difficulty completely cutting the sick ties that bind.)  She touches his wrist when he cries at her incredulous reaction to the money he gives her.  (This also could have great bearing on her moderate treatment of Humbert.)  Amazingly, she even offers him an apology: “Oh, don’t cry, I’m so sorry I cheated so much, but that’s the way things are” (Nabokov 254).  The reader finds, in the beginning of the book, her ending—death in childbirth.  It’s interesting to note that Humbert had said:  “Nymphets do not occur in polar regions” (Nabokov 33).  Quite true—since Lolita the nymphet and Lolita the mother both died in Gray Star, “a settlement in the remotest Northwest” (Nabokov 6).

Influence Character Backstory

Lolita lives with her mother, Charlotte, in a pleasant New England town.  She is an average twelve-year-old, and she and her friends are interested in all the normal things a young girl enjoys.  She is an indifferent student, and follows a casual hygiene routine.  Her father is dead and she and her mother have an offhand, sometimes combative relationship.  She is particularly interested in the lives of movie stars and avidly follows and believes all the pap served up in the fan magazines.  When Humbert enters her world, handsome, charming, and suave, possessing movie star good looks and manners, she is ready to have a major crush on him.

Relationship Story Throughline

""She Had Nowhere Else To Go""

Relationship Story Throughline

In their function as subjective characters, Humbert and Lolita are always on the go, particularly after they enter into sexual relations: “It was then that we began our extensive travels all over the States” (Nabokov 183).  They spend a goodly part of two years moving from place to place.  Even when they are living at Beardsley, Humbert spends his time literally tracking Lolita; following her and monitoring her every move.  The pace seems to get more and more frantic as Lolita gets closer and closer to being able to leave Humbert.

Relationship Story Concern

Humbert’s compulsions cause him to engage in sexual activities (several times daily) with Lolita.  He seeks her constant physical and emotional attentions and, as a result, she starts to pull away from him.  Humbert relates:  “It was something quite special, that feeling: an oppressive, hideous constraint as if I were with the small ghost of somebody I had just killed” (Nabokov 129).  Again, ” . . . that look I cannot exactly describe . . . an expression of helplessness so perfect . . . what reflected despair” (Nabokov 258-9).

Relationship Story Issue

The extreme proficiency which Humbert has in controlling Lolita, is incredible and terrifying.  He is amazingly skillful at manipulating and keeping her in line.  He uses blackmail, threats, money, and potential bribes and, at one point, hauls off and hits her: ” . . . and without a word I delivered a tremendous backhand cut that caught her smack on her hard little cheekbone” (Nabokov 207).  After two years of this, Lolita herself has developed enough wariness and dissimulation to be able to accomplish the complicated task of leaving him (aided by Quilty).

Relationship Story Counterpoint

Humbert has the experience with which to control Lolita.  From the time he was an adolescent to the present, he has gained the necessary expertise through personal participation and training.  Lolita has brought an innocence to the relationship, and certainly has no experience in dealing with this complex liaison.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Skill vs.Experience

To excel at the mind games Humbert employs, one needs both skill and experience, and he has plenty of both, (with some to spare).  He has adeptly developed his innate potential by observing and becoming quite familiar with how to handle women.  He is very knowledgeable about the law.  The twelve-year-old Lolita brings neither skill nor experience to the relationship, but manages to develop enough of both to eventually outwit Humbert.

Relationship Story Problem

The subjective story’s problem is linked to Humbert’s unacceptable sexual proclivities.  Lolita is put into an intolerable situation, kept there by Humbert’s behavior.

Relationship Story Solution

The solution to Humbert’s ungovernable desires for Lolita would be to adapt to society’s norms of conduct:  “All widower Humbert had to do was to give this wan looking . . . little orphan a sound education, a healthy and happy girlhood, a clean home, nice girlfriends of her age . . .” (Nabokov 103).  Unfortunately, this proves impossible for him to do.

Relationship Story Symptom

“Determination” as the principal symptom of the difficulties in the subjective story is illustrated by Humbert concentrating on finding out exactly where Lolita goes, with whom she has contact, and for exactly how long a period of time.  His obsession with her causes him to make the determination that she must be meeting boys behind his back, and that she is saving up enough money to leave him.

