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Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Analysis

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Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Suburbia and American Consumer Culture Theme Icon
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lolita, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon

There is a relationship between Humbert Humbert’s desire for nymphets and his artistic gifts. The common link is obsession, which Lolita suggests is the connector between sexual perversion and artistic talent. Humbert Humbert’s passion for Lolita is not only perverse, but also physically and intellectually obsessive. He is not satisfied with merely molesting Lolita, or even with having sex with her, as more ordinary pedophiles might be. These things, to him, fall short of his ultimate goal, which is to “fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets.” Humbert Humbert literally wants to know Lolita “inside out,” and he lavishes his attention—physically and with his mind—on every minute detail of her body and manner. This physical obsession with Lolita is microscopic: he takes pleasure in licking a speck from her eye, feeling the tiny downy hairs on her legs, and even in noticing the shine of her hair. His precise physical obsession is analogous to his equally precise artistic obsession, which is to immortalize Lolita in writing. As a pedophile and as an artist, Humbert is obsessed with small details. The linked themes of artistic and sexual obsession are two of the most common in Nabokov’s novels, appearing in his novels Pale Fire and Ada, or Ardor, among others. As a writer, Nabokov believed that obsessive attention to detail was the hallmark of all truly great artists.

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Perversity, Obsession, and Art ThemeTracker

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Perversity, Obsession, and Art Quotes in Lolita

Below you will find the important quotes in Lolita related to the theme of Perversity, Obsession, and Art.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the first lines of the novel proper, in which Humbert Humbert offers an opening remark on his attraction for Lolita. The passage immediately immerses the reader in the narrator’s both twisted and seductive psychology.

Rather than offering background information on him or Lolita, Humbert jumps straight into a bizarre mix of love expression and self-admonition. That Lolita is a “light” and “fire” presents her in a traditionally positive imagery of illumination and vigor, yet the tone immediately changes with the observation that that same light is a “sin.” Even this line has a third turn, however, when Humbert appends the term “soul.” Lolita thus may epitomize his evil actions, but she remains integrated into his deepest identity: Lolita, Nabokov implies, is a sin Humbert will be unwilling to renounce.

It’s worth spending some time on the word-level choices Nabokov has made. The heavy alliteration in the lines gives the language a luscious quality: First come the five “l” sounds, subdivided into an “lo,” three “li”s, and a final “lo.” Then comes the two “s” sounds of “sin” and “soul” again, divided between the vowels of “i” and “o.” Nabokov is a true master of such linguistic play. He uses it throughout his work to craft compelling prose, but this sentence seems a bit overdone—and purposefully so. As a parody of his own style, it indicates that Humbert’s language may at times become overwrought.

Notice also the incessant repetition of the possession “my”: Humbert may start the novel by discussing Lolita, but she is only ever seen in relation to himself. When read closely, these lines teach the reader to be cautious of any description the narrator will offer on Lolita—for his perceptions will always be warped through a similarly possessive viewpoint. She will be seen through the lens of his sin and his soul rather than on her own representative terms.


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Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets’

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Nymphets
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert breaks off while recounting his studies and travels to suddenly give this definition of “nymphets.” He will use the term repeatedly throughout the book to refer to the young girls he finds sexually arousing. (It's also worth noting that the word "nymphet" has entered the English language thanks to Nabokov's invention here.)

The language here becomes suddenly distanced and scientific, as if Humbert is presenting an animal species or natural phenomenon. In particular, the use of specific “age limits” and the phrase “propose to designate” grant Humbert a false scholarly authority. As a result, the nymphet seems like an objective fact, when in fact this "type" is a perverted creation of one single narrator.

And it takes a good deal of careful reading to observe the insidious nature of the nymphet. The reference to “bewitched travelers” implies that these men are attracted partially due to an enchantment rather than out of rational choice—thus reducing their moral culpability. That the nymphets are likened in a subtle parenthetical to demons and have a “true nature” implies that their young age obscures a hidden coercive maturity. The term, then, reveals less about the actual “maidens” and more about the psychology of Humbert: He projects onto these girls a precocious sentience in which they are conniving and aware of their seductive power.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

In this wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause and effect, could it be that the hidden throb I stole from them did not affect their future?

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Nymphets
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert Humbert chronicles, here, his early experiences encountering and resisting the allure of nymphets. He wonders, in particular, whether his gaze and thoughts may have had some unintended effect on their futures.

