Vladimir Nabokov

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Lolita makes teaching easy.

Lolita: Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Humbert Humbert discusses his young adulthood. He spends a few years as a college student in London and Paris—first studying psychology, and then, English Literature. He hob-nobs in literary cafés, submits articles to journals, and begins writing volumes on French literature for English-speaking students. He represses his urge for young girls, and restricts his sex life to visiting prostitutes.
Humbert lives the life of a dilettante. Instead of starting on a stable career, he moves from place to place, changing his field of study and submitting articles to journals. Humbert’s unstable professional life, along with his sexual perversion and immigrant status, are part of what make him an outsider. Nothing ties him to the fabric of ordinary social life. He has no family, and instead of dating, he sees prostitutes.
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
Interrupting his narration, Humbert Humbert introduces the idea of the nymphet: a special kind of little girl, between the ages of nine and fourteen, who is mischievous, slightly vulgar, and possesses difficult-to-explain charms. Humbert cites examples of relationships between men and nymphets throughout history and literary history: Petrarch’s Laura, Dante’s Beatrice, and the biblical prostitute Rahab. During his young adulthood, Humbert “[tries] to be good,”—he never tries to molest a little girl. Nevertheless, he often visits parks and orphanages to be in the presence of nymphets, fantasizing about scenarios in which he could molest them without fearing the consequences.
Humbert slyly tries to connect his lust for young girls with his artistic gifts, using famous writers and literary sources as examples. He presents his pedophilia as something aesthetic, rather than something physical. Even his encounters with real little girls become literary: he imagines elaborate scenarios of molestation. When he molests Lolita, Humbert will represent it in the same way: as something aesthetic, rather than something associated with a real and physical girl.
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon