Humbert Humbert receives two letters which have been forwarded to his Cantrip apartment. The first is from John Farlow, who is now widowed and remarried to a Spanish girl. John, who is moving to South America, wants nothing more to do with the properties he is controlling in Lolita’s name. He warns Humbert that he is turning his legal responsibilities as guardian of Lolita’s inheritance over to Jack Windmuller, and that Humbert better “produce Dolly quick.” Humbert reflects on the difference between fictional characters and real people: although we expect real people to have the stability of fictional characters, they often surprise us by changing radically over the course of their lives. Humbert is surprised that John Farlow, the quiet widower, has remarried and moved to South America.
Humbert’s passing mention of the fact that John is now a widower indicates how little he cares to notice women who are not nymphets—or other people in general. The careful reader will remember that Jean Farlow, John’s deceased wife, was passionately in love with Humbert: she watched him when he swam at Hourglass lake, and tried to kiss him soon after Charlotte’s death. In the narrow-mindedness of his obsession, Humbert neglects to mention any of this. Humbert’s reflection on the ways real people change over time prepares us for his reunion with a changed Lolita in the next chapter. This thought about characters invites us to consider Humbert’s manuscript as an attempt to create an unchanging, fictional Lolita, who is immortal and remains a nymphet forever.
The second letter is from Lolita. She is now married to an engineer and pregnant. She asks Humbert for money in order to move to Alaska, where her husband Dick has a job offer. Lolita declines to give her exact address, worried that “Dad,” might still be angry about her escape three years prior. The letter is dated September 18th, 1952. She signs it “Dolly, Mrs. Richard F. Schiller.”
Lolita has changed. This chapter and its letter are one of the only parts of the novel in which we are given a perspective on Lolita which is relatively untainted by Humbert’s obsessive imagination. The appearance of the date reminds us of how central Lolita is to Humbert’s world. He uses her to measure everything, including time, which has gone unmarked in preceding chapters. 52 is also an important number in the book. The appearance of Lolita’s letter after John Farlow’s relatively insignificant letter is a device used to create a feeling of surprise. Traditional novels don’t usually include letters which are unimportant to the plot, but John’s is used to create a greater sense of importance behind Lolita’s. Lolita’s letter is one of the first reminders we are given that Lolita is not the name Dolores Haze prefers. Humbert’s decision to use his pet name for her throughout the manuscript reminds us of how central his own perspective is to the character he creates out of the real girl.