The purpose of chapter nine may seem at first obscure. Sure, in it H.H. wraps his pedophilic predilections in the shroud of insanity as he is admitted to a sanitorium, but what of the arctic expedition? What purpose can such details as his North Pole companions, the barren landscape, and his feigned psychoanalysis of the other men serve in the wider arc of Lolita?
The first paragraph is a quick, almost perfunctory summary that takes us necessarily from the events of the previous chapter to the subject of this one: Humbert’s being admitted to a sanitorium in the U.S. The reference in the beginning to “yet another World War” contextualizes events for us, followed by his description of the days before the sanitorium when he was working on his comparative history of French literature.
As I look back on those days, I see them divided tidily into ample light and narrow shade: the light pertaining to the solace of research in palatial libraries, the shade to my excruciating desires and insomnias of which enough has been said.
I simply wish to highlight this expertly drawn metaphor which, despite the cliche of darkness/light, manages to be unique.
the glitter of deodorized career girls
The “deodorized” detail is amazing, speaking as it does to physical maturity. A nymphet would not wear deodorant!
The first paragraph concludes with H.H. being sent to a sanitorium, being released, and then readmitted. Now we are presented with the idea of pedophilia as a mental illness - again, H.H. attempts to absolve himself of responsibility for his impulses.
With two young botanists and an old carpenter I shared now and then (never very successfully) the favors of one of our nutritionists, a Dr. Anita Johnson - who was soon flown back, I am glad to say.
One may not be sure what H.H. means by this - were they raping her? Why was she suddenly flown back, and why was H.H. glad about it?
Pierre Point in Melville Sound
As Alfred Appel, Jr. writes in his Annotated Lolita, this invented locations comes from Herman Melville’s book Pierre, where in Book IX a “reckless, truth-seeking ‘Arctic explorer’ ‘loses the directing compass of his mind… at the Pole, to whose barrenness only it points…’ Pierre dies in prison, as does H.H.”
Bert, a film photographer - an insecure fellow with whom at one time I was made to partake in a good deal of menial work (he, too, had some psychic troubles) - maintained that the big men on our team, the real leaders we never saw, were mainly engaged in checking the influence of climatic amelioration on the coats of the arctic fox.
The little dig here at "the big men" implicitly undermines H.H.'s masculinity.
I felt curiously aloof from my own self. No temptations maddened me.
So it seems that, removed from society and its pressures, H.H. becomes not only happier but is relieved of his terrible itch. (To me this implies that it is the prison of masculinity that spurs his pedophilia, perhaps the one instance in which he can have absolute power in a society where he feels otherwise utterly powerless, as hinted at previously - see above and earlier chapter dissections.)
Nymphets do not occur in polar regions.
A genius sentence. Saying that nymphets do not "occur" in polar regions places them in the category of natural phenomena.
I left my betters the task of analyzing glacial drifts, drumlins, and gremlins, and kremlins
Nabokov continually manipulates the basic linguistic devices - auditory, morphological, and alphabetical - throughout, most notably the alphabetical.
Knowing me by now, the reader can easily imagine… Let us skip all that... The reader will find published in the Annals of Adult Psychophysics for 1945 or 1946, as well as in the issue of Arctic Explorations… The reader will regret to learn that soon after my return to civilization I had another bout with insanity...
The many references to books, writing, and publishing serve to remind us that we, too, are reading a published work subjected to much editing. Here I refer again to Appel, who has already put it best: “H.H. is right, readers do regret to hear this from a narrator; and H.H. virtually encloses his narrative within reminders of this ‘unreliability,’ for, toward the end (p.255), he casually says he retired to another sanitorium.. Several of Nabokov’s narrators are mad. Among other things, their madness functions as a parody of critical dogma about fiction, and a telling parody of the reader’s own delusory ‘contact with reality.’ Of course H.H.’s is not a credible point of view in the terms laid down by Henry James, refined by Percy Lubbock, put into practice by Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, institutionalized by two generations of critics, and enforced by thousands of creative writing instructors - and the involuted, patterned surface of Lolita makes this even clearer. H.H.’s copy of Who’s Who and Quilty’s ‘cryptogrammic paper chase’ (pp.250-251), the two most important concentrations of authorial inlays, typical in method and effect, are thus symmetrically located at the beginning and near the end of the novel, almost next to those declarations of insanity which seem to frame it…”
(if to melancholia and a sense of insufferable oppression that cruel term must be applied)
And here, proof that the "insufferable oppression" that plagues him comes from human society.
trifling with psychiatrists
H.H.'s alleged subversion of the psychiatrists is a subtle warning against the reader's possible instinct to psychoanalyze him.
Thus, in this chapter, Nabokov makes a powerful point: that, removed from human society, Humbert’s pedophilia largely subsides. It’s almost an “out of sight, out of mind” thing, but he also hints that H.H.’s pedophilia is brought on by societal oppression, which I personally read as the pressures of masculinity.