»Home

A Chronology of Lolita

by Dieter E. Zimmer

March 3, 2008

 

 

THIS IS a thoroughly rechecked and emended English version of my 'Chronologie des Romans,' published in the appendix of the German 'Lolita' (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1989 ff.). Its German counterpart has been published in the annex of the Rowohlt paperback edition (January 2008).

A detailed inner chronology of 'Lolita' is largely a matter of inference. There are few explicit exact dates in Humbert's account, but there are a number of relative ones, and there are time spans. Some of them are only approximate or plainly wrong. Yet the novel's temporal order is absolutely sound. In fact it is so sound that it is tempting to take the few inconsistencies one can find not as the authorial lapses they could well be but as deliberate. This temporal order can be deduced by checking Humbert's casual remarks on dates and durations against a perpetual calendar. To make my inferences transparent, this timetable is referenced throughout. On several critical dates I have had valuable advice from Vladislav Sobolev. The page references are to the standard American edition by Vintage International, New York 1989 ff.

 

1910

First half of the year (p.11) – "Humbert Humbert" is born in Paris, France (p.9).

A few months later, Annabel Leigh is born.

Humbert grows up in his father's Hotel Mirana on the French Riviera (p.9). The place probably is Monaco, as Humbert changes Poe's "kingdom by the sea," in the ballad of Annabel Lee, to "princedom by the sea", and Monaco's full name is "Principauté de Monaco," i.e. "princedom of Monaco.

1911

Clare Quilty born in Ocean City, New Jersey (p.31).

1913

Humbert's mother killed by lightning near Moulinet, Alpes-Maritimes (p.10). From now on, his father and his aunt Sybil take charge of him. She is his mother's older sister and once was married to Humbert's father's cousin, Gustave Trapp.

?-?

Attends "an English day school a few miles from home" (p.11).

1919

June – Stray canaries flutter in Humbert's and Annabel's rooms (p.14).

1923

Summer vacations (July–August) – Humbert's and Annabel Leigh's brief love affair on the Riviera (p.11). She is the daughter of British vacationers who have rented a house near Hotel Mirana.

Fall – Humbert attends a Lycée in Lyon (p.11) where the family spends three winters (p.11). He obviously achieves his Baccalauréat (high school graduation) in the summer of 1926.

December? – Annabel dies of typhoid fever on the Greek island of Corfu (p.13).

1926-

Aunt Sybil dies, as predicted by herself (p.10).

Humbert begins his university studies, first in Paris, then in London, switching from psychiatry to English Literature (p.15). Begins a 'Short History of English Poetry' (p.16) and launches on a "manual of French literature for English-speaking students ... which was to occupy me throughout the forties – and the last volume was almost ready for press by the time of my arrest". Teaches English to adults in Paris (p.16).

During his university years he becomes aware that he is erotically attracted by "pale pubescent girls with matted eyelashes" (p.16). He fights this penchant (p.18): "Overtly, I had so-called normal relationships with a number of terrestrial women having pumpkins or pears for breasts; inly, I was consumed by a hell furnace ..." He knows that what he will call 'nymphets' are the only objects of his desire but does not yield. His affair with Lolita that commences in 1947 will be his first frankly pedophilic relationship, brought about by the chance hazard of proximity.

1934

April – Honeymoon trip of Charlotte Becker and Harold E. Haze to Veracruz, Mexico; Lolita's conception (p.57, p.100). The Hazes' sentimental attachment to Mexico will furnish their daughter Dolores with the nickname 'Lolita' which will become the Humbert's name for the nymphet he so desires.

1935

January 1 – Dolores Haze is born in Pisky, Midwest (Central Illinois?) (p.65).

Humbert frequents Monique, a young Paris prostitute (p.21), then marries Valeria Zborovsky, daughter of a Polish doctor (p.25, p.26).

1937

Birth of Lolita's brother who will die at age 2 (p.68).

1939

Summer – "... mon oncle d'Amérique died bequeathing me an annual income of a few thousand dollars on condition I came to live in the States and showed some interest in his business." Humbert's plans to go with his wife, but she wants a divorce (p.27). That uncle is Gustave Trapp, a cousin of Humbert's father and ex-husband to aunt Sybil who had settled in New York where he had established a small perfume company and acquired some property.

1940

Winter – World War II has begun, divorce proceedings delay Humbert's departure for the States, he spends "a winter of ennui and pneumonia" in Portugal (p.32).

Spring – Humbert sails to New York City where his "soft job ... consisted mainly of thinking up and editing perfume ads" (p.32). A war-time university in New York urges him to complete his comparative history of French literature for English speaking students (p.32).

1942

Works hard and finishes the first volume (p.32).

1943-

Humbert has to spend more than year in a psychiatric clinic, returns to his work, has to go back to the hospital (p.33). The reasons he himself gives for his four recorded "bouts of insanity" are "a dreadful breakdown" (p.32-33), "melancholia and a sense of insufferable oppression" (p.34), "sexual predicament" (p.34), "losing contact with reality" (p.255).

1944

Summer – Lolita supervised by Miss Phalen (p.56).

1944-46

Humbert joins an obscure expedition to arctic Canada as a sort of research psychologist (p.33) and stays away for twenty months (p.34).

1945

The Haze family moves from Pisky (Midwest) to Ramsdale (New England) (p.46, p.74).

"Around 1945" Humbert's ex-wife, now Valeria Maximovich, dies in childbirth in California (p.30).

1946-47

Soon after his return from arctic Canada, Humbert has "another bout with insanity" and goes back to a sanitarium (p.34).

1947

Spring – Humbert signs out of the clinic and casts around for "some place in the New York countryside or sleepy small town" to spend the summer (p.35).

End of May – Humbert moves to 'Ramsdale', New England (p.40) and as a lodger moves into the house of widowed Charlotte Haze where he mights her daughter, Dolores. He is 37, she is 12;5 years old. 

May 30, Friday – "An epidemic of 'abdominal flu' (whatever that is) forced Ramsdale to close its schools for the summer." Humbert adds that he had moved into the Haze home "a few days before" (p.40).

June 5, Thursday to June 21, Saturday – Humbert says his diary has "twenty entries or so" and "covers almost three weeks"; actually he reconstructs seventeen, for Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat. From this we know that it must begin the first Thursday after May 30, i.e. on June 5, and that the last entry must be for Saturday, June 21 (p.40-55).

June 22, Sunday – Humbert's delirium on the sofa, on "Sunday after the Saturday already described" (p.57).

June 26, Thursday – On June 22, Charlotte tells Humbert of her plan to send Lo to Camp Q next Thursday (p.63), and she actually does so (p.65, p.66). Same day, she leaves Humbert her letter, and Humbert decides to marry her.

Between June 26, Thursday and June 30, Monday – Humbert's "promotion from lodger to lover" (p.75). Humbert says this happened "hardly a month" after he had come to Ramsdale (p.74). Quiet wedding shortly thereafter (p.75).

End of July until July 29, Tuesday – Daily visits to Hourglass Lake "one hot week" at the end of July (p.81). The last swim with Charlotte Haze was "one tropical Tuesday morning" (p.82).

Beginning of August – One gloomy "week of scattered showers and shadows" passes after the last visit to Hourglass Lake (p.90). "British Incident" during this week (p.91). "A couple of days" later, Charlotte proposes a vacation at the 'Enchanted Hunters' next fall (p.91-93).

August 5, Tuesday – Letter from Miss Phalen arrives "exactly a week after our last swim" (p.93).

August 6, Wednesday – "Next day" Humbert sees a doctor to get a prescription for sleeping pills (p.94). While he is away, Charlotte reads his diary. When he comes home, she runs out and dies in a car accident (p.95-97). When Humbert writes about "the fifty days of our cohabitation" (p.77), he is mistaken. It lasted from June 26 to August 6. That is only 42 days or exactly six weeks.

From August 7, Thursday to Sunday, August 10 or Monday, August 11 – During "those four or five days after Charlotte's simple death" (p.99) Humbert quiets the Farlows and the clergyman who worry about Lolita's future and prepares Charlotte's obsequies. He omits her funeral altogether and does not give the date. As he is eager to get away as early as possible but cannot go before Charlotte's funeral, this probably took place shortly before his actual departure, that is on August 11 or 12.

August 11, Monday – In Camp Q, Lolita goes on a two days' hike (p.106).

August 13, Wednesday – Humbert states that he left Ramsdale on a Wednesday (p.106). This must be the Wednesday after Charlotte's death, i.e. August 13. However, he also writes that he leaves "the house where I had rented a room only ten weeks before" (p.103). As he had moved in at the end of May, this would set his departure around August 6. So he is wrong again.

