Places: Lolita

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1955

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: 1910-1952

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*United States

*United LolitaStates. In the course of the novel, the narrator, Humbert traverses the highways, towns, roadside attractions, hotels, motels, and tourist camps of most, if not all, of the forty-eight states of the United States, from Maine to California, as well as Alaska (which was not yet a state at the time the story is set). He does this first with Lolita, then alone, in search of her, after she is taken away from him. Humbert contrasts the canvas of America, with its natural landscapes of true beauty, dotted with garish billboards, gift shops, and gas stations, with what he calls “sweet, mellow, rotting Europe.”

Early in his narrative, Humbert outlines his first journey with Lolita, from east to west and back again, through New England, past “corn belts and cotton belts,” caverns and cabins, through mountains and deserts, and the “pale lilac fluff or flowering shrubs along forest roads” of the Pacific Northwest, and back to New England.

Their second trip, several years later, begins at Beardsley and takes them slowly through the Midwest and West, with stops in Kasbeam, where Humbert first becomes aware that they are being followed, and Wace, where they attend a summer theater with a play by Humbert’s rival, Clare Quilty, another pedophile who is following their trail through the West, and finally to Elphinstone, a western town “on the flat floor of a seven-thousand-foot-high valley.” There, Lolita falls ill, is hospitalized, and leaves the hospital with Quilty. Maddened with grief, Humbert follows their trail, stopping at hundreds of hotels, motels, and tourist homes, checking registers for the clues, which he finds in the form of mocking false names left by Quilty.

While the ironic vision and mocking voice of the novel’s European narrator are turned upon many aspects of twentieth century American civilization to comic effect, Humbert does not mock when he describes the epic beauty of the American wilderness–a beauty to which native-born Lolita, who is bored by “scenery,” is blind.

Hotel Mirana

Hotel Mirana. Luxurious, palm-shaded hotel on the French Riviera owned by Humbert’s father and the place where Humbert, at thirteen, met his first love, Annabel Leigh, the precursor to Lolita. The hotel remains, for Humbert, an enchanted childhood memory, a world of “clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and smiling faces.” He searches for its twin in America but never finds it. The closest he comes is in a picture postcard in a museum devoted to hobbies at a Mississippi resort. The Mirana is a lost, graceful world that can never be regained, representing both Humbert’s lost innocence and pre-World War II Europe.

Ramsdale

Ramsdale. New England town, the “gem” of an unnamed eastern state, where Humbert meets Lolita and her mother. Through a series of chance referrals, Humbert rents a room there from the widow Charlotte Haze and meets her twelve-year-old daughter, Lolita. Humbert initially finds the Haze house, at 342 Lawn Street, unappealing; it is a shabby, grayish white-framed suburban house with mismatched furniture and a rubber tube attached to the tub faucet instead of a shower. However, the moment he glimpses the pubescent Lolita in the garden, he decides to stay–a decision ultimately fatal to all.

Vladimir Nabokov’s descriptions of Ramsdale, its citizens, and its social life are satirical, highlighting the pretentiousness, snobbery, and cultural vacuity of the American middle-class suburb. From the fuzzy pink cozy covering the toilet seat in Charlotte’s house to disparaging remarks her friends make about Italian tradesmen, Nabokov skewers with perfect, telling detail the false gentility and provincialism of suburban life.

Hourglass Lake

Hourglass Lake. Lake near Ramsdale, whose name Humbert mishears as “Our Glass Lake.” Humbert contemplates using the lake to drown Charlotte, whom he marries in order to be near Lolita, but cannot do it. Ironically, Charlotte dies shortly after his failed murder attempt when, blinded by tears after learning of Humbert’s true reason for marrying her, she rushes into the street, where she is struck by a car and killed.

Beardsley

Beardsley. Sleepy New England town where Humbert resettles with Lolita after her mother dies. The town is home to Beardsley College, where Humbert teaches. Lolita attends the Beardsley School for Girls, as she and her lover, Humbert, pretend to be a normal daughter and father.

Enchanted Hunters

Enchanted Hunters. New England country inn to which Humbert takes Lolita after her mother dies and where, he claims, Lolita seduces him. Located in Briceland, a secluded town of “phony colonial architecture, curiosity shops and imported shade trees,” the inn plays an important role in the fatalistic twistings of the novel’s plot. On its dark veranda Humbert first encounters Clare Quilty, the decadent playwright who later takes Lolita away from him. Quilty also later writes a play called The Enchanted Hunters, in which Lolita is to star at her school.

Murals in the inn’s dining room depict a fantasy scene of hunters and dryads in a forest. Later, Humbert notices similarities between the unknown muralist’s work and the plot of Quilty’s play; however, he imagines them both to be based on some common New England legend. It is not until the novel’s end that he learns of Quilty’s earlier presence at the inn and his role in Lolita’s disappearance.

Gray Star

Gray Star. Settlement in Alaska, described as “the remotest Northwest,” where eighteen-year-old Dolores Haze, now Mrs. Richard Schiller, dies in childbirth on Christmas Day in 1952, a little more than a month after Humbert dies in prison.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Lolita. Edgemont, Pa.: Chelsea House, 1993. Contains nine essays on such topics as the effect of America on Humbert, necrophilia, the attacks on Freud, the parodic elements, the treatment of women, and Humbert as a writer.Field, Andrew. Nabokov: His Life in Art. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967. Explains how Lolita grew out of an unsuccessful short story Nabokov wrote in 1939. Also finds similarities to other Nabokov works in Russian. Excellent analysis of how Humbert and Quilty are psychological doubles.Maddox, Lucy. Nabokov’s Novels in English. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983. Interprets the novel as an anatomy of an obsession, with Humbert romanticizing Lolita and America and discovering that both are flawed yet still endearing.Nabokov, Vladimir. The Annotated Lolita. Edited by Alfred Appel, Jr. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. The text of the novel, followed by notes explaining the allusions and translating the French passages, with occasional comments by Nabokov.Proffer, Carl. Keys to Lolita. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968. Argues that Nabokov’s works require especially close readings because of the elaborate linguistic and literary games. Identifies allusions and stylistic devices, such as alliteration, rhyme, puns, and image patterns.
Categories: Places