24 Jun 2009

Sample Essay: Two Sides Of The Same Coin: Humbert And Quilty Play As Doubles in Nabokov's Lolita

“She is the fire of my eyes, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul.” (Part 1) these were the words uttered by Humbert Humbert, referring to Lolita, the twelve-year-old girl that has captured his imagination and ignited the waning flame of his long-suppressed sexual desires. Along with the playwright Clare Quilty they are the two men whose lives will revolve around the seductive power, the deceiving attractiveness, the feigned innocence and the love of the barely teenaged Lolita. Humbert Humbert (HH) and Clare Quilty are respectively the major and minor characters of the novel “Lolita”, an eternal classic by the Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov.

Humbert was a literary scholar of Swiss descent who lived in New York shortly after the cessation of World War II. In there he spent his time authoring a French textbook regarding literature. After a couple of years, after having moved to a New England town named Ramsdale, he rented a room in the property of a woman named Charlotte Haze and her sexually precocious nymphet of a daughter, Dorothy (Lolita, Lo, Dolly). The very moment Humbert laid his eyes on Lolita while she was busy sunbathing in their garden, there and then Humbert knew that his sexual awakening was very much in proximity. In an instant, he realized that the world he knew and the world he was once inside would be forever changed by the mere thought of being with her, being near to her, seeing her, and conquering her innocence and replacing it with sensual lust. He was lovelorn before he came to America, traumatically affected by the his halted love affair with Annabel Leigh, his childhood sweetheart who succumbed to typhus and left Humbert with lingering effects that will stay with him for the rest of his lifetime. His brief marriage to Valechka only added salt to Humbert’s wounds as she sipped the trust out of his vocabulary as she left him for a White Russian émigré. These were the foremost triggering factors that only added worldly lusting for the young girl of Charlotte Haze. His love affair with Annabel when they were young influenced the way he perceives the image of Lolita. It was as if Annabel had been reincarnated in the person of that seductive young girl. And the force behind his longing for the warmth of prepubescent and nubile girls.

The minor character, Clare Quilty, was the playwright in the school where Lolita was studying. In the play where Lolita has a part, it was as if history deliberately repeated itself. Clare Quilty, who was present during the rehearsal, was greatly impressed with the potential and the performance of Lolita. Lie. Like Humbert, he was struck by a thunderbolt when he caught a glimpse of the almost animalistic sensual attractiveness of Lolita. He was overcome by his worldly desires and longings, just like Humbert. Quilty was magnetized. He did not know what hit him. Yes he did. Quilty was a pornographer and a pedophile and knew exactly what kind of feelings embedded him when he first saw Lolita. Quilty was a maniac. A maniac for girls. She would be perfect for his hedonistic needs. Yet there was one barrier, Humbert. The first time Quilty met Humbert, he instantly knew that he was not her father, not even her guardian, his hunch dictated. It was very apparent to him that Humbert was something more to Lolita, as indicated by his possessiveness, strictness and almost paranoid guarding of young Lolita. He set a plan which is, bribing the vulnerable twelve-year-old girl in the hopes of her leaving Humbert. Prior to that, Quilty and Lolita sort of came to a mutual understanding, a plan which molded their futures and shaped their lives and determined their fates, including those of Humbert’s.

Before these events took place, the intertwined elements that bond them are present. His “very accommodating landlady Mrs. Charlotte Haze” (Part I) forcefully persuaded Humbert to marry her because she claimed she was “in love” with him and ordered him to go if he did not concede to her idea of marriage. Humbert eventually yielded to the idea, used it as a bridge for him to totally own the pending womanhood of his supposed stepdaughter Lolita. All of his thoughts he kept in a diary he kept secure from the eyes of his new wife, who unluckily for him, was very interested by his past loves and life and as a consequence, the inevitable occurred. Mrs. Haze read his diary and turned furious at Humbert, the latter explaining that what was read were the details for a future novel. In the course of interrogation and denial, Mrs. Haze met an accident and eventually died leaving the enticing Lolita in the care of Humbert.