Relationship Story Response

Humbert takes a very aggressive approach to his fears that Lolita will eventually run away.  He subjects her to interrogations—at one point reels off the number of soda fountains in town to see if her alibi for being out of his sight (for twenty-eight minutes) will hold up . . . He phones up Lolita’s friend to corroborate another excuse.  Because he is focused so intently on trying to isolate her and figure out her every move, he fails to pick up on the subtle changes in her demeanor that signal her preparations for departure.

Relationship Story Catalyst

Living in such close physical and emotional quarters with one another, night and day, over a period of two years, causes both Humbert and Lolita to use their acquisition of knowledge about each other—against one another.  This element of cumulative experience keeps the subjective story moving along.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

An example of how “ability” impedes the subjective story’s progress is Lolita’s inability to free herself from Humbert’s iron grip.

Relationship Story Benchmark

The more that Humbert learns about Lolita’s indifference to, and outright disgust of, their relationship, the more he gathers up his snippets of data regarding her suspicious actions out in the world, making their confrontations more strident and ugly, causing Lolita to finally (with Quilty’s help) crystallize a viable plan to leave Humbert.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Humbert brings his intellect, skills and abilities for manipulating women, and above all, his uncontrollable desire for the “nymphet” Lolita to their relationship.  This is a formidable arsenal, and in the beginning, the twelve year old girl, although possessing a limited sexual background and immature sexual curiosity, is woefully ill-equipped to deal with him.  Humbert subjects her to a full range of sexual acrobatics while threatening, bribing, and cajoling.  Having a clear field once Lolita’s mother is dead, his tactics escalate, but so does her awareness and power over him.  She learns to lie consummately, and to extract money, goods, and promises from him, although the cost of this two year relationship is inordinately high.  She eventually leaves him.  After three years of casual and anonymous sex, Humbert begins to disintegrate.  Lolita makes contact with him.  Although he still loves her, (worn-out and pregnant) and asks her to come away with him, she patiently and wearily refuses.  When he leaves her, he tracks down and kills Quilty and gets himself arrested on purpose.  After writing his confession/memoirs, he dies in jail.

Relationship Story Backstory

Humbert married a woman for the primary purpose of keeping him out of trouble—that is, to prevent him from giving into the temptation of seducing adolescent girls.  After his divorce and move to America, Humbert rents a room from Charlotte Haze, whose twelve-year-old daughter reminded him of “my Riviera love” (Nabokov 38).  “The twenty-five years I had lived since then, tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished” (Nabokov 39).

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

Of common concern to the objective characters is Humbert’s efforts to maintain the facade of loving father to Lolita.  He needs to keep up the appearance of having a normal and happy home life with Lolita, to continue his sexual liaison with her privately and indefinitely.

Overall Story Consequence

If Humbert is unable to maintain his facade of a normal stepfather, and the true nature of his and Lolita’s relationship is discovered, he will go to jail and the under-age Lolita will become a ward of the court.  After Lolita leaves, she does tell Quilty about the liaison, but he is merely amused, and is hardly in a position himself to go to the law.  Her confession, in fact, causes him to invite her to participate in communal sex.  Lolita’s escape from Humbert triggers a three year search on his part, during which time he becomes more and more mentally disturbed and he fixates upon killing whomever it is that Lolita is with.  Quilty pays the ultimate consequence of death at Humbert’s hand, as does (in a different way), Lolita.

Overall Story Cost

The costs are high for anyone in Humbert’s way as he proceeds toward his goal of complete and total possession of Lolita.  Charlotte and Quilty pay with their very lives, and Lolita almost immediately begins to pay the price of the unwilling whore, even as she extracts from Humbert money and teenage goods and services—tennis lessons, clothing, movies, radios, bicycles, teen magazines and an endless supply of candy and ice cream—anything but her freedom.  As they move about the country Humbert notices that he is paying an increasing price for his pleasures: ” . . . our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreary enormous country . . . and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep” (Nabokov 160).  And of course, the reader is painfully aware of the cost Lolita has to pay along the way.

Overall Story Dividend

Humbert’s sexual impulses are unthinking, innate responses.  Since the story problem has to do with the total unsuitability of his essential nature, it behooves Humbert to hold these dangerous tendencies in check, at least in public.  The benefit of doing so brings Humbert continual physical ecstasy: ” . . . I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise—a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames—but still a paradise” (Nabokov 152).  Charlotte’s impulsive response to Humbert’s charm brings her only short-term dividends.  Lolita also reaps benefits from acting on her sexual impulses, but incurs devastating costs later on.  Quilty’s fascination with Lolita is instinctive and he too collects short term rewards only to pay the ultimate price in the end.

Overall Story Requirements

In order to maintain his facade of the nice, average stepfather to Lolita, Humbert establishes the idea that he is, in reality, her biological father.  He makes up a plausible story about having an affair some thirteen years before with the as yet unmarried Charlotte, a story which the minister and the Farlows and a variety of innkeepers and Beardsley faculty members believe.  Another necessary precursor to achieving this goal is to keep himself, and especially Lolita, away from prying busybodies—to make sure that no-one has any idea of what really is going on behind closed doors.  He keeps his distance from neighbors and acquaintances and makes sure that Lolita does the same.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Before the objective characters can begin to acquire solid information about Humbert they need to pierce his outer shell, a task which turns out to be very difficult, if not impossible.  Humbert is bright and very wary, and has an excellent understanding of human nature.  Charlotte really only has a superficial understanding, being superficial herself.  Although Quilty recognizes a fellow pervert, he has not bothered to gain enough knowledge about Humbert’s relationship with Lolita.  He dismisses it with a wink and he “had roared with laughter when she had confessed about me and her, and said he had thought so” (Nabokov 251).  Humbert doesn’t let anyone else near him or Lolita, so they never get the necessary knowledge about him.  Thus, Lolita who does gain the awful experience of knowing Humbert, has no one to help her, because Humbert has succeeded so well in keeping everyone at a distance.

Overall Story Preconditions

The objective characters are unable to accurately judge the current situation of Humbert and Lolita’s relationship because Humbert himself has imposed limitations on their efforts.  One of these limitations is the fact that he is a foreigner and comes complete with his own fabricated background and personality.  He has everyone believing exactly what he wishes them to believe.  It also helps him that he does have a real academic background, an authentic resume, as it were.  So even the most suspicious character is deflected from the way things really are and their emphasis is often misplaced. (The headmistress Pratt at Beardsley school completely misses all of the signs that Lolita is a victim: “The general impression is that fifteen-year-old Dolly remains morbidly interested in sexual matters . . .” (Nabokov 178).

Overall Story Forewarnings

An outstanding example of a forewarning as it relates to the “conscious” is the recurring image of the crooked street Charlotte and Lolita live on, and that Humbert often contemplates: “Speaking of sharp turns: we almost ran over a meddlesome dog . . . as we swerved into Lawn street” (Nabokov 36). “It (the street) curved in from under an arching of huge shade trees, then sped towards us down, down, quite sharply, past old Miss Opposite’s ivied brick house and high sloping lawn . . . and disappeared behind our own front porch . . .” (Nabokov 69).  “I turned down into our steep little street . . .” (Nabokov 89).  There is the yapping dog who always chases every car, overgrown foliage, the narrowness of the sidewalk.  The twisted street becomes the setting for Charlotte’s death.  She reads Humbert’s diary (as we know she will)—“Why is this thing locked up? . . .Is there a key?” (Nabokov 86), and suddenly is fully conscious of how he really feels about her: “The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious Mamma . . .” (Nabokov 89).  We are not surprised when she meets her fate in the street, foreboding future untimely ends: “I rushed out.  The far side of our steep little street presented a peculiar sight.  A big black glossy Packard had climbed Miss Opposite’s sloping lawn . . . the laprobe on the sidewalk (where she had so often pointed out to me with disapproval of the crooked green cracks) concealed the mangled remains of Charlotte Humbert . . .” (Nabokov 91).

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Humbert explains how he has become obsessed with “nymphets.”  After introducing the reader to the young Annabel and the young Humbert and their thwarted adolescent love affair, he wonders if that was where ” . . . the rift in my life began . . .” (Nabokov 15).  He also states that the shock of Annabel’s death precluded any further youthful romances.  As a young adult, he becomes adept at procuring the services of very young looking prostitutes, and he chooses his first wife because she looked like a “gamine.”  Lolita becomes the incarnation of Annabel.  ” . . . Lolita began with Annabel” (Nabokov 16).  Although Lolita doesn’t realize it at the time, she had been initiated into Humbert’s world by the “couch” encounter—he has reached sexual ecstasy brushing up against her.  Charlotte becomes Humbert’s lover and future wife by making a written declaration to him.  It can be said that shrewd Humbert allows her to become such:  “By God, I could make myself bring her that economically halved grape fruit, that sugarless breakfast” (Nabokov 66-7).

Overall Story Journey 1 from Becoming to Being

Humbert remarks:  “The only ace I held was her (Charlotte’s) ignorance of my monstrous love for her Lo”  (Nabokov 78).  ” . . . she would distinguish at once a false intonation in anything I might say with a view to keeping Lo near”  (Nabokov 79).  Humbert must now pose as the model husband/father; Charlotte goes from lover to wife, and, as such, fulfills the role according to her own ideas:  “With the zest of a banal young bride, she started to ‘glorify the home’” (Nabokov 73).  She is the bustling chatelaine and social arbiter.  Lolita now appears as the innocent young daughter, off at camp, sending the usual trite letters home to her parents.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Humbert does a magnificent job playing the bridegroom; showering Charlotte with endearments, making up a suitable reply to her question as to his religious beliefs, and glamorizing his past in their wedding announcement.  Charlotte takes to her role with zest:  “With her . . . book club, her mannerisms of elocution . . . ” (Nabokov 74).  When Charlotte is killed, Humbert easily steps into the role of bereaved husband.  His act of stepfather being seduced by stepdaughter is nothing less than award winning: “I feigned handsome profiled sleep.  I just did not know what to do . . . I gave a mediocre imitation of waking up . . .” He lets Lolita lead the way, then: “I feigned supreme stupidity and had her have her way. . .” (Nabokov 122-3).  Lolita appears to have been enjoying her role of nymphet, showing off her new found sexual techniques to Humbert, getting a kick out of scaring him by threatening to call the police.  But when she learns that her mother is dead, she becomes ” . . . the orphan . . . love child, an absolute waif . . .” (Nabokov 129).  As for John and Jean Farlow, they fill the role of conventional suburban pals; superficial bridge and highball partners.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Being to Conceiving

Humbert plays “The widower, a man of exceptional self control, neither wept nor raved” (Nabokov 92).  He begins to invent a background story about himself and Charlotte: (“Oh what a crafty Humbert!”) (Nabokov 93), and he announces that he is Lolita’s real father.  “So artistically did I impersonate the calm of ultimate despair . . .” (Nabokov 94).  After going on the road, Humbert dreams up ways of keeping Lolita in line by means of the “Appalachian farmhouse” threat, the “reformatory” threat, and the “juvenile detention” threat.  To keep her in good humor he “had to devise some expectation, some special point in space and time for her to look forward to, for her to survive till bedtime” (Nabokov 139).  Lolita, the whiny, bored, sulky, vulgar and sprawling “disgustingly conventional little girl” (Nabokov 136) begins to think up retorts: “How long did I think we were going to live in stuffy cabins, doing filthy things together and never behave like ordinary people?” (Nabokov 145).  Humbert envisions a solid plan to keep Lolita from “the demoralizing idleness in which she lived” (Nabokov 158) by enrolling her in a private girls’ day school.  Lolita implements her plan of putting a price on her favors: “She proved to be a cruel negotiator . . .” (Nabokov 168).  She and Quilty begin to conceive a plan of running away.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Humbert has absolutely no conception of Lolita’s plans for escape with Quilty.  In hindsight, he does recall noticing nuances of voice inflection, facial looks, unusually compliant attitudes, etc., which, upon looking back, does signal that something was going on with Lolita.  “What special suspicion could I have?  None indeed . . .”  (Nabokov 196).

