Humbert Humbert describes his brief marriage to Valeria, which lasts from 1935 to 1939. Though she is in her late twenties, he is attracted to her because of her childlike behavior and looks. Though these thrill him at first, he quickly grows bored with her, distracted by the daughter of the grocer across the street. He receives word that his uncle in America has died and left him a fixed income for life—on the condition that he must move across the Atlantic and show some interest in business.
Humbert’s lack of attraction to mature women is a recurring theme in the novel. Ironically, this fixed income is what will allow Humbert to wander around the United States with Lolita—the exact opposite of the “settled,” life as a businessman his uncle had in mind.
Humbert Humbert begins making plans to move, but Valeria becomes restless; she reveals that there is another man in her life, a White Russian taxi-driver named Maximovich. Valeria breaks the news to Humbert in Maximovich’s taxi; the three of them go from there to a café, where Maximovich explains his life plans with Valeria to Humbert. The three of them go from there to move Valeria’s things out of Humbert’s apartment. Once the two lovers have left, Humbert discovers that Maximovich forgot to flush after peeing in his toilet—and further, left a cigarette floating in the bowl. He is enraged, and begins to fantasize about killing them—or at least slapping Valeria, as one should “according to the rules of the movies.” He is angry, not because he cares about Valeria, but because she has unexpectedly deceived him.
Paris in between the World Wars was filled with Russian exiles like Maximovich—or Vladimir Nabokov himself. Humbert will later comment that pivotal moments in his life often involve toilets and telephones. This is the first example. Humbert often comments on “the rules of the movies,” and other clichés of fiction. He uses these rules to call attention to the way he shapes his own story. Unlike more traditional narrators, Humbert calls attention to the fact that he is designing the story he tells.
Switching to the time of his writing—from prison, in 1955—Humbert Humbert notes with satisfaction that Valeria and Maximovich recently died in Pasadena as test subjects in a humiliating psychological and eugenicist experiment. Humbert then examines the prison library, from which he copies a “dazzling coincidence”—a section of a book containing a mention of a man named Clare Quilty. Quilty is a dramatist known for his work with a certain Vivian Darkbloom writing plays for children, including The Little Nymph.
The death of Valeria and Maximovich is a satire on the pseudoscience of the mid-twentieth century, which Nabokov hated. The “dazzling coincidence,” Humbert mentions is that the tiny prison library contains a book mentioning the very man he’s been imprisoned for killing: Clare Quilty. This reinforces Humbert’s belief that the events in his life have been planned out by something or someone else. Of course, since this is a novel, Humbert is quite right: the anagrammed mention of the author’s name (Vivian Darkbloom) reminds us that this is a work of fiction.