Lolita is a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov about the relationship between erudite pedophile Humbert Humbert and his stepdaughter/kidnappee Dolores Haze. The action takes place between 1947 and 1952, and is chock-full of convoluted wordplay, multilingual puns, and allusions to everything from entomology to Edgar Allan Poe. Originally written in English and set in the US, it had to be published in France as pornography because no one else would touch it. Nabokov himself pointed out that this is probably the main reason why parents don't name their daughters "Lolita" any more.
This is where we get the terms "Lolita Complex", or "Lolicon" in Japan, and the slang for "Lolita", meaning a sexually attractive and/or promiscuous young girl.
Adapted into two films, one by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, starring James Mason as Humbert Humbert and Sue Lyon as Lolita, the other by Adrian Lyne in 1997, starring Jeremy Irons as H.H. and Dominique Swain as Lolita.
Lolita contains examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Charlotte Haze in Humbert Humbert's eyes: he thinks she is unattractive and she always tries to pick him up. He has to keep reminding himself that she's related to his love Lolita and he treats Charlotte decent in order to be close to her daughter.
- Abusive Parents: Apart from the obvious sexual abuse, Humbert has a bad habit of hitting his adoptive daughter Dolores when she fails to please him, in bed or otherwise. In one of the most disturbing scenes in a highly disturbing book, we learn that he routinely pays her for sex, after which he takes the money back by force so that she can't save up enough to run away.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Lots and lots. The title quote shows it well."Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."
- Affably Evil: Humbert Humbert. There's at least one moment in the book in which he contemplates killing his wife and how easily he could get away with it, but finds that he really is just too nice to do it. In some ways, this actually makes him even worse, and the mid-story Diabolus ex Machina that puts her out of his way is made that much more bitterly ironic.
- Alliterative Name: Gaston Grodin. Grodin is Humbert's acquaintance who teaches in the French Department at Beardsley College. A mediocre thinker and scholar, according to H.H.
- The Annotated Edition: The Annotated Lolita, with said annotations added by Alfred Appel, who had once been Nabokov's student at Cornell. It's funny how Alfred Appel added the annotations, given the author's affinity for alliteration. Given the author's fondness for bilingual puns, it's also fun to note that the French for "reference mark" is "appel de note". Does this man even really exist? Appel's preface to the annotated edition goes out of its way on this point: "Of course, the annotator and editor of a novel written by the creator of Kinbote and John Ray, Jr., runs the real risk of being mistaken for another fiction, when at most he resembles those gentlemen only figuratively. But the annotator exists; he is a veteran and a grandfather, a teacher and taxpayer, and has not been invented by Vladimir Nabokov." Of course, that's just what a character would say... and before the Introduction is over, Appel is saying that you, gentle reader, are "manipulated by Nabokov's dizzying illusionistic devices to such an extent that [you] too can be said to become, at certain moments, another of Vladimir Nabokov's creations."
- Author Avatar: Oddly, given his crimes and Nabokov's own opinion toward him, Humbert could count for this, being one of a number of Nabokov protagonists who, like the author himself, is a highly cultured emigre. This is tidily averted in one aspect: Nabokov was a respected lepidopterist. H.H. sees hawk-moths in the Arizona twilight and thinks they are hummingbirds. It is also interesting to note how Humbert discredits his journal as being a work of fiction using people he knows as archetypes and putting them into extreme situations. He even says that this is part of the trade of the author as well.
- Babies Ever After: After she finally escapes him, Humbert eventually finds Lolita several years later married to a man called Schiller and expecting a child. But it's subverted the introduction of the novel lists Mrs Schiller as having died in childbirth.
- Being Watched: Humbert during his last road trip with Dolores becomes convinced that a private detective is following him. It is also a sign of his Villainous Breakdown as he lapses into increasing paranoia, but his fears are not entirely unfounded as it's actually Quilty, another pedophile who plans to steal Dolores away from him.
- Bilingual Bonus: Tons and tons. Vladimir Nabokov was fluent in English, French and Russian and he was familiar with other languages, and he makes H.H. a multilingual scholar. The English edition contains numerous sentences, remarks, and pet names in French and other languages.