These all happened before and precipitated the process on how and why Lolita and Humbert became lovers and Lolita and Humbert became Lolita and Clare Quilty. The two pedophiles jostled for possession of Lolita until she and Quilty outthought Humbert, stamping an end to the bedroom ecstasies shared between the flirtatious Lolita and the bribing maniac Humbert. From then on the rest of the story inched forward.

Quilty was the brother of Ivor Quilty, the dentist who attended to Humbert when Mrs. Haze brought him there to check on his frequent toothaches. Clare and Quilty were both pedophiles, they shared the common desires, the desires of the warmth of a young girl responding to all the needs of their manhood. Nonetheless, their parallel levels of sexual desires toward prepubescent  girls are negated by the morals thriving inside their minds, for Humbert had in mind clean pristine intentions for his future with Lolita whilst Quilty only wanted to be in Lolita’s company for two reasons: lust for her, and for his personal interest, indulging Lolita in the pornography he was involved in. And that was the reason why the seemingly flaming and lustful relationship between Lolita and Quilty ended.

Humbert, ever since Lolita vanished, had always had a hunch that Quilty was behind the disappearance of his dear Lolita, but could not find them anywhere he searched but ironically, when Quilty and Lolita were in the midst of their erotic relationship, Humbert was entangled in a romantic relationship with twenty-five-year old Rita.

The lives Humbert and Quilty led lives which were dissimilar in many ways yet identical in a sole element. Their maniacal instincts led them to dimensions they never before seen but their separate pathways towards there were somewhat of the same consistency, consistency of deceiving people. Humbert used a trick of deception to be in nearness to Lolita, he took advantage of the fact that Mrs. Haze was agonizingly in love with him, doing so “while Charlotte was asleep, taking advantage of her wife’s young girl.” (Part I). And also “Humbert, when he and Lolita were in the girl’s school, introduced himself as Lolita’s father, therefore feigned fatherly love and care and only utmost possessive concern for her “daughter””. (Part III). Quilty on the other hand, deceived Lolita herself and connived with Lolita in making a fool out of Humbert. All their lives forever changed when Lolita left the perverted Quilty and contacted Humbert from out of the blue. Humbert, who still had the hunch of Quilty abducting the girl he loved and desired, set out and succeeded in putting an end to Quilty’s life, but also disintegrating his own, parting ways with Rita because of the surfacing of Lolita. And lastly, Lolita, had degraded into a wasted woman when she was gotten pregnant by a destitute former war veteran. She died during childbirth on December 25 of 1952. their lives’ prior intertwinement took its toll on them when they were already separated from each other. Clare Quilty greatly “tarnished” the image of Humbert Humbert in such a way that the already degraded and wicked image of the child molesters have been made more ugly by the fact that he was a pornographer despite the fact that he was already considered a serious and excellent writer. Yes, Humbert was a man thirsty for the thirst-quenching power of a young girl’s sensuality, but he was never involved with such illegalities, very much contrasting with all the qualities Quilty possessed.

Humbert and Clare Quilty exemplified the ancient notion that men are weak when it comes to matters of the flesh, and they exemplified that very profoundly. Their rational selves were set aside by their burning desire and scorching longing to own every single inch of Lolita. Along the way, they made the most wrong of choices, because of the blindness that had been inflicted to them by sheer lust. The fact that Humbert ended life justified virtually all of the aforementioned comparisons. They fell prey to the most ancient of all temptations: the woman.

Society of today sees the fictional cases of Quilty and Humbert as the “Lolita Complex,” a mental disorder in which an older man is unusually attracted and obsessed with a very much younger woman. It is very apparent, the wrong which is present in that disorder. And such wrong disorders would surely result in the sheer destruction of an offender’s life. For in today’s standards, these pedophiles or to be more appropriate, Lolita-philes  will be labeled degrading names, maniacs, rapists, perverts and the like.


Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. Paris, France: Olympia Press, 1955.

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