Introduction to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita/Summary of the plot

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Lolita, of the Confession of a White Widowed Male by Vladimir Nabokov is a story about Humbert Humbert, a literature professor in his late thirties, obsessed with a twelve-year-old Dolores Haze. The novel consists of a preface, two parts and the author's annotation. The book starts with the foreword written by fictitious editor named John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., who explains the story that will follow. He states that he received Lolita's manuscript from Humbert Humbert's lawyer and that Humbert died in jail waiting for a trial. Invented by Nabokov editor believes that Lolita should serve as a warning and a moral lesson for generations to come.

Part One

The manuscript opens with Humbert's description of his background, family and peaceful childhood on the Rivera, where he met his first love, Annabel Leigh. Annabel and Humbert were twelve and thirteen, respectively. They were madly in love with each other and they never had a chance to consummate their love, since Annabel left the Riviera and four months later died of typhus. Those events haunt Humbert throughout his whole life and although he later gets married his obssession with "nymphets" - sexually desirable prepubescent girls - never ceases, as they remind him of Annabel. Humbert gets divorced and moves to the United States where he rents a room in the house of Charlotte Haze in a quiet suburban town. Humbert is immediately mesmerised by Charlotte’s daughter, Dolores, whom he calls Lolita. Humbert decides to marry Charlotte in order to stay close to Lolita. As the main protagonist starts toying with the idea of killing his wife, the wife learns about his obsession, confronts him and runs out of the house. At that moment, the car hits her and she dies. Humbert takes Lolita from the camp where she spends the summer and decides to drive across the country with her. Then they spend their first night together in the motel. According to Humbert, it was Lolita who seduced him that night, not the other way round.

Part Two

They travel across the U.S. for a year, and as this time Humbert becomes more and more obsessed with his nymphet and she becomes more and more advanced in manipulating him. During their trip a strange man starts following them. Finally, Humbert is hired at Beardsley College and Dolores enrolls in school. Although Humbert is very strict for Lolita, he allows her to take part in the school play. As the girl wants to socialize more with her peers, Humbert becomes more possesive and restrictive and, finally, he decides to take her on another road trip. At the time he realises they are being followed and he accuses Dolores of cooperating with the stalker. Then Lolita falls ill and is taken to the hospital. When Humbert visits her, his suspicion is confirmed - Lolita has left with her "uncle". The next part of the book is a description of two years of Humbert's life as he searches for her. One day he receives a note from Lolita, who now is married and pregnant and asks Humbert for financial help. Humbert believes that Lolita has married the man that had stolen her from him and intends to kill him. But when he finds her, he realises that it is not her husband who kidnapped her from the hospital, but Clare Quilty. The presence of Quilty has been felt throughout the whole story - he was the author of the school play in which Lolita appeared - and Dolores loved him. When Humbert sees grown-up, poor Lolita, he realises that he ruined Lolita’s childhood and that he truly loved her. He decides to find Quilty in order to kill him. He shoots him and ends up in jail, where he writes his diary and where he dies. Lolita, at the age of seventeen, dies of childbirth.

If you want to find more specific information about the plot and its analysis [click here].