- Black Comedy: The blackest. Consider for example the death of Charlotte in a tragicomic accident when a car swerves to miss a dog. The craziest part is that readers are actually relieved for Humbert because Charlotte has just found out he's obsessed with her teenage daughter and was on her way to mail a letter detailing his crime and sick ways.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Humbert even corrects his inner thoughts in this regard. He fantasizes on how he will "blackmail" his wife Charlotte into letting him spend more time with Lolita, saying that "blackmail" is too harsh and suggesting "mauvemail" as a lighter term.
- Boom, Headshot!: Humbert tries to kill Quilty with one clean shot in the head, but fails gruesomely. He is tough to kill and after many shots, Humbert reduces him to a "purple heap".
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Lolita, or so Humbert would want us to believe. She's sometimes shown really like a foul-mouthed kid and she's aloof and bratty to her mother, which is a fairly normal teenage behaviour. Lolita curses and uses slang. However, Lolita is deeply damaged underneath. Humbert believes that Lolita is already corrupted and spoiled(no longer a virgin) and therefore he has every right to demand she love him and be with him.
- Break the Cutie: The entire book breaks Lolita, considering her childhood is essentially destroyed. She starts as a normal teenager, pretty, girly and fairly cute. To begin with, her mother isn't particularly fond of her and marries a paedophile who becomes obsessed with her. When her mother dies, her step-father starts to sexually abuse her. She then falls for another sexual predator. She marries a working-class man. Heavily pregnant, she reaches to her step-father and asks him for money. She ends up a jaded young woman.
- Character Title: Lolita is named for the protagonist's lust object, Lolita.
- Chick Magnet: Humbert. According to himself, he's truly irresistible. It's a source of some irritation, given that he isn't all that interested in grown women. He assures us Lolita swoons over him, Charlotte falls for him passionately and becomes possessive, and their young neighbour Jean Farlow develops a crush on him and kisses him.
- Children Are Innocent: Subverted; Humbert is astonished by how much Lo already knows, even though a large part of his worldview revolves around the existence of a class of pubescent girls that are non-innocent by nature. Most likely due to H.H. the Unreliable Narrator.
- Corrupt the Cutie: Double Subversion. According to Humbert, it is teenage Dolores who initiates her first sexual encounter with him, and he justifies not stopping her by her being experienced anyway, as she was involved in sexual activities with her young friends before. But Humbert quickly forces her into a sex-focused relationship, and by the end, her childhood is ruined.
- Corruption by a Minor: Humbert Humbert claims he was seduced by teenage Lolita who had known about sex well before she met him. Some readers believe Humbert's claim, even though he's an Unreliable Narrator who just tries to justify his molestation of the girl.
- Crapsaccharine World: Read the novel closely and you'll note the very disturbing contrast between the rosy, carefree surface of postwar American society and its rotten, vicious core. Lolita herself a good example: on the surface, she's a cheerful 12-year old girl who loves milkshakes, movies and other innocent pleasures; inside, she is deeply miserable.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Humbert Humbert is very jealous about Lolita's relationship with boys. In this strange case it overlaps with Overprotective Dad. He's horrified and beyond jealous when he finds out she ran away with Quilty who is a paedophile. Quilty trails Humbert and Lolita across the United States and leaves behind provocative clues (literary references, initials, inside jokes) in motel ledgers, which makes Humbert even more paranoid and jealous.
- Death by Childbirth: "Mrs. 'Richard F. Schiller' died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952." Mrs. Richard F. Schiller AKA Lolita. It is dark to realize that Lolita is already dead when Humbert begins to tell his and her story.
- Death of the Hypotenuse: In this screwed-up love triangle, Charlotte wants Humbert, while Humbert wants Lolita. Charlotte dies in a freak car accident.
- Direct Line to the Author: The book is presented as a memoir written by the main character written while he was in prison and published posthumously with names changed to protect the innocent.
- Dirty Old Man: H.H. is a guy who has always been romantically and sexually interested in pre-teen girls. He even fantasizes about having a daughter and later granddaughter who would be his lovers.
- Domestic Abuse: Humbert hits his first wife after she tells him she wants to leave him. He cheerfully admits that he would have gone much further if he'd managed to get her alone after that.
- Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Humbert attempts to invoke this trope by giving Lolita some sleeping pills so that he can kiss and fondle her without her knowing it. However, the pills turn out to not have as strong an effect as advertised, leaving Lolita just conscious enough for Humbert to decide not to take the risk. (They still do it in the morning, with her allegedly being the one who initiated it.)
