NOTE: this question contains major spoilers for Lolita.

When we first meet Humbert he's awaiting trial for murder and in the fullness of time, it becomes explicit exactly who it is that he has murdered. However, there does seem to be limited evidence that he's committed another murder in the course of the book and decided to skip over it, the unreliable narrator of his own story that he is.

The death in question is that of Charlotte Haze, Lolita's mother. Charlotte marries Humbert and he fantasies about murdering her to gain unfettered access to abuse her daughter:

The natural solution was to destroy Mrs. Humbert. But how?

He decides against it, simply due to the likelihood of his being caught. She later reads Humbert's diary, discovers his abhorrent lust for her daughter, and decides to move them both away from Humbert's attentions. Before she can do so she is killed in what seems to be a freak car accident.

However, there are two clues, late in the novel, to suggest this may not be so accidental after all. First, teenage Lolita herself suggests (remember this is Humbert's narration of her words) that she was killed deliberately:

"Where is she buried anyway?"
"Oh, you know, my murdered mummy."

Humbert does not correct her on this implication. Shortly afterwards Humbert is describing the murder of another woman, killed by her husband who was caught and tried. He then says:

I did better.

In some respects, these feel like an open and shut case of admission of guilt. However, against this, there's a big question of how Humbert might have arranged the murder. There are a number of eyewitnesses to whom the death appears to be a straightforward accident. The police accept it as accidental. There is no suggestion that the person driving - a Mr. Frederick Beale, Jr - was known to Humbert. Beale later visits Humbert, professes his innocence and offers to pay the funeral expenses. This could, of course, be made up on Humbert's part but his style of lying through the rest of the book is more to let slip telling details rather than outright fabrications.

How, then, are we to reconcile the apparent admission of guilt by Humbert for Charlotte's murder with the apparent lack of means for orchestrating it?

2 Answers 2


Maybe what some readers see as suggested foul play is the heavy, recurring interpretation that Humbert is responsible for all the events in the story, but only secondary to the will of whatever governing force that is life. Although he may have not pushed her in front of the car, or ran her over himself, it can be said that it was his abhorrent sexual fantasies and her unearthing of such that ultimately killed her. He wanted her dead, but reasoned with himself and moved past the idea in a practical sense.

And then by some twist of fate, she essentially does the job for him (well, the driver, technically) and he gets what he wants and suffers no scrutiny. He reflects on these types of situations quite often in the story. It’s this “letting go and let god” attitude that justifies most of his decisions. He knows he’s sick and sometimes he tries, but when his efforts falter he is convinced that this is the way things have to be.

Of course that’s the type of perspective you would get from an unreliable narrator, but it does propose a compelling argument on his mental stability beyond his deviated psychosexual development. And, at least for me, that answers the question as to why he doesn’t challenge Lolita about her statement and feels as if he “did it better”.


To respond to the first quote, H.H. does correct Lolita,

'Moreover,' I (H.H) added, 'the tragedy of such an accident is somewhat cheapened by the epithet (the adjective murdered in the quote you provided) you saw fit to apply to it. If you really wish to triumph over this idea of death-'

Lolita Part 2 Ch 32.

This is a more indirect denial than simply saying she wasn't murdered, but it is still calling into question the word 'murdered'. There are a few reasons why he could have used this wording instead of a direct denial:

  1. He's had this conversation with Lolita multiple times that we the reader haven't seen and he's tired of telling her she wasn't murdered. The bit about her needing to triumph over her idea of death opens the door to this since it sounds like it's not the first time they've had a conversation about it.

  2. The word 'murdered' kinda fits what happens to Charlotte, though it lacks premeditation. She was killed by another person and did not die of natural causes. The snobby intellectual that he is, and being her teacher, he could be trying to correct her more from a technical perspective.

  3. Along the lines of what Svtter said, he could feel responsible for her death, even if he wasn't the one who committed the act. She clearly ran out into the road in hysterics due to her unearthing of his diary. So he might feel on some level that he did murder her indirectly, and not be comfortable directly denying the accusation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.