Overall Story Journey 3 from Conceiving to Conceptualizing

Lolita and Quilty come up with a practical implementation of Lolita’s escape plan.  Lolita tells Humbert:  “‘Look, I’ve decided to do something . . . I want to leave school . . . go for a long trip again.  But this time we’ll go wherever I want . . .’” (Nabokov 189).  “Gustave Trapp” (Quilty) in his “Aztec Red convertible” keeps Humbert on his toes:  “A veritable Proteus of the highway . . .” (Nabokov 207).  Humbert imagines him to be “A detective whom some busybody hired to see what exactly Humbert Humbert was doing with that minor stepdaughter of his.”  ” . . . queer, how I misinterpreted the designations of doom.  Perhaps I had been lulled by Lo’s modest behavior in winter . . .” (Nabokov 198).  Not yet imagining the truth, Humbert is not able to conceive of Lolita leaving, much less conceptualizing a plan of retaliation.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Lolita and Quilty, through their surreptitious meetings on the road, pull off Lolita’s removal from the hospital and disappear.  It takes Humbert three more years to put into practice his cold-blooded plan of killing Quilty.  (Of course the boozy little Rita and the silent dullard Dick Schiller could neither entertain any kind of thought in their head, much less act upon it.)

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Humbert relates that as a young adult, he fought to keep his innate unwholesome tendencies in check: ” . . .inly, I was consumed by a hell furnace of localized lust for every passing nymphet whom as a law abiding poltroon I never dared approach . . . My world was split.  I was aware of not one but two sexes, neither of which was mine” (Nabokov 19-20).  Painfully aware of his ingrained sexual impulses, he strove to protect himself from disgrace and arrest by using prostitutes and then by marrying.  Later, when he meets Lolita, he treads very carefully.

Main Character Journey 1 from Preconscious to Memory

“Lolita’s” story problem zeroes in on Humbert’s inappropriate inborn impulses and his continuous struggle to keep them reined in.  In the story, we see the recurring theme of memory:  “Man is unique because in his consciousness, with his retrospective faculty, he can conquer time and space” (Encyclopedia of World Lit. 345).  Humbert taps his memory at every turn—a subjective look at what had happened in his life.  His memories cause him anguish, they are “limbless monsters of pain” (Nabokov 259).

Main Character Signpost 2

After Humbert marries Charlotte, she demands a recounting of his former women.  “She showed a fierce insatiable curiosity” (Nabokov 75).  He conjures up and elaborates on a highly inventive catalogue of his women:  “A long series of mistresses for Charlotte’s morbid delectation . . . my glib compositions . . .” (Nabokov 75).  Humbert also sketches a background for the “credulous Farlows” (Nabokov 93) describing a bogus affair with the young unmarried Charlotte years before her first marriage, and having them believe that “Humbert is Dolly’s real father” (Nabokov 94).

Main Character Journey 2 from Memory to Subconscious

Humbert tells the reader: “I am trying to describe these things not to relive them in my present boundless misery, but to sort out the portion of hell and the portion of heaven in that strange, awful, maddening world—nymphet love” (Nabokov 124).  He clearly and continuously tries to grapple with his basic drives and desires.  He sees a definite dichotomy (“heaven/hell,” “a prison cell of paradise”) (Nabokov 133) (“eternal horror/bliss”) (Nabokov 154) in his sexual proclivities.  The struggle he has with his libido causes him great pain.

Main Character Signpost 3

Humbert talks about taking Lolita to “the seaside and have me find there, at last, the ‘gratification’ of a lifetime urge, and release from the ‘subconscious’ obsession of an incomplete childhood romance with the initial Miss Lee” (Nabokov 152).  However, he continues, because he had enjoyed Lolita’s reluctant favors for so long, the “search for a kingdom by the sea, far from being the impulse of the subconscious” had merely become a “rational pursuit of a purely theoretical thrill” (Nabokov 152-3).  He had been liberated already, the moment he first saw Lolita, and the object of his libido, his basic, essential sexual urges, had been transferred at that time, from Annabel to Lolita.

