Chronology of Lolita
thoroughly rechecked and emended English version of my 'Chronologie des
Romans,' published in the appendix of the German 'Lolita' (Reinbek: Rowohlt,
1989 ff.). Its
annex of the
Rowohlt paperback edition
detailed inner chronology of 'Lolita' is largely a matter of inference.
There are few explicit
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
Humbert's casual remarks on dates and
durations against a perpetual calendar. To make my inferences
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
half of the year (p.11) – "Humbert
Humbert" is born in Paris, France (p.9).
A few months later, Annabel Leigh is
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
Quilty born in Ocean City, New Jersey (p.31).
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).
– Stray canaries flutter in Humbert's and Annabel's rooms (p.14).
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.
– 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) which at that time was full of refugees, especially from Armenia,
bringing epidemies of small-pox and typhoid fever.
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
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.
– 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.
January 1 – Dolores Haze is born in Pisky, Midwest (Central Illinois?)
Humbert frequents Monique, a young Paris prostitute (p.21), then marries
Valeria Zborovsky, daughter of a Polish doctor (p.25, p.26).
of Lolita's brother who will die at age 2 (p.68).
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.
Winter – World War II has begun, divorce proceedings delay Humbert's
departure for the
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).
hard and finishes the first volume (p.32).
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
Summer – Lolita supervised by Miss Phalen (p.56).
Humbert joins an obscure expedition to arctic Canada as a sort of
research psychologist (p.33) and stays away for twenty months (p.34).
Haze family moves from Pisky (Midwest) to Ramsdale (New England) (p.46,
"Around 1945" Humbert's ex-wife, now Valeria Maximovich, dies in
childbirth in California (p.30).
after his return from arctic Canada, Humbert has "another bout with
insanity" and goes back to a sanitarium (p.34).
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
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.
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).
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).
22, Sunday – Humbert's delirium on the sofa, on "Sunday after the
Saturday already described" (p.57).
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
right after Labor Day (the first Monday of September),
that is on Tuesday,
December – Interview with Ms. Pratt "one Monday forenoon, in December"
Christmas – Lolita has bronchitis "around Christmas" (p.198).
Spring – "By the time spring had touched up Thayer Street …, Lolita was
irrevocably stage-struck" (p.200).
Lolita attending play rehearsals and piano lessons (p.202).
24, Tuesday – Lolita misses her piano lesson (p.202).
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.
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.
"… 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.
7 or 8
"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).
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).
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.
night – At Mirana Motel (p.227), on the way to Colorado (p.227).
of the next days – "… in mountain country, somewhere between Snow and
Champion," their car has a flat tire, and their pursuer mocks Humbert
night – Arriving at a "Colorado resort between Snow and Elphinstone"
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
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
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).
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).
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.
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
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).
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).
two years of search, a hired detective reports that "an
eighty-year-old Indian by the name of Bill Brown lived near Dolores,
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).
September to June – Humbert goes to Cantrip as a visiting lecturer, Rita
accompanying him, but staying at a roadside inn (p.260-1).
– 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
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).
August 5 – John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. finishes his Foreword to Humbert's
don’t care to open up another revisionist front, but it
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
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