Same day, Humbert drives 40 mi to Parkington, from there phones Camp Q, does shopping for Lolita and spends the night in his car. He writes "this must have been around August 15, 1947" (p.109). Note the date he gives is only an approximate one. The real date is August 13. His memory is making the span between Charlotte's death and his departure from Ramsdale longer than it was.

August 14, Thursday – Drives from Parkington to Camp Q, leaving shortly before noon and arriving at 2:30pm (p.110). Leaves Camp Q with Lolita around 4pm (p.111). Reckons a four hour drive to Briceland (p.108); wants to get there "before dark" and for dinner. Actually arrives at "dusk" and checks in at the 'Enchanted Hunters' (p.115).

August 15, Friday – Late next morning they leave Briceland for Lepingville where they arrive after a leisurely drive the same day; on the way, Humbert tells Lolita that her mother is dead (p.139-141). At Lepingville, "our extensive travels all over the states began" (p.145).

Winter – "… straggled through southern deserts where we wintered" (p.154); this was the winter 1947-48

1948

August – "… that extravagant year 1947-1948, August to August …" (p.175). They will have arrived in Beardsley at the end of August, in time for the new school year which would probably have begun right after Labor Day (the first Monday of September), that is on Tuesday, September 7.

December – Interview with Ms. Pratt "one Monday forenoon, in December" (p.193).

Christmas – Lolita has bronchitis "around Christmas" (p.198).

1949

Spring – "By the time spring had touched up Thayer Street …, Lolita was irrevocably stage-struck" (p.200).

May – Lolita attending play rehearsals and piano lessons (p.202).

May 24, Tuesday – Lolita misses her piano lesson (p.202).

May 27, Friday – "One Friday night toward the end of May" Miss Emperor, Lolita's piano teacher, calls to ask "if Lo was coming next Tuesday because she had missed last Tuesday's and today's lessons" (p.202). Humbert has a terrific row with Lo, hurts her, she runs away on her bicycle, he runs after her and finds her in a telephone booth (p.206). She appears pacified and suggests they "leave at once" (p.207). From the fact that they do leave on Sunday, May 29, the dates of Miss Emperor's phone call and of Lolita's missed piano lessons can be inferred.

May 29 – Humbert and Lolita leave for their second trip west one "pale but warm Sunday morning" (p.208). The trip is planned ahead by Lolita (and her secret adviser). She reckons "more than a week to reach Wace, Continental Divide" (where unknown to Humbert she expects to see a Quilty play)  "and at least three weeks to reach Elphinstone" (p.210) where they will actually arrive about a week before her disappearance on the Fourth of July, and they seem to stick to their plan, arriving in Wace "on time" (p. 220). That is, Lolita expects the whole trip to Elphinstone to take around 31 days (9 to Wace, as it turns out, and "at least three weeks" to Elphinstone). Counting back 31 days from June 27 takes us to May 26 as their departure date. As in fact they leave on May 29, either Lolita's estimate is not quite correct or they are three or four days ahead of schedule on their lap from Wace to Elphinstone.

June 1 (?)– "… prior to, or at the very beginning of the Midwest lap of our journey" (p.211), i.e. upon entering Indiana, Lolita briefly disappears from a gas station. "That day or the next" they check in at Chestnut Court in Kasbeam, 30 miles north of Lolita's hometown of Pisky (p.212-215). Next morning she is not feeling well and stays at the motel while Humbert goes shopping and visits a barbershop. When he returns, Lolita probably has had a visitor. They continue, Humbert getting ever more jealous and desperate. As Kasbeam most likely is situated in Central Illinois, it is between 1000 and 1100 miles to the Continental Divide if they travel west in a straight line by way of Iowa and Nebraska. The distance to Elphinstone is said to be the same (p.247), so Wace and Elphinstone cannot be far apart, Elphinstone probably being more southernly. Humbert says they travelled leisurely and "made seldom more than a hundred and fifty miles per traveling day" (p.247). That means the trip from Kasbeam to Wace will have taken seven days. 

June 7 or 8 – A "grim night in a very foul cabin" (p.220) and breakfast in "Soda, pop. 1001 … We were in sage-brush country by that time …" (p.220).

June 8 or 9 – "… and presently the mesas gave way to real mountains, and on time we drove into Wace" (p.220). Lolita's calculation ("more than a week") must have meant nine or ten days.