Main Character Journey 3 from Subconscious to Conscious

Humbert’s basic desires, coupled with his paranoia at being followed, causes him to use physical force on Lolita:  “I delivered a tremendous backhand cut. . . ” (Nabokov 207).  As they continued “our grotesque journey” (Nabokov 207), Humbert begins to contemplate a plan:  “It occurred to me that if I were really losing my mind, I might end by murdering somebody.  In fact, it might be quite clever to prepare things—to transfer the weapon from box to pocket—so as to be ready to take advantage of the spell of insanity when it does come” (Nabokov 209).  After Lolita makes good her escape, a nebulous idea, an almost throwaway bit of nonsensical musing crystallizes into a deadly determined course of action:  Humbert spends the next three years tracking down Quilty.

Main Character Signpost 4

Humbert, “crazy like a fox,” spends time in another sanitarium, composing terrible (purposely so) verse.  After he gets out, he very rationally decides to seek an adult female companion, in order to preclude a chance encounter with a stray “nymphet.”  He knows he needs to stay sane to continue in his course of action.  After finally hearing from Lolita he takes off with “my little black chum,” and has target practice in a secluded wood, the better to be prepared to coldly kill his prey.  Humbert all along is quite conscious of the consequences of such an act, but is driven to it anyway.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

Lolita has a series of innocent encounters with Humbert when he first moves into her house.  She allows him to lick her eyeball (in order to remove an irritating speck that had lodged there).  There is the quick, permitted nuzzle, the lap-sitting, the hidden handholding in the car.  She initiates the game of putting her hands over his eyes; then, later:  “The impudent child extended her legs across my lap” (Nabokov 56).  (The beginning of the famous couch scene.)  Before going off to camp, she rushes back into the house:  ” . . .stamping, panting, and then she was in my arms, her innocent mouth melting under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws . . .” (Nabokov 63).  These meetings, taken in their entirety, form a foundation and pave the way for Lolita and Humbert’s future relationship.

influence Character Journey 1 from Progress to Future

Lolita, already having a schoolgirl crush on goodlooking, sophisticated Humbert, is initiated into adult sex at camp by two young contemporaries.  When Humbert picks her up there, she shocks him by her tough, grown up flirting.  She is showing off; she likes him enormously, and she unknowingly fans the flame of his lust.  She giggles about incest, tells him he kisses the wrong way, and is dying to tell him about her daily tryst at camp: “Oh I’ve been such a disgusting girl . . . lemme tell you . . .” (Nabokov 113).

Influence Character Signpost 2

Humbert returns to the hotel room, expecting to find the supposedly heavily drugged Lolita dead asleep.  He is surprised to find her partially awake and not adverse to sleepily sharing her bed with him.  In the morning, he hangs back, not knowing what to do.  “She put her mouth to my ear . . . she laughed . . . and gradually to the odd sense of living in a brand new, mad new dream world, where everything was permissible, came over me as I realized what she was suggesting” (Nabokov 122).  After they “had had strenuous intercourse three times that very morning” (Nabokov 129), Lolita has seen the future, and it is Humbert.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Future to Present

“As she was in the act of getting back into the car, an expression of pain flitted across Lo’s face . . .Loquacious Lo was silent.  Cold spiders of pain crawled down my back . . .” (Nabokov 129).  After Lolita and Humbert’s first sexual encounter, reality sets in and whatever rosy, adolescent picture Lolita may have had is replaced by her current situation: she “had absolutely nowhere else to go” (Nabokov 130).  Lolita is living with a man “. . . three times her age, and for two years he rapes her at least two times a day” (Amis XII).  Lolita can see the future in the present—the way things are now are the way things will be.  She can’t go back to the future—it is too late.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Humbert chillingly describes the way things are for Lolita:  “How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it until she had done her morning duty.  And I was such a thoughtful friend, such a passionate father, such a good pediatrician, attending to all the wants of my little auburn brunette’s body!” (Nabokov 151)

Influence Character Journey 3 from Present to Past

Through Humbert’s eyes, the reader is engaged in a minute retrospection of his and Lolita’s past—with sudden clarity he realizes:  “I perceived all at once with a sickening qualm how much she had changed since I first met her two years ago” (Nabokov 186).

Influence Character Signpost 4

When Humbert finds Lolita again, she considers their shared past and perceives it to have been “like a rainy picnic to which only the dullest bores had come . . . like a bit of dry mud caking her childhood” (Nabokov 248).  In this final scene between them, ruminating on their previous life together, Lolita comes out by far the strongest of the two.  She controls the entire interview and even bestows a kind of casual, offhand, forgiveness on Humbert, in spite of the horrific scars the reader knows she will always carry.  It is as if she has come full circle: the tough, in control young preteen, then the frightened and subjugated adolescent, and once again, the best of her past is now here in her present.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

The moment Humbert lays eyes on Lolita he knows he must possess her.  Lolita obtains a living personification of male movie stars she admired most: “I am said to resemble some crooner or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush” (Nabokov 42).

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Obtaining to LearningThe reader begins to learn, through Humbert's detailed descriptions, what exactly a "nymphet" is, and precisely what those attributes are that cause him such pain: "Never in my life . . . Never have I experienced such agony" (Nabokov 43). "I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation . . ." (Nabokov 45). Humbert and Lolita are in the process of learning about each other, and what they might be able to achieve in a future relationship: "All at once I knew I could kiss her throat or the wick of her mouth with perfect impunity. I knew she would let me do so, and even close her eyes as Hollywood teaches . . . I cannot tell my learned reader . . . how the knowledge came to me . . . for now she was not really looking at my scribble, but waiting with curiosity and composure . . . for the glamorous lodger to do what he was dying to do" (Nabokov 47).
Relationship Story Signpost 2

Humbert says:  ” . . . I really knew very little about children.  After all, Lolita was only twelve, and no matter what concessions I made to time and space . . . I still was under the impression that whatever went on among those brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different environment.” (Nabokov 115)

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Learning to Understanding

In retrospect, Humbert concludes:  “But somewhere behind the raging bliss, bewildered shadows conferred—and not to have heeded them, this is what I regret! . . . I should have understood that Lolita already proved to be something quite different from innocent Annabel . . . I should have known (by the signs made to me by something in Lolita - the real child Lolita or some haggard angel behind her back) that nothing but pain and horror would result from the unexpected rapture” (Nabokov 115).  (It could be argued that although the reader never actually hears Lolita’s thoughts, Humbert’s aforementioned conclusions could also be taken as hers.  Of course, Lolita was not in a position to heed any signs sent out by Humbert.)  Humbert learns that Lolita has had prior sexual experiences:  ” . . . I was not even her first lover” (Nabokov 125).  He also learns that she is quite capable of terrifying him by threatening to expose their hotel tryst.  Lolita learns that her mother is dead and that Humbert is the only one in the world who is left in her family.  She comes to understand that “She had absolutely nowhere to go” (Nabokov 130).

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Humbert begins to comprehend what Lolita is all about and vice versa.  Sharing close quarters in an endless variety of hotels and motels for a year, they both acquire a deep and meaningful understanding of one another’s body, mind, and spirit.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Understanding to Doing

Closeted, as it were, with each other during their year of being on the road, Humbert and Lolita came to know (“nous connumes”) (Nabokov 133) every type of hotel, motel, resort, road, foliage, geography, restaurant, bathroom, tourist trap, museum, tennis court, and movie, not to mention all kinds of people and a rich array of food.  Aside from driving to all of these places and visiting most of them, there were the twice (at least) daily sexual gymnastics, the arguments, and looking back, Lolita’s furtive meetings with Quilty.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Humbert and Lolita’s activities escalate.  She is busy planning her escape and he is busy wondering why she suddenly becomes so tractable.  He tries vainly to outmaneuver Quilty.  When Lolita’s plans do succeed, and she leaves with Quilty from the hospital, Humbert spends the next year on the road looking for them and then spends time in a sanitarium and teaching at a college, while living with an amiable drunk.  Lolita, meanwhile, goes to live with Quilty, leaves him and goes on the road with a girlfriend and finally ends up married.  Humbert’s next activity is to give Lolita money and kill Quilty.  Lolita accepts Humbert’s money and turns down his entreaty to return to him.  Both of their last endeavors, so to speak, are to die.

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Dynamic Act Schematics


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