This chapter serves multiple purposes: beneath the physical event of Lolita leaving for Camp Q. (By the way, “Cue” is Quilty’s nickname - Camp Q. refers to him.), H.H. addresses the necessary transience of her "nymphage" and his need to savor it; Nabokov also sets us up for the next chapter, in which our expectations will be promptly overturned.
The purpose of the whole first paragraph is to set us up to understand the powerful scene in the following paragraph. Let’s dissect the first one: H.H. summarizes the week before Lo leaves for camp, moving from daily activities (shopping for camp supplies) to Lolita’s emotional displays (crying in her room - and an aside about how attractive he finds “that tinge of Botticellian pink,” etc.), ending with Charlotte’s reveal of the true cause of Lo’s pain.
To start, we have towards the beginning of this rather benign paragraph a powerful sentiment:
I knew already that I could not live without the child.
Those are fighting words, my dear Humbert. Do they not, in the reader, instill a sense of foreboding, a slight wariness, fear? The desperation and dependency implicit in that sentence are troubling. Crouched in the middle of a rather routine recap of shopping excursions, the sentence may lay relatively concealed from a quick reader, but for those of us dissecting the text it stands out - and we are alert.
The closing sentences (just three of them!) in which H.H. quotes Charlotte are most telling. Packed in here we have (1) the reminder of Charlotte’s unreciprocated feelings for H.H. (the candles); (2) the cause of Lo’s hurt feelings (thinking Humbert wants to get rid of her); and (3) the conflict between Charlotte’s perception of her daughter and Lolita’s own self-image (a starlet - leading to her future role with the famous Mr. Quilty…). (As with Humbert and so many of Nabokov’s characters, self-image always conflicts with social image.)
As we sat in the darkness of the veranda (a rude wind had put out her red candles), Haze, with a dreary laugh, said she had told Lo that her beloved Humbert thoroughly approved of the whole camp idea “and now,” added Haze, “the child throws a fit; pretext: you and I want to get rid of her; actual reason: I told her we would exchange tomorrow for plainer stuff some much too cute night things that she bullied me into buying for her. You see, she sees herself as a starlet; I see her as a sturdy, healthy, but decidedly homely kid. This, I guess, is at the root of our troubles.”
In the second paragraph we see Lolita’s bruised ego firsthand as she strikes H.H. As usual, when Humbert feels vulnerable, slighted, or rejected by her in any way, he slips into third person.
Nabokov begins the third paragraph by breaking the fourth wall: “As greater authors than I have put it: 'Let readers imagine' etc. On second thought, I may as well give those imaginations a kick in the pants.”
Now he reminds us of that desperate dependency aforementioned: “I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever.” There follows his discussion of the transience of Lolita’s nymphage, and Nabokov takes full advantage of the opportunity to divulge more of Lolita’s physical details, much of it in anatomical diction as he’s used before; only here he is blending it with the poetic (“that Lolita, my Lolita” references the poetry of Catullus, whom he mentions), creating a kind of hybrid jargon that leaves us as pained by the loss of youth as poor Humbert is. The cross-dressing fantasy at the end of the paragraph is an intelligent way of exaggerating his neediness to the point of ridiculousness: we know that H.H. won’t actually dress as a woman and join Camp Q., but it’s the thought that truly counts, demonstrating his desperation.
The shortness of the following sentence (and paragraph) is a lovely contrast to the previous ones: a break in the rhythm whose brevity reflects its subject.
The chapter’s final paragraph is a simple yet gorgeously written scene that sets us up for the big reveal in the next chapter. After a dash of foreshadowing (“whom and which she was never to see again”) and another reference to fate, Lolita hugs, perhaps kisses (depending on your interpretation) Humbert before leaving for camp. Note that in this paragraph he uses the possessive pronoun my to modify her four times, compared to only once in the rest of the chapter. It reflects the fact that she is no longer rejecting, but embracing him - and we lose the third person too, Humbert remaining completely in first person. Shame and self-consciousness are replaced by pride and thrill. Allow me to highlight a few choice phrases:
her innocent mouth melting under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws
This image - the contrast between “her innocent mouth” and “dark male jaws” is a perfect synopsis of the whole story (at least on the surface).
The next instant I heard her - alive, unraped - clatter downstairs.
What a staggering aside! The reader is led to believe this is some foreshadowing - will she remain alive and unraped? Disturbing words in the middle of a tender scene, this is one of many such disturbances in the apparently tranquil water of this chapter.
Note that after that “the blond leg was pulled in,” Lolita herself no longer acts, only her body does; the car is pulled in the passive voice - driver Haze at the “violent wheel” is once again in control, whereas just before she was a mere parenthetical calling after Lo.
while unnoticed by them or Louise, old Miss Opposite, an invalid, feebly but rhythmically waved from her vined veranda.
Such as society is always watching. Thus the chapter concludes in a darkly foreboding tone, tension has been built (the rubber band ready again to snap), and the reader reads uneasily on.