Another brief chapter. This one’s purpose is to describe Humbert’s monetary exchange with Lolita, showing the reader that Lo is saving up money. This prompts the question: for what?
Of course, H.H. never misses an opportunity for self-pity, presenting himself as Lolita’s victim. In this chapter he emphasizes his lovesickness: “But I was weak, I was not wise, my schoolgirl nymphet had me in thrall.” (This is a reference to “La Belle Dame sans Merci”.) But one particular line stood out to me:
...she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever it was in her power to deny me certain life-wrecking, strange, slow paradisal philters without which I could not live more than a few days in a row, and which, because of the very nature of love’s languor, I could not obtain by force.
“I could not obtain by force.” Wait… what? While the deliberate omission of erotic details is a laudable strength of the novel, it does leave certain lingering questions, and Nabokov only ever gives the vaguest hints. Here the implication seems to be that H.H. was not, at this point at least, physically forcing Lo into sexual acts, but bribing her. (This is not to say that the coercive environment does not make it rape, or that Lolita’s participation can be called willing. We must always remember that this is H.H.’s own highly curated account.) The fact remains, however, that the power dynamics are much more nuanced than certain black-and-white interpreters would have you believe.
So this changes things a little: money, for Lolita, is power - and it is important for precisely the reason H.H. fears:
...what I feared most was not that she might ruin me, but that she might accumulate sufficient cash to run away.
This is the note that Nabokov leaves us on, of course, because this is exactly what will happen. So this chapter is meant, from H.H.’s point of view, to villainize Lolita as a cruel user of sorts, while from the author’s point of view it is an important flag ushering the reader onward. This series of short chapters moreover quickens the pace. Tension is heightened: the question is no longer whether, but when and how Lolita will buy her freedom.
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