In this celebrated novel, which Nabokov himself considered his masterpiece, one of my favorite word plays in the text was when the post-Lolita, post-Rita Humbert Humbert, who, after receiving a letter from his daughter, resumes his search for Lolita:
…with a blue block ice for heart, a pill on my tongue, and solid death in my hip pocket, I stepped neatly into a telephone booth in Coalmont…
In brief, Lolita is the story of a middle-aged man who prowls on the eponymous twelve year old girl, whom he succeeds in making his prey—his sex slave. I must make that plain, lest you think otherwise because this novel has the most entertaining, but deceptive narrator and master solipsist in the name of Humbert Humbert.
For a child rapist, H.H. is very witty and wickedly funny.
He invites us into his web of undeserved sympathy by telling the story of his failed puppy love with the adolescent Annabel and his failed first marriage with the unbelievable adulterer, Valeria. These, he makes as excuses to marry a second wife in order to get access to a much younger bride. Reader, he is not to be pitied. But Nabokov, in his genius, lets us indulge in Humbert’s amusing invention of the dark events surrounding his sexual abuse of Lolita.
Of her, Lolita or Dolores Haze, we hear little about.
From Humbert’s inconsistent memories, we learn that if she were dedicated, she could be a competent tennis player, that she has trouble concentrating in class, but that she likes acting in a play. We only get a sense of her value as a human being, as an innocent child, when in the end, after hearing the sounds of children playing in the background, Humbert makes this heartbreaking realization:
…and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.
Well said, Humbert. But too little too late.
What you will not find in this novel is any suggestion of pornography or lewdness. That is not Nabokov’s intention. What he tried to do here is to give us that highest form of individualism. What he gave us here is art.