Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita: Part 1, Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

With Lolita off at camp, Humbert Humbert and Charlotte spend the months of June and July together in Ramsdale. Humbert is alarmed by Charlotte's plans to send Lolita to boarding school right after she returns from camp. He struggles to find ways of asserting himself, hoping to gain enough influence over Charlotte to change her mind. He is astonished that she doesn’t respond to the silent treatment or his other attempts at emotional manipulation. He finally finds an opportunity to show who’s boss when Charlotte announces a romantic surprise cruise to England. Pretending outrage, Humbert makes fun of the cruise and complains that she makes too many decisions without consulting him, her husband, first. It works: Charlotte ends up begging Humbert Humbert for forgiveness. Resolving to “press [his] advantage,” he ignores Charlotte and works in his study for the next few days. On one of these days, Charlotte comes in and notices the locked drawer where Humbert keeps his diary. She asks what’s in it, and he responds “Locked up love letters.” He starts worrying that the key isn’t well hidden. Humbert flips through an encyclopedia, where Charlotte recognizes a town she’s visited: she asks if he’d like to spend the fall there, at a quaint hotel called The Enchanted Hunters.
Humbert continues to deceive Charlotte by playing the role of American husband. His usual techniques of emotional manipulation don’t work on her. He has to act like the “man of the house,” asserting his control, before she’ll respond the way he wants. Here again, we see how Humbert, the consummate manipulator, responds to the expectations of his “audience.” Charlotte’s encounter with Humbert in the study foreshadows two later events in the narrative: Charlotte’s discovery of Humbert’s diary, and Humbert’s stay with Lolita at the Enchanted Hunters.
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