- Eagleland: Flavour two. The novel is a very scathing portrayal of postwar American society: philistinism, kitsch pop culture, hypocrisy and all manner of vice behind a cheerful facade rule the day. Possibly a case of Unreliable Narrator (Humbert is a European snob, after all).
- "Everybody Dies" Ending: In the end, Dolores escapes from her abusers and marries a man she actually loved. When she becomes pregnant, she contacts Humbert to ask for support, and tells him the story from her point of view. Humbert then leaves her his money and goes off to kill Quilty, ends up in jail, and dies of illness there. Dolores dies in childbirth, along with her child.
- Evil Is Petty: In addition to being another child molester, Quilty's pettier vices (rudeness, chronic drunkenness, being an Upper-Class Twit, etc.) make him so disgusting to everyone that even his fellow revelers don't like him very much. One of them mentions at one point that they've all thought of killing him at some time or other, though never really very seriously.
- Fille Fatale: Lolita in the book, at least according to unreliable narrator Humbert. H.H. even suspects her of trying to pimp her classmates to him.
- Quilty to Humbert (also a writer, also a pedophile). Humbert is a literary scholar and Quilty is a playwright... who makes child pornography. Humbert manages to paint Quilty as even more perverse than him. Humbert believes that Lolita must be protected from Quilty. Humbert "loves" her and Quilty wants her to star in his porn movies. Lolita leaves with Quilty willingly, showing that they both corrupted her, but Lolita says she was "crazy about him".
- Grodin to Humbert (also a professor of literature, also a pedophile). They are both European and they both teach at Beardsley College. Grodin even helps Humbert get a job and settle down in Beardsley. In contrast to Humbert and his obsession with preteen girls, Grodin is a gay pedophile who likely molests young men, perhaps boys. Like Humbert, Grodin is respected in his community and nobody notices his ways until much later when Grodin gets into trouble, according to H.H.
- Freudian Excuse: H.H. has one of these, but neither he nor the author really think it excuses him. He is a pedophile because he fell in love when he was 12, but his 12-year-old girlfriend died and he never got over it. Considering the author's loathing of psychological literary criticism (he would later refer to Freud as "that Viennese witch-doctor"), Humbert Humbert's gleeful attacks on future attempts to psychologically profile him, and also the entire prologue, much of the book is spent destroying this trope. In addition, H.H.'s alleged excuse is basically a prose interpretation of Poe's Annabel Lee. Is it real, or is H.H. mocking you with a ready-made Freudian excuse?
- Funetik Aksent: Some American characters who attempt using French on Humbert Humbert to impress him have their dialogue rendered in atrocious accents.
- Gratuitous French:
- Thanks to a combination of several years in Paris and his own colossal pretentiousness, Humbert tends to litter the story with this.
- Charlotte in her letter to Humbert takes Everything Sounds Sexier in French to an extreme in an attempt to show her affection for him.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Rita, an alcoholic whom Humbert once described as "amiably drunk". She's good-natured, kind-hearted alcoholic divorcée, Humbert's travelling companion on his quest to find Lolita. Humbert speaks kindly of her as "the sweetest, simplest, gentlest, dumbest Rita imaginable".
- Have a Gay Old Time: After her death, Charlotte is mentioned to have been a gay person.
- Heel Realization: Humbert finally realizes just how terrible his treatment of Lolita was when he meets her again as a pregnant, married teenager and finally sees that he robbed her of the chance to have a normal, happy childhood and youth.
- Hunk: Humbert fancies himself a handsome manly man. His audience is supposed to admire his "clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad shoulders". He says he looks like some celebrity actor or singer that Lolita has a crush on.
- I Can't Dance: Humbert's excuse to avoid dancing with Charlotte.
- I Have Many Names: "Lolita" is Humbert's nickname for Dolores. Her mother calls her "Lo" (to which she responds, "And behold!"); everyone else calls her, and she signs herself, "Dolly". Humbert also often refers to her as "Lo" and sometimes "Lola". She's also referred to as Mrs. Richard F. Schiller.
- Innocence Lost: Humbert Humbert realizes by the end of the book that he has destroyed Dolores' childhood, youth and he has ruined her chance to have a happy life.
- Insistent Terminology: Humbert is not attracted to children, but nymphets. i.e. pre-teen girls. It's made abundantly clear that the distinction exists only within his own head.
- It's All About Me: H.H.'s attitude, sometimes Played for Laughs; when a potential landlord's house burns down, Humbert is only annoyed that he won't have a chance with the man's pretty daughters. And other times it's not Humbert thinks that he loves Lolita and waxes lyrical about her beauty, yet has barely a thought about how he's destroying her childhood until the end of the book. It never occurs to Humbert that he might forget his sexual desires out of love, and her reaction to him molesting her every night and controlling all aspects of her life is regarded as bratty teenage behaviour instead of an abuse victim lashing out in the only way she can.
- It's for a Book: Charlotte discovers Humbert's diary, full of lusting and pining after her underage daughter. He claims that it is actually a fictional account, and that he is merely using their names for his characters. She doesn't buy it, but "fortunately" she gets hit by a car before she can act on her discovery.
- Lame Rhyme Dodge: Humbert Humbert is sitting on the porch of the hotel where he's just arrived with his preteen lover, he has the following somewhat unnerving dialogue with a mysterious stranger who had spoken briefly with him and Lolita earlier. Or he hallucinates it. Or maybe just lies. They could have been having either conversation. Or neither. Or the man might not exist. It's that kind of book."Where the devil did you get her?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said: the weather is getting better."
"Who's the lassie?"
"You lie she's not."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said: July was hot."
- Lecherous Licking: When Lolita gets something in her eye, Humbert tells her of a technique Swiss peasants use to remove it — by licking the eyeball. He then proceeds to do so. On both eyes.
- Look Both Ways: When Charlotte finds Humbert's diary, detailing his disdain for her and lust for her daughter, she confronts him with the evidence and tells him she intends to take Lolita to a strict year-round boarding school and away from his grasp forever. However, while crossing the street to post letters setting this plan in motion, she is killed by a passing motorist, leaving Humbert as Lolita's sole guardian.
- The Lost Lenore: Annabel for Humbert. She's Humbert's childhood love who was in the 'nymphet' age when they fell in love. Humbert often mentions their almost-fulfilled sexual encounter (her parents took her away before they could actually do it). He believes her death at a young age made him who he is. The trope is Lampshaded with many references to Edgar Allan Poe in her description.
- Love at First Sight: One-way. Humbert is absolutely mesmerised when he sees Lolita for the first time and he knows she's the one, his one true love.
- Lover and Beloved: Lolita is chiefly about a man sexually attracted to girls who are 9-to-14-year-old and his passion for his 12-year-old stepdaughter whose life he ruins. The homosexual version crops up with a minor character, a French expatriate named Gaston Grodin, who becomes friends with Humbert Humbert, the protagonist. Grodin is a professor of French at the local college. He and Humbert play chess together (Grodin is a terrible chess player) and Grodin kindly gives Humbert various presents, surpluses from gifts given to him by the neighbourhood ladies he's popular in the neighbourhood. He also has a liking for young boys, which nobody seems to have noticed except Humbert. He keeps, and shows to Humbert, an album of snapshots of the local lads; in his basement he has pistols and tiger-skins and other things likely to appeal to the boys, whom he invites round. Once, he and Humbert go to the theatre together, Humbert taking Lolita and Gaston taking a local boy, whose father is away that night. Humbert says that Grodin eventually got involved in a sale histoire (i.e. a nasty business), "in Naples of all places", and got into trouble.
- Love Triangle:
- A very twisted one, one of the darkest and most twisted in all of modern literature. Charlotte loves Humbert, Humbert loves Lolita. To be with Lolita, he pretends to love Charlotte. Worse because Charlotte has no idea her own daughter is her romantic rival.
- Later in the narrative, there is a Love Triangle with Dolores, Humbert and Quilty. A teen girl and two paedophiles who claim to love her. Dolores runs away with Quilty.
- Lust: Humbert is motivated by his lust for preteen girls and especially young Dolores, his 12-year-old stepdaughter. He knows what he wants is illegal, but can't help himself, and tries to justify his lust as normal with many, many explanations that are presented in legalese or beautiful purple prose. However, his explanations are often mutually exclusive.
- Lust Object: Humbert really lusts after Dolores. She's a normal looking preteen kid and probably not especially beautiful, but he describes her as the most gorgeous creature there ever was and constantly plays up her appearance, complimenting her eyes, hair, the way she moves etc.
- Madness Mantra: Chapter 26, where the daily headache in the opaque air of the tombol jail is disturbing. The paragraph describes how he can't go on, and ends with Lolita repeated 8-10 times (based on edition), followed by "Repeat till the page is full, printer". This chapter spans half a page, with the other half being another chapter instead.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Quilty is shot several times but continues to speak to his killer politely while dying.
- Meaningful Name: Everywhere.
- Dolores, conceived in Mexico, was named for Nuestra Señora de Dolores, Our Lady of Sorrows. Dolores is connected to the word "sorrows" or "aches", and can be traced back to the Latin word 'dolor' (pain or grief). Considering how much Lolita suffers, it's fitting. "Haze", of course, is an obscuring cloud or fog. After he and Dolores part, Humbert realizes, "I simply did not know a thing about my darling's mind."
- "Dolly" is a pretend person, a human-shaped thing to play with, which is all that Dolly Haze ever is to Humbert.
- Quilty = Guilty. He's a disgusting paedophile.
- Richard Schiller: Friedrich Schiller was an 18th century philosopher who wrote on ethics and morals. Notably relevant is his writing on the moral value of 'play' on moral/aesthetic experience. And of course, Richard is referred to as "Dick".
- Most Writers Are Writers: Humbert is a literature professor, poet, and an aspiring novelist. His foil Quilty is a well-known playwright.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: It's the solution to the Dolores-Humbert-Quilty love triangle. After he tracks him down, Humbert shoots Quilty dead for kidnapping Dolores and taking her away from him, for abusing her and for ruining her life.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Metaphorically, because Humbert needs to keep perceiving Dolores as his little "nymphet" even as she grows into her teens. And, heartbreakingly, literally: "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller" never achieves adulthood, dying in childbirth exactly one week before her eighteenth birthday.
- Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: On learning that Charlotte believed her gun to be unloaded, Humbert considers to stage a Deadly Prank by shooting her "accidentally".
- Off to Boarding School: Charlotte Haze plans to send her daughter Dolores off to summer camp and then to boarding school in order to get her out of her hair so she can enjoy the attentions of her new paramour, Humbert Humbert. Getting rid of Lolita is the last thing that Humbert wants. Inverted trope because usually it's the stepparent who wants to ship the child off, not the biological parent.
- Oh, and X Dies: The book begins with a foreword, which tells us that Humbert died in prison from coronary thrombosis and Lolita died in childbirth. However, it refers Lolita as "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller", her married name, which we don't learn until the end of the book.
- Old Man Marrying a Child: This is a Discussed Trope in Lolita, in which Humbert Humbert tries to justify his sexual attraction to underage girls. He claims that in the past it was normal seeing old men marrying young girls, failing to realize that this is an Appeal to Tradition fallacy.
- One-Paragraph Chapter:
- Chapter 7 is a single paragraph that's equivalent to one page, describing his attempts to control his desire by marrying someone.
- Chapter 26, is the most notable example, where Humbert asks his editor/printer to fill up the entire page with "Lolita". He does not, so the chapter is very brief about the size of half of a book's page and the final line having no adjustments to reach the right margin. Printed versions have the other portion of the page filled with a different chapter.
- Chapter 30: Humbert becomes a little paranoid about "you veteran crime reporter"
- Chpater 33: He had separate rooms from Lolita, but in the middle of the night, she game to Humbert because she had absolutely nowhere else to go.
- Part 2 Chapter 10: Intermission where he talks to Bert.
- Part 2 Chapter 31: At a rest top, where he recalls a conversation with a priest.
- Additionally, there's scattered chapters that almost meet this trope, but have a single paragraph break.
- Overprotective Dad: A very grim variation. The reason why Humbert's keeping others boys (and men) away from his little girl is that he wants her himself.
- Paper Destruction of Anger: Humbert Humbert tears his wife Charlotte's letter to tiny pieces. She wrote it shortly after she had found out about his obsession with her teenage daughter Lolita. Humbert is in a state of shock and strange relief because Charlotte just died in a freak car accident. Later he tries to put the pieces together because he wants to know what was in the letter.
- Parental Incest: Humbert is Lolita's stepfather, and says at one point that he, "with an incestuous thrill," started thinking of her as his daughter, and had planned on impregnating her so that when she's too old, he'd have the next one ready. Lolita brings up the subject first, coyly suggesting that if they became lovers, that would be incest as Humbert is now married to her mother. H.H. uses this as evidence of him being seduced by her instead of the other way round. Ever so Unreliable Narrator.
- Perverted Sniffing: After Dolores is packed off to a summer camp, depressed Humbert throws himself into a pile of her clothes in her bedroom, quickly disentangling himself when the maid comes upstairs with a message.
- Precocious Crush: It's noted that Lo had a bit of a crush on Humbert on account of him looking like one of her favorite movie stars. She probably wasn't expecting he'd reciprocate...
- The Problem with Pen Island: Oh, what the (im)properly spaced words can spell... Humbert Humbert comments on this trope in respect to "therapist"/"the rapist".
- Pungeon Master: Humbert Humbert not only loves punning in his head and out loud, but also does so across English, German, French, and Latin. Among other things, he loves playing with Dolores Haze's name. He employs many plays on her given name, her nicknames, pet names and her surname, e.g. "doleful days in dumps and dolors" or "my dolorous and hazy darling".
- Purple Prose: The purple prose is Humbert's — the narrator's. He is an insufferable academic with delusions of grandeur, trying to make himself seem sympathetic. The Purple Prose is really ridiculous at times he manages to make picking a wedgie seem elegant and gorgeous.
- Rasputinian Death: Quilty is hard to kill. Humbert Humbert ends up emptying a couple of magazines from his .32 automatic into Quilty, who wanders around the house mildly protesting at each bullet impact. When he finally collapses, Humbert then goes to confess the deed to some people who'd turned up for a party, but they don't believe him, especially after Quilty staggers into the room and collapses a second time, this time for good.
- Repetitive Name: Humbert Humbert. Given the author's hobbies, it's a pun at taxonomy's use of repetitive genus/species names, which are called tautonyms.
- Romancing the Widow: Humbert Humbert makes Charlotte Haze (who is a widow) believe that he loves her, so he marries her.
- Rule of Symbolism: Everywhere you look, but notably near the book's end, when we learn that Dolly has taken refuge in a community where everyone seems to have a disability. Her husband is deaf, their next-door neighbor an amputee. Like her, they're all in some sense broken, and like her, they are survivors. Dick Schiller's deafness is particularly significant, because no one will ever hear Dolly's story.
- Significant Anagram: The character of Vivian Darkbloom anagrams the author's name. Vivian Darkbloom is Clare Quilty's writing partner. Vivian is a hawk-like and strikingly tall woman.
- Significant Birth Date: Dolores Haze was born on January 1st, 1935 and "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller" died in childbirth on Christmas Day, 1952, a week before her eighteenth birthday. Dolly Haze, whose childhood was stolen from her, never lived to grow up.
- Suck Out the Poison: Humbert describes sucking the poison from a gnat bite on Dolores Haze in erotic terms.
- Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Humbert tells his readers several times that he's really, really good-looking. Masculine, handsome, and with the appeal of a movie star."I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor."
- The Unpronounceable: It seems nobody can get "Humbert Humbert" right. He is addressed to as Humbug, Hamburg, and whatnot.
- Unreliable Narrator: Humbert Humbert is the narrator and his view of the events is very twisted. Yet he uses language so skilfully that some might find themselves seduced and forget what a scumbag he is. H.H. gives multiple, mutually incompatible "explanations" for his actions with Dolores: It wasn't his fault, his "pederosis" is a disease. And besides, it's normal for grown men to be sexually interested in preteen girls. And besides, she wasn't even a virgin. And besides, he was still sexually hung up on Annabel Leigh after a quarter century. And besides, Dante fell in love with Beatrice when she was nine. And besides, it was Lolita who seduced Humbert. This is a book you need to read twice just to appreciate how horribly screwed up everybody is. As Nabokov noted in his afterword, one publisher rejected the manuscript on the grounds that Lolita had no good people in it. Thanks to the Unreliable Narrator, however, the extent of just how screwed up they are is not immediately apparent.
- Villainous Incest: Humbert Humbert fantasizes about siring a daughter with his step-daughter, then a granddaughter with said daughter, and so on.
- Villain Protagonist: Humbert Humbert, the protagonist and 1st person narrator, is a predatory paedophile and murderer. He's also guilt-ridden and tortured, but still he's an evil man.
- "Wanted!" Poster: After kidnapping and sexually molesting Dolores Haze, Humbert Humbert walks into a post office and sees various "wanted" posters with portraits for these crimes. He thinks that if his story is ever made into a movie, they should dissolve one of these posters to his own face.
- What Beautiful Eyes!: Humbert gives a lot of attention to Lolita's beautiful deep grey eyes.
- Wicked Cultured: Humbert is a classy villain. He's educated, well-read, intellectual, sophisticated and is a true master of language and very skilled with pen. He's a respected professor of literature. Humbert grew up in Europe and is multilingual, and he spices his writing with French, German and Latin phrases and literary allusions. His European tastes appear to be culturally superior to Lolita's obsession with American pop culture and shallow interests (magazines, movies, celebrities or pop music).
- Wife Husbandry: On several levels. Humbert marries Charlotte so that he can be with her daughter Lolita, become her step-father and perhaps groom her into her lover. Humbert then actually muses on the possibility of impregnating Lolita with Lolita: The Next Generation. Ideally really soon, as in before she grows up and gets uninteresting.
Tropes related to adaptations:
- Adaptational Consent: Both the 1962 and 1997 film adaptations of Lolita lack the first person Unreliable Narrator of the book so the relationship between Humbert and Lolita seems to be more consensual, in part because the censorship of the 1962 film and the 1997 film largely removing the Black Comedy of the book and playing it more as a romantic drama. None of this changes the fact that it's still statutory rape.
- Age Lift: Lolita is 12 in the book. Sue Lyon was 14-15 during the filming of Kubrick's movie.
- Bubblegum Popping: Lolita chews and pops bubblegum in the Stanley Kubrick adaptation to annoy Humbert.Humbert: I never see you any more with your soda fountains and your STOP DOING THAT!
- But Liquor Is Quicker: Humbert takes a sip from a bottle before having to consummate his marriage with Charlotte.
- Chekhov's Gun: Via Futureshadowing in the opening scene of the 1962 version, we see Charlotte's revolver in use before we get to see how Humbert got hold of it.
- Chess Motifs: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Lolita, Professor Humbert is shown teaching the rudiments of chess to Charlotte Haze as her beautiful underage daughter enters the room.Charlotte: You're going to take my queen.
Humbert: That is my intention, certainly.
- Conspicuous Gloves: In the opening scene of Kubrick's adaptation, Quilty asks Humbert why he is putting on gloves in his house, wondering if he may be cold. Quilty is dead a couple of minutes later.
- Cradle of Loneliness: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Charlotte Haze cradles the funeral urn of her last husband after discovering that Humbert only married her to get close to her daughter.
- Dramatic Thunder: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Humbert's wife reveals her plan to send Lolita away to a strict boarding school, not seeing Humbert's shocked expression. The thunder continues to sound at suitably dramatic moments; when they start squabbling, when Humbert finds Charlotte reading his diary in which he's confided his lust for her daughter, and when Humbert realizes she's been killed in a car accident.Charlotte: Darling, you've gone away.
Humbert: Just a minute, I'm following a train of thought. (distant thunder)
- Drive-In Theater: One scene takes place there in the Stanley Kubrick film. It's a good fit because in the book, Lolita is obsessed with movies and American pop-culture in general. Humbert is sitting between Lolita and Mrs. Haze at a drive-in showing the The Curse of Frankenstein. At a shocking moment, hands grab other hands, with awkward consequences.
- Erotic Eating: In Adrian Lyne's version, Lo erotically sucks on bananas in the car to distract Humbert from Quilty.
- Failed Attempt at Drama: The Stanley Kubrick adaptation opens with Professor Humbert walking into Claire Quilty's Big Fancy House to kill him in revenge for taking Lolita away from him. Humbert hands Quilty a written statement on why he's doing this, but Quilty is drunk and mocks the entire business.
- The Film of the Book: Twice.
- Lolita from 1962, directed by Stanley Kubrick. It stars James Mason and Sue Lyon and Peter Sellers portrays Clare Quilty. Nabokov himself wrote the screenplay. His screenplay (dated Summer 1960 and revised December 1973) was published in 1974.
- Lolita from 1997, starring Jeremy Irons and directed by Adrian Lyne.
- Girls Are Really Scared of Horror Movies: Lolita and her mother grasp Humbert's hands during a scary moment of The Curse of Frankenstein.
- The Glomp: In both adaptations when Dolores Haze departs for summer camp, she suddenly rushes upstairs and hugs Humbert forcefully; in the 1997 version she actually wraps her legs around him and kisses him.
- Gory Discretion Shot: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, a wounded Claire Quilty crawls behind a painting of Lolita, whereupon Humbert kills him by emptying the gun through the painting with much Rule of Symbolism.
- Herr Doktor: One of Quilty's personas is a certain Dr. Zemph, a school psychologist wearing thick glasses and talking with an even thicker German accent. Humbert falls for it.
- How We Got Here: The Kubrick film begins with Humbert shooting Quilty. Then we skip back 4 years to show how things led up to this moment.
- Inner Monologue: We can hear Humbert monologuing. This was the first time Stanley Kubrick used first-person narration in a film.
- Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Flamboyant glasses, fittingly worn by teenage Lo. The 1962 film's advertising has Dolores wearing heart-shaped sunglasses. However, she doesn't wear these in the film.
- Murphy's Bed: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Humbert and Lolita arrive at a hotel and find There Is Only One Bed. This doesn't bother Humbert much, but to keep up appearances he asks for a cot to be sent up. This leads to a short comic sequence where Humbert and a hotel porter have to unfold the cot without waking up Lolita. The cot does little to cooperate squeaking loudly, throwing Humbert onto the mattress and whacking the porter in the face. Finally they get it open without waking Lolita, only for her to wake up when Humbert tries to slip under the sheets with her. So Humbert has to use the cot, which promptly collapses on him.
- Revealing Hug: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Humbert eyes a bedside picture of Charlotte's underage daughter while smooching Charlotte on their marriage bed. Charlotte chooses that moment to reveal her plan to send Lolita away to a boarding school, so she doesn't see Humbert's shocked (and then contemplative) expression either.
- Revolvers Are for Amateurs: Charlotte owns a small revolver which she got from her late husband and which ends up in Humbert's possession. It looks amateurish in his hand.
- Shout-Out: At the beginning of the 1962 film, Humbert asks a man if he's Quilty. Quilty jokingly replies "No, I'm Spartacus", a celebrated line from Kubrick's previous work.
- Slip into Something More Comfortable: Charlotte does this to seduce Humbert in her home after the dance party.
- Sounding It Out: In the 1962 version, Humbert reads out Charlotte's letter to the audience in which she declared her love for him.
- There Is Only One Bed:
- In the 1997 version, Humbert arranges for him and Dolores to stay in the same hotel room, as he's planning on taking advantage of her while she's asleep. When they arrive at the hotel, Humbert finds that the twin bed room has been given to someone else. Dolores seems to be more comfortable with the sexual implications of this than he is.Humbert: For all practical purposes I am your father and I'm responsible for your welfare. Now we're not rich, and so when we travel we-we may be thrown together... sometimes. Two people sharing the same hotel room are bound to enter into a...well how can I put it, into a kind of-
Dolores: The word is incest.
- In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Humbert has to arrange for a cot to be sent up to the room to keep up appearances. Hilarity Ensues thanks to the cot being a Murphy's Bed.
- In the 1997 version, Humbert arranges for him and Dolores to stay in the same hotel room, as he's planning on taking advantage of her while she's asleep. When they arrive at the hotel, Humbert finds that the twin bed room has been given to someone else. Dolores seems to be more comfortable with the sexual implications of this than he is.
- Trespassing to Talk: In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation, Humbert comes home to find a man waiting inside; he turns on the lights to reveal Claire Quilty (known to the audience but not Humbert) in the guise of the college psychiatrist, Dr. Zempf. "I sat in ze dark to save you ze expense of ze electricity." Given his general behavior, it's likely this is a deliberate attempt to screw with Humbert's head.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Before The End title card in the 1962 version, we learn via scrolling text that Humbert died in prison awaiting trial for Quilty's murder.