Between June 14 and 16 – Still in Wace, they "naturally drift" toward a summer theater "one fair mid-June evening" (p.220).

Next morning, 9am – They go to the Wace post office (p.222, p.224). Lolita has a letter from her friend Mona Dahl and presently disappears. When she turns up again, they have a terrific quarrel and precipitantly leave Wace. Humbert gives her "a tremendous backhand cut" (p.227). Remorse.

Same night – At Mirana Motel (p.227), on the way to Colorado (p.227).

One of the next days – "… in mountain country, somewhere between Snow and Champion," their car has a flat tire, and their pursuer mocks Humbert (p.228).

Same night – Arriving at a "Colorado resort between Snow and Elphinstone" (p.230).

Between June 18 (?) and June 26 (?) – Stay at a de luxe resort hotel in Champion, Colorado, Lolita playing tennis (p.230, p.233, p.235). The day after the Trapp Incident, when Humbert has a slight heart attack, they set out for "the last lap" of "two hundred mountainous miles" to Elphinstone (p.239).

June 27, Monday (?) – They arrive in Elphinstone where they take a two-room cabin at Silver Spur Court (p.238). Lolita feels ill and is taken to a hospital right away; there Humbert visits her eight times (p.242). The date of their arrival cannot be inferred all too confidently. Humbert writes they reached Elphinstone "about a week before Independence Day" (p.247). This would make it Monday, June 27 − but only circa. According to their (actually Lolita's and Quilty's) plan, they should have arrived after 31 days of travelling, that is on June 29; there is no hint that they were before or behind schedule. By counting back nine days from the day of Lolita's disappearance (eight days of visits and one without), they might have arrived on Saturday, June 25. So different clues point to June 25, 27 or 29 respectively as their arrival dates. However, there is one additional clue that it actually was June 27. About the first day of her hospitalization, Humbert writes: "This was Tuesday, and Wednesday or Thursday, splendidly reacting like the darling she was to some serum ..." (p.242). If it was Tuesday, they must have arrived on Monday. The temporal uncertainty in Humbert's account attests to the fact that on this trip he was not in control and was getting more and more panicky and confused.

July 3, Sunday – Humbert's last visit to the hospital. Then he runs a fever himself and stays in his motel room for two days and nights (p.244).

July 4, Monday – Lolita's nurse Mary Lore phones to ask if he would come today (p.245). We know that it was the Fourth of July (Independence Day) from Humbert's remark, right after the phone call, that "it was such a great holiday" (p.245) and from the manager of Ponderosa Lodge who the next day informs Humbert that Quilty "had checked out on the 4th of July" (p.249). Lolita leaves the hospital around 2pm (p.246).   

July 5, Tuesday – In the morning Humbert phones the hospital and learns that the day before "her uncle, Mr. Gustave" had come and fetched her (p.246). Humbert drives to the hospital, has a fit and is lucky the hospital lets him go (p.246-7). He leaves Elphinstone immediately.

June 5 to November 18 – Humbert's travels in search of Lolita disparue and of a cue that could lead him to her abductor. "… between July 5 and November 18, when I returned to Beardsley for a few days, I registered, if not actually stayed, at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes" (p.248).

November 18, Friday – Humbert arrives in Beardsley and stays a few days (p.248).

1950

January 1 – Humbert sends Lolita's belongings as an anonymous gift to a home for orphaned girls on the Canadian border (p.255).

Shortly after, he is admitted to a psychiatric clinic in Quebec again because he feels he is "losing contact with reality"; stays from January to May (p.255).

May – In a bar between Montreal and New York, Humbert makes the acquaintance of thirty-year old Rita (p.258) and from summer 1950 to summer 1952 "cruises" with her, with a pied-à-terre in New York City (p.259).

1951?

After two years of search, a hired detective reports that "an eighty-year-old Indian by the name of Bill Brown lived near Dolores, Colo." (p.253).

Humberts writes an article on perceptual time entitled "Mimir and Memory" for the Cantrip Review and as a result gets a call to Cantrip College (p.260).

1951-52

September to June – Humbert goes to Cantrip as a visiting lecturer, Rita accompanying him, but staying at a roadside inn (p.260-1).

1952

June – Humbert gets Rita released from a Cantrip jail and via Briceland returns with her to New York City (p.261).    