To evidence this rather bizarre question, Humbert gives a provocative image of how interconnected the world is: “wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause and effect.” Literary metaphors describing interlocked lives are generally poetic, but “wrought-iron” gives this one a harsher sense of imprisonment. “Criss-cross” similarly turns what would be normally a linear “cause and effect” instead into an entangling morass. Humbert implies that the world’s logic does not necessarily conform to rational rules, but rather often entraps one in an uncertain series of links. It recalls an earlier reference the “tangle of thorns” from the novel’s opening, and also introduces the concept of paranoia and recurring patterns that will prove central to Humbert’s character.

One must ask, after all, what the motivation would be for such a paranoid philosophical musing: Why would he desire for the nymphets to have been affected? Nabokov likely means to stress Humbert’s egoistic complex, in which he wants to be seen as an all-important determiner of others’ lives. If he did have some effect on the nymphets, it would demonstrate that his life is not simply constituted of passive perception, but can also inform the actions of those around him. Similarly, it would grant him an important role in the nymphet’s lives, so this rumination becomes a way for him to be psychologically closer to them.

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert Humbert makes this exclamation when he finds a book in the prison library that includes an entry on Clare Quilty next to one on Dolores Quine—who bears the same name as Lolita (Dolores). His paranoid mind latches onto this coincidence and he laments the way he has been entrapped.

In response to this sense of paralysis, Humbert alludes to language as his only recourse for self-empowerment. Physically imprisoned, he is on trial for both a real jury and the jury of the reader—and thus has only his deceptive, florid prose to use as defenses and as objects of play. The sing-song rhymes of the first two sentences serve this exact function: Humbert cannot actually exonerate himself or change his circumstances, but he can compare “Quine” (who bears Lolita’s name) to “Swine” and “Quilty” to being “Guilty.” The sentence thus serves to both describe and enact how Humbert is restricted to games of language.

That Humbert addresses this mournful line to Lolita puts into parallel the way he wishes to play with her and his inability to do so. Thus while the line might seem to disempower Humbert, it also reiterates the sexual and seductive role of Humbert’s writing: his exuberant use of language becomes a way to recreate his experiences with Lolita. Furthermore, the desperate, emotional note that creeps into the line's final exclamation is surprisingly tragic—underneath all the twisted obsession and wordplay, there is also an emotional heart to the character of Humbert Humbert.

Part 1, Chapter 13 Quotes

Lolita had been safely solipsized.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert delivers this pithy pronouncement during his first sexual experience with Lolita. He describes the encounter with highly abstract language that distracts the reader from visualizing the scene, while also pronouncing with pleasure his victory.

The line employs a shocking, albeit brilliant, pun: Solipsism is the philosophical belief that nothing exists, or can be proved to exist, outside of the self. So to solipsize someone would mean to view them as only a fictional projection of your own mind. It is a way to deny the external reality of other people and to bestow on them the significance that you so desire. Indeed, this is characteristic of how Humbert interacts with Lolita, always veiling her in metaphors and romantic tales. To do so “safely” implies less the actual security of Lolita herself and more the way Humbert has insulated himself from his own and the reader’s judgmental eyes.

The pun holds a darker side, however, for the way it rhymes and recalls “sodomized,” a term that comes from the Biblical tale of Sodom and that has since been applied generally to sexual actions deemed perverse or culturally inappropriate. Nabokov’s linkage of sodomy and solipsism thus shows the high ethical stakes of accepting Humbert’s language and theoretical pronouncements. To his eyes, Lolita may well be just a confluence of his internal desires, but the reader is being taught to note how this may obscure the actual human stakes of his sexual perversities.

…and my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

At the climax of his sexual encounter, Humbert makes this striking appeal to the reader. He both incriminates himself and believes that the splendor of his language and sentiment will somehow serve to exonerate his actions.

In a sense, this is not an unexpected choice. Humbert began the section by explicitly calling attention to the readers as similar “gentlemen of the jury,” and he often uses the phrase to cast us as arbiters on the morality of the narrative. Yet whereas his tone during such appeals is generally cautious and controlled, here he seems to have lost himself in the erotic energy of the events being described. Presumably, the “jury” will not find his pedophiliac descriptions redeeming. And, indeed, Humbert proves to be conscious of how horrific his action are: His “ecstasy” belongs to “man or monster,” which obscures which one of the two he is. Yet Humbert’s candid tone seems to imply that he does not particularly care, for it is not the moral designation of being a man over a monster that he seeks, but rather the superlative of “longest ecstasy.” This description implies that he believes the aesthetic uniqueness of the experience will triumph over any judicial or moral system.

Part 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming champagne into a young lady’s new white purse; and lo, the purse was intact.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

After finishing describing his perverse sexual encounter, Humbert reflects on how his action did not in fact maltreat Lolita. To justify this belief, he argues that the experience took place primarily within his own mind and with an aesthetic image of Lolita—and adds that she maintains her virginity.

As usual for Humbert, however, the main point is hidden beneath a thick layer of fancy images. Here, they are all luxurious foods: his orgasm is “honey,” while his sex becomes “milk, molasses, and foaming champagne.” He thus presents perversion in metaphors that, if literal foods, would be desired by a young girl (and also echo the physical results of his masturbation)—thus implying that Lolita has enjoyed, or at least been untroubled by, the experience. This, presumably, is why he feels that her “morals” have not been impaired and “no harm” has been done.

Yet Humbert’s point is predicated on the idea that a purse that is “intact” has not experienced any negative consequences. That is to say, he believes that if Lolita has not changed externally or physiologically, that his actions had no adverse effect. In doing so, Humbert explicitly ignores her psychology and denies her interior experience—something that is particularly noticeable since he constantly describes the richness of his own psychology. Nabokov cautions the reader from developing such harsh divisions of what is internally and externally valid for others, asking us to be skeptical of how much Humbert values his aesthetic life while denying how others may experience the world.

Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

But I am no poet. I am only a very conscientious recorder.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert makes this pronouncement after telling Lolita that he will marry her mother and realizing how quickly she has forgotten their encounter. He notes that a poet might use an image—an orange blossom hardly withering on the grave—to express how quickly she will return to his grasp, but then says he is no poet, but only a recorder.

This line breaks with Humbert’s previous self-presentation as a linguistic enchanter. Before, he had described his prose as florid and full of poetic rhythm and language. Yet here, he places just such an image in quotation marks and brackets it off as what a poet would say. Then he explicitly distances himself from such a role, even though he has been playing it throughout the novel thus far. We can take the expression as an attempt to claim narrative objectivity, and to respond to the reader’s growing anxiety that Humbert Humbert may be an unreliable narrator. By casting himself as “a very conscious recorder,” he claims that the text is a faithful copy of the events as they occurred—and that he takes great pains to ensure this spirit of truthfulness.

Yet this sentence itself is part of Humbert Humbert’s poetic and rhetorical game: By using an image and then rejecting it, he both benefits from the aesthetic effect and from the narrative authority gained with a disdainful look at the poet. Nabokov establishes, then, a deviously split personality in Humbert Humbert’s narrative style, in which he linguistically seduces us, while constantly denying that very seduction.

Part 1, Chapter 20 Quotes

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down on them.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Page Number: 87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

While swimming at hourglass lake, Humbert contemplates drowning Charlotte in order to have freer access to Lolita. When he decides against the action, he uses it in an appeal to the reader-jury. He asks that we consider sex offenders not to be diabolical murderers or radical sinners but rather simple, timid people.

Humbert steps out of his poetic language, here, to adopt a scientific register of speech. His reference to “the majority of sex offenders” presents him as a well-read expert who has amassed quantities of data that can shed light on his specific case. Next, he minimizes the intensity of the pedophilia, noting that it does not necessarily require a “coital” relation. Just as he interpreted his first sexual experience with Lolita to have had no real effect on her, he contends that a “throbbing, sweet-moaning” experience can be personal and solipsistic. As a result, these sexual deviants are deemed “innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid”: all adjectives that downplay their social power and thus their presumed effect on the object of their desire.

The main point of the passage is cleverly hidden beneath the tower of adjectives, but it essentially calls for his case to be considered a private and personal matter rather than something that is attended to by “the police and society”—who of course are represented by the reader as jury (and the actual jury who will soon be judging Humbert's case). This passage reiterates the way Humbert has constructed his reality as sealed off from social forces, and, indeed, that he has used this separation as a way to theorize and justify the actions of sexual deviants as innocuous.

Part 1, Chapter 33 Quotes

In the gay town of Lepingville I bought her four books of comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with high white shoes, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments—swooners, shorts, all kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Related Symbols: Motels and Rented Houses
Page Number: 141-142
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert describes the events that transpire just after he informs Lolita of her mothers’ death. To compensate, he buys Lolita a litany of presents and then later observes how their mutual exile has brought them closer together—just as he had wished.

Nabokov is riffing, here, on a specific type of American consumerism. As a European, Humbert would have not grown up with such an obsessive relationship with purchasing objects, but he sees them as a way to seduce and sedate Lolita. He presumes she can be placated with toys and sweets—and especially by clothing. We can read this as both a personal strategy of Humbert’s and also a critique of the American belief that owning things provides a source of emotional significance and meaning. Lolita has just lost her mother, and yet the only response Humbert offers are purchased products and sexual manipulation. As an immigrant, Nabokov held an excellent critical eye for many such American practices, and this novel, in particular, takes aim at the magazine and film consumer industries Nabokov found distasteful.

The final lines in this passage shift the tone, however, from superficial to emotional and predatory. Humbert reflects with delight how entrapped Lolita has become in his game, for, without a mother, she can turn to no one except him. These lines should be recalled at other moments when Lolita seems complicit or even empowered in Humbert’s games, for her actions only ever exist on top of this fundamental state of desperation—even if the desperation is covered by a consumerist veneer.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

As Humbert continues to recount his and Lolita’s travels across America, he oscillates between a loving and disparaging tone. Here, he switches into the former to reiterate his obsession with Lolita and to describe a passion so consuming that he wishes to connect with her full person—both inside and out.

This fascination with Lolita’s interior seems at odds with Humbert’s earlier obsession with her external appearance. Previously, he was frustrated with her “mentally” and preferred to see her as a projection of his own fantasies rather than an actual human. Here he wants to understand and come into contact with that interior—yet he never makes a reference to her mind or emotions. Rather, he seeks organs that regulate breathing and bodily functions, thus shifting the imagery to consumption. After all, “voracious lips” implies not a careful touch, but rather the act of greedily eating. And the organs are coated in his usual batch of aestheticizing adjectives. Nabokov thus displays how Humbert’s attempts to express interest in other parts of Lolita eventually undermine themselves: Even when he presumes to be more caring, his actual language only reiterates sexual greed and twisted violence.

Part 2, Chapter 17 Quotes

We must remember that a pistol is the Freudian symbol of the Ur-father’s central forelimb.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Freudian Symbols
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Now at the Chestnut Court motel, Humbert has become increasingly paranoid and fearful that his escape with Lolita will fail. To increase his confidence, he consults his gun, which prompts this mockery of psychoanalysis.

Nabokov was an open critic of Sigmund Freud’s theories, both in his fiction and in real life—and he found the methodology and the reading practices it invited insufferable. This line parodies the way Freudian critics will interpret any image as phallic: The “pistol” would normally be seen as an analog for the male genitals, due to its phallic shape and role as an assertion of violence and strength—and Humbert mocks this sexual reference by describing it as the “Ur-father's central forelimb”—thus stressing how ridiculous such one-to-one comparisons can be. Whereas the gun was intended to offer personal security, instead it just plays a ridiculous symbolic function. Nabokov seems to imply that the paranoid interpretation invited by psychoanalysis—one both performed and burlesqued by Humbert—prevents us from actually considering the reality of objects. And this idea is critical to the way that Humbert’s flagrant use of symbolism has often distracted the reader from seeing the actual way he has violated Lolita.

Part 2, Chapter 23 Quotes

We all admire the spangled acrobat with classical grace meticulously walking his tight rope in the talcum light; but how much rarer art there is in the sagging rope expert wearing scarecrow clothes and impersonating a grotesque drunk! I should know.”

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

After Quilty has stolen Lolita, he leaves a series of perplexing and teasing clues to his identity at the motels through which Humbert pursues him. Here, Humbert reflects on the seductive artistry of Quilty’s game, praising the flirtatious way he might risk falling into Humbert’s grasp.

To make this comparison, Humber uses the metaphor of the “acrobat,” thus defining their game of pursuit as a form of artistry but also as a circus performance. Yet he differentiates the acrobatics in the novel from a traditional form with “classical grace” that would be softened with “talcum light,” for the poise of this behavior is calculated and technical. Quilty’s performance is extolled as a “rarer art” precisely for its sloppiness: The rope is “sagging” rather than taught, and the acrobat wears “scarecrow clothes”—a gaudy and cumbersome attire—rather than the appropriate leotard. Yet despite appearing inhibited, he is still an “expert” and only “impersonating”—rather than himself being—drunk.

Humbert thus expresses an appreciation for what is haphazard over what is pristine—because it gives one the temptation that the acrobat will fall. Once more, he likens himself to Quilty with the phrase “I should know,” indicating that Humbert has seen his own performances as those of a “sagging rope expert”: He had repeatedly flirted with danger, often making irrational decisions but being saved by fate at the last moment. This passage, then, could be taken in two ways: either as proof of Humbert’s descent in mania, in which he sees normal details of life as indicators of a paranoid circus performance; or as an indication that Humbert’s various falls and slips—both linguistic and ethical—are all part of a brilliant, acrobatic “rarer art.”

Part 2, Chapter 25 Quotes

It is not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual characters as some shams and shamans have said; it is the other way around: sex is but the ancilla of art.”

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Freudian Symbols
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert grows increasingly despondent over Lolita’s absence and begins to conflate her with other women in his life. In response, he describes their experiences as a route to the creation of art.

Here, Humbert rejects what he sees as a common hierarchy between sex and art in which “shams and shamans” (probably another mocking reference to Freud and psychoanalysis) see the aesthetic as secondary to the purely sexual. Humbert he does not fully deny the value of sex, but rather considers it most important as a means to art. (If this seems to contradict the reality of Humbert's own life, it is probably because it's another example of him aestheticizing and beautifying his own sexual obsessions and sordid acts.)

An ancilla is a device used to obtain or master something difficult, so “the ancilla of art” would be something that helps someone create art. To call sex “but the ancilla” is to render it solely a means to aesthetic ends rather than a goal in an of itself. Humbert is thus building on his previous defense for his actions under the idea that his Lolita is an aesthetic construction. After all, she has served as the ancilla to the very narrative that we are reading. This line demands a revisiting of Humbert’s earlier language when describing his sexual encounters, which was itself highly aesthetic and metaphorical. Here, he implies that the metaphors were not used to obscure the sex, but rather that the sex served as the inspiration for the language. And by valorizing its gorgeous language and intricate structure, we seem to be affirming Humbert’s exact point.

Part 2, Chapter 29 Quotes

I could not kill her, of course, as some have thought. You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert has finally been able to track down Lolita and her husband, and he arrives with murderous intentions. But when he sees them in person he cannot bring himself to go through with the act, and he reflects once more on his love.

He pre-empts, here, reader’s expectations with the phrase “as some have thought.” Up to this point, the novel has seemed to follow the tropes of a detective and revenge narrative, but it reaches here only an anti-climax as opposed to the expected conclusion. Even at this later moment in the text, Humbert remains aware of his readership as a jury—and is still narrativizing his life, even as the expected narrative has fallen through.

Humbert’s profession of eternal love for Lolita contrasts rather starkly with the actual type of affection in the scene. Humbert’s previous romantic descriptions and accompanying metaphorical language have faded away, and he sees the older Lolita in much more realistic terms. Yet, read closely, the construction of “at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight” might offer an explanation: By equating “first” and “last,” Humbert implies that it is the original image of Lolita as nymphet that still dictates his image of her. In cultivating that myth and turning it into this novel, he has immortalized her as “ever and ever sight.” Thus while the conventions of genre fiction may have failed and his view of her is reduced to banal realism, he has been able to, through the text, create a more permanent image.

Part 2, Chapter 36 Quotes

I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel draws to a close, Humbert reflects again on all the wrong he has done to Lolita and wonders whether anything can be done to address his crimes. He ends his text with the promise of immortality, which the two will hold within the text, as a partial redemption.

Humbert returns, here, to his more floral way of writing and to his philosophical musings on art. He references a variety of artistic tropes: “Aurochs” are a now-extinct cattle species that were depicted in cavemen paintings, while “angels” are traditional religious icons—both of which survived due to “durable pigments.” To connect the two is to bring the most primitive and most religious art into a single sentence, just as he crosses genres from painting to writing with the reference of “prophetic sonnets.” What unites all forms of art, Humbert, explains is how they function as a “refuge” by giving their subjects “immortality.”

The text thus becomes a way to not only repent for what Humbert has done to Lolita, but also an attempt to offer her memory a small reprieve. Though he may not be able to grant her an actual childhood free of perverse pain, he can retrace their history together and crystallize it forever into this novel. Here, then, we see the moral impetus Humbert feels to write, and we also gain insight into why he found it necessary to write in such fancy prose. Beyond just a seduction mechanism, that style allowed him to rewrite his memory of Lolita into the most beautiful setting possible. Yet we must always remain skeptical readers to the end—and note that Humbert’s last lines smack of a nostalgia for his sexual experiences with Lolita. True, he may be offering her a bit of redemption, and a tragic declaration of devotion, but only in so far as he continues to speak for her and preserve his own nymphet obsessions for eternity.