The flip side of Humbert Humbert’s obsession with nymphets is his hatred of sexually mature women. Humbert Humbert treats the adult women of Lolita with almost infinite pity and contempt. Often, when angry, he thinks about killing them: he considers or at least imagines murdering Valeria, Charlotte, and Headmistress Pratt at the Beardsley School. Humbert’s misogyny reaches its pinnacle in his marriage with Charlotte. Humbert hates Charlotte’s body, and is disgusted by her sexual desire for him. He hates everything he perceives as feminine and domestic in his Ramsdale life, and associates women with stupidity, middle-class snobbery, and bad taste. Humbert Humbert’s hatred of sexually mature women is related to his complex obsession with innocence. He hates older women because they lack the imagined purity and innocent devilishness of nymphets. He doesn’t like women with mature sexual desires, even when those desires are for him.
Instead, he obsesses over the fantastical innocence of nymphets. Even when he learns that Lolita has had sexual experiences before, he continues to think of her as innocent, unconnected with the world of adult sexuality: “She saw the stark act [of sex] merely as part of a youngster’s furtive world, unknown to adults.” This obsession with Lolita’s innocence and naïveté causes Humbert to miss the more complex aspects of her budding personality, something for which he—and just as or more importantly, she—will pay dearly. It allows him to convince himself, for example, that she doesn’t notice him molesting her when she is very young. For the plot of Lolita, Humbert’s belief in his nymphet’s innocence causes him not to believe in his suspicions when she plans her escape with Clare Quilty. By the end of the novel, though, Humbert Humbert has realized that he himself was the greatest threat to Lolita’s innocence, and that he in fact destroyed her innocence in ways that could never be undone.
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy ThemeTracker
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Quotes in Lolita
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory...
Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets’
Lolita had been safely solipsized.
…and my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known.
I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming champagne into a young lady’s new white purse; and lo, the purse was intact.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down on them.
In the gay town of Lepingville I bought her four books of comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with high white shoes, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments—swooners, shorts, all kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.
My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.
We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep.