Released from the sanatorium, Humbert Humbert plans a move to New England. He arranges to board in a town called Ramsdale with the McCoo’s, a family he knows through the perfume company, which has a small girl. Upon his arrival, he is met by Mr. McCoo, who explains that his house has burned down. Humbert imagines whimsically that his burning desire to see McCoo’s young daughter might have caused the fire. Mr. McCoo sends Humbert to the house of some friends, the Hazes, who are also looking for a boarder. Reluctantly, Humbert goes along, and is driven by McCoo’s chauffeur to the Haze home. Humbert Humbert is let in by Louise, the family’s black maid. He looks at his surroundings in disgust, finding the prints, furniture, and everything else to be evidence of bad taste.
The fire at the McCoo’s house is a freak accident, but it also leads Humbert to his "destiny": meeting Lolita. The lines between coincidence and fate become blurry in the novel. Humbert has a tendency to blur the lines between real life and his literary imagination, and this tendency is reflected in the fantastical image of his desires burning down the McCoo’s house. As a member of the European elite, Humbert has contempt for the “tasteless,” furnishings of the middle-class Haze home. Hiring black domestics like Louise was a suburban status symbol in Pre-Civil Rights America.
Humbert Humbert is shown around the house by Charlotte Haze, who he contemptuously describes as “a weak solution of Marlene Dietrich.” During the tour of the house, he quickly gets the idea that she is attracted to him, and imagines the reason she is looking for a boarder might be to start an affair. Humbert is deeply uninterested in Charlotte and her house, until she leads him outside to the piazza and garden. There, he sees Dolores—Charlotte’s daughter, whom she calls “Lo,” and “Lolita”—for the first time. Lolita is sunbathing and wears sunglasses. Humbert is immediately overpowered by passionate feelings. He imagines that Lolita is the reincarnation of Annabel.
When Humbert sees Lolita, he instantly falls in love. This is where the story really begins—the chapters before this one are summaries covering long periods of time. Once again, Humbert uses comparisons from Hollywood film to tell his story: Marlene Dietrich was a famous actress of the time. Later on, Humbert will try to understand the personalities and actions of both Dolores and Charlotte by using Hollywood as a reference point. The reappearance of sunglasses (first seen in the seaside cave in Chapter 3) underscores what Humbert sees as the mystical relationship between Lolita and Annabel Leigh.