After the poetic flight of the last chapter, this one introduces H.H.’s more logical argument. Not only that, but he seeks the line between “heaven and hell,” between pleasure and pain, straddling that contradiction maddeningly.
Lest we had begun to think that H.H. is simply trying to relive and regain a lost highlight of his life, Nabokov rebuffs our suspicion. No, this is about understanding the past - not resurrecting it.
The bulk of the chapter is taken up by logical justification, again citing history and law. “I have but followed nature,” H.H. writes. “I am nature’s faithful hound. Why then this horror that I cannot shake off?”
And then he ends with the sucker punch:
Sensitive gentlewomen of the jury, I was not even her first lover.
To understand this chapter we have to consider it within its sequence: in 29 Humbert and Lo finally have sex for the first time; in 30 we read his erotic-romantic-poetic reaction; and now in 31 we have a logical rebuff. Nabokov is inviting us into H.H.’s inner turmoil and conflict in the most ingenious and expertly written way. It is not a matter of whether or not we agree with Humbert, but with which side of Humbert we agree.
Is it not a little of both?
This literary pursuit takes hundreds of hours of work and my nonprofit day job doesn't pay much. If you find this dissection useful or interesting, please consider buying me a cup of coffee to help me get through the next chapter. :p