Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita: Part 1, Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Humbert Humbert and the Hazes are scheduled to go for a lakeside picnic with another family, the Hamiltons. But the Sunday outing is cancelled by Charlotte when the Hamilton daughter gets sick. Lolita, furious, refuses to go to church with her mother. Charlotte leaves her at home with Humbert Humbert, who takes advantage of the opportunity to have his first sexual experience with Lolita. Dressed in his dressing gown and pajamas, he finds her in the living room, where he starts a play fight by stealing her apple and magazines. The two end up sprawled on the sofa. Lolita stretches her legs across Humbert Humbert’s lap, and he takes advantage of the positioning to rub his genitals against her and have an orgasm. He describes the feeling in very abstract, literary language. While he discreetly masturbates, Humbert Humbert distracts Lolita by singing one of her favorite songs, a crooner tune about a woman named “Carmen,” who is ultimately shot by her lover. When Humbert touches Lolita’s inner thigh, she jumps up and leaves the room. Humbert believes that she has noticed nothing.
Like almost every other important event in the novel, Humbert’s time alone with Lolita isn’t something he plans for, but a freak accident—the result of a fight between Charlotte and Lolita. The difference between fate and chance is a recurring question in the novel. The apple Lolita is holding can be understood as a symbol of lost innocence, as in the Bible. Humbert’s language becomes most literary and abstract at the moment he describes his orgasm. He represents his pleasure in such ornate, complicated language to distract his readers from paying too much attention to what he is doing: molesting Lolita. The story in the Carmen song foreshadows the ending of Lolita: the breakdown of a relationship, followed by violence. Lolita runs away, but Humbert claims she noticed nothing. This seems unlikely, and gives us reason to think that Humbert might be misrepresenting, or misunderstanding, some parts of the story—that he might be what’s called an “unreliable narrator.”
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