The purpose of this short chapter - only 605 words - is to remind us, in this new setting, of how H.H. is perceived in society. It is a crucial aspect of the novel - remember the warning in the foreword of the book? “Lolita should make all of us—parents, social workers, educators—apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.” Well, this chapter is a nod back to that plea, pointing out society’s failure to remain vigilant in Lolita’s case.
Because H.H. does not fit the caricature of a creepy old pedophile; no, he has the implicit power of “movieland manhood.”
Another key aspect Nabokov communicates in this chapter is that H.H. remains aloof from the people of Beardsley: “my brief grunts, just sufficiently articulate to sound like conventional assents or interrogative pause-fillers, precluded any evolution toward chumminess.” Of course, it is his European elitism, ageism, and sexism (“odious spinster”) that keep him from developing close contacts with most of his neighbors, of whom only one poses any threat. The sole remaining threat is Mrs. Holigan, a detail who also answers the potential question of how H.H. could possibly run a household by himself.
In short, the only person potentially alert to Lolita’s plight is the east-door neighbor. And she will be dismissed, of course, as an odious spinster.
Yet Nabokov finds a way, as usual, to end on a foreboding note about H.H.’s paranoia, thereby increasing the tension, however slightly.
I often felt we lived in a lighted house of glass, and that any moment some thin-lipped parchment face would peer through a carelessly unshaded window to obtain a free glimpse of things that the most jaded voyeur would have paid a small fortune to watch.
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