Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita: Part 1, Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Humbert Humbert and Charlotte go for a swim at the Hourglass Lake. On the walk from the parking lot to the beach, Charlotte tells Humbert she plans to send Lolita to boarding school immediately after camp. Humbert, horrified, excuses himself by claiming he needs to go back to the car. He tries to think of ways to convince Charlotte to change her plans, but can’t think of any way to do it without revealing his perverse desire for Lolita.
The name “Hourglass Lake,” gives us the idea that time is running out for Humbert—he must act quickly or lose Lolita.
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
Desperate, Humbert Humbert starts to think about killing Charlotte. He paces through the woods, where he sees two young girls emerge from a bathroom together. They remind him of Lolita. He returns to the lake to swim with Charlotte, and realizes this might be a perfect opportunity—he might be able to drown her. There are two visible spectators, men building a wharf on the opposite shore, but Humbert thinks they’re far enough away to make it look like an accident. He’s about to go through with it, but changes his mind at the last minute. When he and Charlotte return to shore, Jean Farlow arrives, and reveals she’s been watching them from the bushes and painting a lake scene the entire time.
All little girls begin to remind Humbert of Lolita. This is a symptom of his obsession. Humbert has fantasized about killing a wife before (Valeria, when she left him in Paris) but this time, he is serious. Only chance or ‘fate,’ stops him: because Jean is hidden in the bushes, this is a stroke of luck. As we have seen, Humbert’s story progresses through such strokes of luck, rather than his own planning.
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon
Patterns, Memory and Fate Theme Icon
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