Returning to his past, Humbert Humbert recounts his migration to New York City, which he makes after a long stay in Portugal at the beginning of the Second World War. In New York, he begins working; first as a perfume advertiser, and then, with encouragement from a university, on his manual of French literature. He spends several years on these books, after which he has a nervous breakdown. He stays in a sanatorium for more than a year, twice. After this, he is enlisted by a doctor friend to accompany an arctic expedition as a recorder of psychic reactions. The expedition helps him to clear his head, but the scandalous psychological reports he writes are totally made up. This amuses him; when he must go to a sanatorium for a third time, he continues to play games with psychoanalysts by repeating exactly the kind of dreams and patterns of thought they describe in their books. He gets enormous delight from stealing and reading the reports they have written about him; all of them misdiagnose him with some sexual “problem” other than pedophilia.
Humbert has no stability in his life. He is an exile without a steady job, family, significant other, or permanent home. He has no social or psychological grounding, and lives entirely on the margins of society. It is important to remember all of this later, when Humbert meets Lolita. The loneliness and emptiness of his life allow Lolita to become the center of his world. Humbert manipulates his psychoanalysts at the sanatorium by telling them what they already expect to hear. This alerts us to Humbert’s slipperiness as a narrator: he plays with our expectations as readers in the same way that he manipulates his analysts. The incompetence of the psychoanalysts is part of the novel’s constant satire of psychoanalysis, which Nabokov represents as dangerous nonsense.