Chapter Eight seeks to answer another of the reader’s potential questions: what about boys? But the point is double: Nabokov is also attempting to paint Humbert and Lo from the outside, in the eyes of the community. This is a constant struggle for anyone writing from such a claustrophobically tight one-person perspective: how to show the main character through a wide-angle lens, through the eyes of other characters? As usual, we can look to Nabokov’s Lolita for a masterclass in how. This chapter is the supreme example.
He starts by quoting directly - and importantly, without quotation marks - generic newspaper advice, interspersed with H.H.’s responses. But Nabokov does not fear the reader misunderstanding him; as usual, he trusts the reader’s intelligence and any writer would be well advised to do the same.
Nabokov devotes a paragraph to “the old ogre’s” rules, but follows with reassurances - perhaps more H.H.’s assurances to himself than anything - that Lo was not disobedient in this respect. This paragraph provides a chance to sketch a general picture of Lolita’s social life without actually going into details. It is clear throughout that H.H. is addressing the reader directly (“you see”...“do not misunderstand me”...“can now vouchsafe for the accuracy of my feeling”), reminding us of his filtered point of view. Moreover, we get a general sense of the dynamics between Lolita and H.H.: he the jealous lover/controlling father, she the impetuous preteen girl.
Lo was enraged by all this - called me a lousy crook and worse - and I would probably have lost my temper had I not soon discovered, to my sweetest relief, that what really angered her was my depriving her not of a specific satisfaction but of a general right. I was impinging, you see, on the conventional program, the stock pastimes, the “things that are done,” the routine of youth; for there is nothing more conservative than a child, especially a girl-child, be she the most auburn and russet, the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard-haze.
There follow some details in the paragraph where H.H. mentions the boys around Lo; but, characteristically, he hones in on Lolita herself as he describes the “conventional mannerisms” that his “only love” has developed. (Annabel now a long forgotten dream!) One may suspect this is just a way to describe Lolita (again, more, again), and although this paragraph technically serves that function, it has a more important one. It is, as Nabokov must often insert, a reminder of H.H.’s persistent ardor: he is still completely enamored with Lolita, or at least his highly edited idea of her. Every lovingly described detail tells us that.
It is in the last paragraph that Nabokov paints the picture of H.H. and Lo from the outside, as H.H. reviews his day: “I watched dark-and-handsome, not un-Celtic, probably high-church, possibly very high-church, Dr. Humbert see his daughter off for school…” He admits to a “constant state of anxiety” which will continue to develop in coming chapters.It is another opportunity to describe their life together in Beardsley, utilizing Nabokov’s strength of sketching a long period of time by listing the activities performed with poetry and wit.
Letting in a queerly observant schoolmate of Dolly’s: “First time I’ve seen a man wearing a smoking jacket, sir - except in movies, of course.”
Ah, that movieland manhood! If only it retained Lolita’s interest at all...
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