Humbert Humbert rings the doorbell, and “Dolly Schiller,” answers the door. She is older—no longer a nymphet—but clearly pregnant. She takes him inside and he sees her husband—and immediately decides not to kill him, realizing this isn’t the same man who took her away three years prior.
Humbert’s decision to refer to Lolita as Dolly Schiller at the beginning of this chapter is striking. It is meant to underscore just how much she has changed—so much that he cannot or does not want to deny it.
Lolita and Humbert sit down in the living room. He demands she tell him the identity of the man who took her away. Initially reluctant, she finally reveals his name: Clare Quilty, the author of The Enchanted Hunters. Quilty, who had been a friend of Charlotte’s, had known Lolita since her early childhood. He had also seen her and Humbert at The Enchanted Hunters motel. They had reconnected at Beardsley during the special rehearsal of his play. Soon after Quilty had taken her out of the hospital, he took Lolita to the Duk Duk ranch, where he tried to make her participate in his pornographic films. After she refused, Quilty threw Lolita out. She worked in restaurants for two years before meeting her husband Dick, who still knows nothing of her background.
The careful reader will have already realized that the man Lolita escaped with was Clare Quilty. This is the end of the “detective novel,” portion of Lolita: the mystery (which is more of a parody of a mystery) has been solved. Quilty’s invisible presence at every step of the plot underscores his role as Humbert’s double or shadow. He was everywhere, but Humbert didn’t notice him. Quilty, Humbert’s double, is a pornographer. This should make us think about the pornographic qualities of Humbert’s writing: is he just the same?
Humbert is heartbroken when Lolita comments that Quilty is the only man she ever loved. Humbert can see that she only considers him her father and molester. Dick enters the room and Lolita introduces him to Humbert, who considers him an ordinary and innocuous young man. Dick quickly leaves the room so “father and daughter,” can catch up.
There is a bitter irony in the fact that Lolita now thinks of Humbert as a father. Early on in the story, this was all he wanted anyone to believe: it was the perfect cover story for his relationship with her. Now, Humbert is heartbroken because the fiction of his fatherhood has become “fact,” and the reality of his love has been forgotten by Lolita, who never reciprocated it in the first place.
As Humbert prepares to go, he pleads with Lolita to come with him. She thinks he’s asking her to have sex with him in exchange for the money she needs. Humbert is deeply wounded by her assumption: he sees she never knew he really loved her. He gives her an envelope with four thousand dollars, and asks once more if she’ll come with him. Calling him “honey,” for the first time, she gently refuses. He starts crying. She tries to give him a kiss, but he avoids her. Making a final, unsuccessful plea to his “Carmencita,” before reaching his car, Humbert drives away in tears.
Lolita’s immediate assumption that Humbert wants sex—and her surprise that he loves her—underscores the difference between Humbert’s fantasy about the relationship between them and the reality of it. This chapter is a view of Lolita and Humbert’s relationship with the rose-colored glasses of Humbert’s obsession removed. This final scene between Humbert and Lolita is one of the few moments of genuine tenderness in the novel. Humbert presents his earlier relationship with Lolita as filled with tenderness, but there, it is hard to separate his obsession with nymphets from genuine affection. Throughout Lolita, experiences of loss are repeated. Humbert has already lost Lolita, and his “reunion,” with her becomes a repetition of that initial loss. Memory is a similar kind of rediscovery, one which relives the initial loss. Through the emotion of his language, Humbert the narrator repeats the loss experienced by Humbert the character.