September 18, Thursday – The date on which Lolita writes her letter to Humbert (p.267).

September 22, Monday – Humbert unexpectedly receives letters from lawyer John Farlow and from Lolita. She tells him that she is married (to one Dick Schiller) and pregnant, asks for financial assistance so her husband could get a job in Alaska and discloses her whereabouts: Coalmont. On the spot Humbert drives the 800 mi from New York City (p.265-7).  

September 23, Tuesday – Arrives in Coalmont, after resting at a motel in the early morning hours; gets to Mrs. Richard F. Schiller's home around 2pm (p.269). They speak. He learns her abductor's name and hands her the first installment of her inheritance. They part. He leaves around 4pm (p.281), driving towards Ramsdale, but is delayed because in the night his car gets stuck in the mud (p.281).

September 24, Wednesday – Arrives in Ramsdale around noon; goes to a hotel; makes appointments at Windmuller's law office and with dentist Dr. Ivor Quilty; from him learns Clare Quilty's address: Pavor Manor, Grimm Road, 12 mi N of Parkington; drives 40 mi to Parkington; spends the night at Insomnia Lodge (p.291).

September 25, Thursday – Leaves for Pavor Manor around 8am (p.293); kills Quilty, walks out unnoticed (p.305); is arrested by the police for driving on the wrong side of the road (p.306).

September to October – The case is reported in the press (p.4).

End of September to mid-November: Facing his trial, Humbert writes Lolita, first in a psychiatric ward, then in jail (p.308). In the third to last paragraph he says  that he started to write Lolita "fifty-six days ago" (p.308). As he probably died right after finishing his memoir, he must have written this on the day of his death, that is on November 16. Counting back 56 days brings us to September 21, the day before he received Lolita's letter. If he had begun writing the day after his arrest on September 26, he would have had only 51 days at his disposal. Several critics have understood this to imply that he never went to Coalmont but instead began penning his memoir, at home or in a psychiatric clinic or in jail or anywhere − and that hence all the events after September 21 must be fictional in the second degree, an invention inside the invention. However, considering Humbert's demonstrated laxness in summing up time, it would seem much more parsimonious to take his "56 days" as simply one of several similar mistakes he makes.***

November 16, Sunday – Humbert dies of coronary thrombosis, "a few days before his trial was scheduled to start" (p.3).

December 25, Thursday, Christmas Day – Lolita dies in Gray Star, Alaska, "in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn child" (p.4).

1955

August 5 – John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. finishes his Foreword to Humbert's manuscript (p.6).

   

 

***  I don’t care to open up another revisionist front, but it does seem to me that the real temporal problem of the novel is a more basic one than the missing five days (or three, as some contend). The problem is that it is very unlikely Humbert could have written his memoir in so short a time, whether it was 51 or 56 days. It is even more unlikely in view of the fact that for Humbert it was hardly a time of leisure. True, he felt death approaching and knew he had to hurry. But the time he had to spend on the book will have been constantly interrupted by stressful interrogations and examinations, by talks to lawyers and doctors, by moves from prison to clinic and back, by quibbles over what writing material and what books he was allowed to use − and the light will have been turned off early in the evening. It took Nabokov almost three years of hard work to write the book and he was surely aware that he was imposing an impossible task on Humbert when he made him write it about forty times as fast − and that some readers would notice. So what is one to make of Humbert’s claims, short of discarding them altogether? I personally find it tempting to believe that he "really" is "in legal captivity" and that he "really" didn’t have more than 51 days to complete his book, but that most of it had been written before his arrest, during the three years after Lolita’s disappearance. In this case all he had to do in prison was to go over the whole of it once more, to insert the covert allusions to the identity of his foe and to append what happened after he had received Lolita’s letter. Incidentally this would explain why he is repeatedly quoting from material he will hardly have had access to during his imprisonment. It would also help explain his seemingly sudden shift of stance which some critics have found unconvincing. The body of his memoir is the work of a malicious egomaniac who refuses to realize what he is doing to the girl. The end is the work of a compassionate man who hates himself for what he has done. But if one assumes that he had three years to effect this change, three years to review his case by writing it down, starting with the final epiphany when looking down on that town in the mountains (p.307-308), his turn to moral standards would come as less a surprise. And if he had written much of his memoir before, he would not have needed to effect his change of viewpoint during the writing and write on as if nothing had happened.

 

»Home