Nabokov’s Lolita is filled with doubles. But not every double was clearly defined. Only the important characters had a double. Humbert and Quilty are a prime example. The double’s purpose was to either mirror the other character, showing foreshadowing that is not clear until taking a second and closer reading, or to be the undoing of another character. Humbert and Quilty are the only characters that do the latter. They effect each other in different ways that none of the other doubles do, because they are the only doubles that meet up with each other. Other doubles like Dolores Haze and Dolores Quine are just a reflection of what is to come. Nabokov leaves intricate clues but Humbert, being an unreliable narrator makes it hard to catch on. Humbert is unreliable because he lives in his head and he sees what he wants to see. That makes it is hard for him to actually see Lo as a real person besides his perfect ‘Nymph.’ Due to Humbert’s internal musings the reader does not get much dialogue, it is more like a internal monologue.
Dolores Quine is Lo’s double. Both Dolores’s star in plays that reflect their situation in the book, nut Lo is the only one who had two adults abuse her trust. Dolores Q. stared in the play called Never Talk to Strangers in New york. Coincidentally Quilty’s play The Little Nymph ended in New York. The dates show that Dolores Q. “disappeared” before then but Humbert is not a reliable narrator and he even says that he makes mistakes. “I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but please do not correct it,” (32). Even though this particular mistake refers to the word “disappeared.” Humbert plays with his words and by playing with this particular word the reader now knows that Lo will disappear with Quilty. Never Talk to Strangers is not credited to Quilty the play epitomizes Lo. She meets an adults who want to take advantage of her naivety, and she disappears. Humbert even tells Lo “And if I were you, my dear, I would not talk to strangers.” (138). Humbert from his description of day one he was thinking about fondling her while checking her out. While describing Lo he is reminiscing of the “love” they once shared. “the juvenile breasts I had fondled one immortal day.” (39). On this same day Humbert alludes to the kidnapping of Lo by Quilty. “some little princess (lost, kidnapped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds),” Quilty is always in the background hiding and waiting for his perfect opportunity to steal Lo. Other signs of Quilty as an adversary show up early in the book as well, when Humbert reads Who’s Who in the Limelight (31). He is described as a playwright and the “Author of The Little Nymph, The Lady Who Loved Lightning […], Dark Age, […], Fatherly Love, and others. […] Little Nymph (1940) traveled 14,000 miles […]. Hobbies: fast cars, photography, pets.” (31). But the titles of the plays and the fact that he loves pets shows that Quilty is not that different from Humbert.
Although they are the same in some aspects, Quilty really uses Lo to his personal advantage when he makes her star in porn films. Lo was warned about Quilty “Edusa had warned her that Cue liked little girls, had been jailed once, in fact (nice fact), and he knew she knew.” (275). Lo knew about the possible dangers of being with Quilty but she did not care. She even admits to Quilty wanting her to star in the porn. “he had two girls and two boys, and three or four men, and the idea was for all of us to tangle in the nude while an old woman took movie pictures.” (276). Humbert portrays Quilty as this evil doer. The reader can imagine Quilty in the background spying on Humbert and Lo, concocting a master plan that to steal Humbert’s precious Lo. Humbert deliberately sheds this light on Quilty in order to make himself look good. Everything Humbert and Lo do looks innocent compared to all the “weird, filthy, fancy things.” (276) that Quilty makes Lo do. Quilty and Humbert are constantly fighting for Lo and in the end she becomes Mrs. Richard F. Shiller.
Both Quilty and Humbert have different approaches when it comes to Lo. Quilty demands things from Lo and if he does not get them he will just get rid of her, whereas Humbert is gentle because in his mind they are in love and they make love every time they have sex. Humbert believes this because he is incapable of seeing reality outside of his reality. In their room in the Enchanted Hunters Humbert looks around but after every item he looks back to the mirror. “Gives me back in a shining surface picture Me myself in the summer heaven, godlike” (“For Once, Then, Something” Robert Frost). Humbert like Frost’s narrator can only see himself the way he wants to see himself. Nabokov gives the reader insight into Humbert with this solipsistic moment. Humbert believes he is superior to everyone else he come across, which is a reason why he constantly spouts French and Latin. He uses it against almost everyone in the book, portraying the characters as less educated than him. Although he sees himself on a higher level than everyone he still has moments of doubt. He doubts that Lo will give herself willingly he doubts that she really loves him, he doubts that he will ever find his Lo again and he doubts that he could ever be happy again after the lost of his “true love.” he does not view himself as godlike, as the novel progresses he becomes less of the man he used to be and in the end he becomes a shell of a man. “I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears.” (280). In the Enchanted Hunters he is convinced that the only way he will have Lo is if he drugs her, but instead things play out in his favor. Ironically this hotel,where Humbert acts as if he was seduced by Lo instead of the other way round, is the same name of the play that Lo starred in. Quilty has been on Humbert’s trail from the beginning.
Quilty is the complete dark side of Humbert. While they are both after Lo, they both want her for different reasons. Humbert wants Lo’s eternal love, which she does not give to him but tries to give to Quilty who only wants Lo because Humbert has her. Humbert clearly as inner demons that he has to deal with throughout the story. He contemplates drugging Lo and he has this inner struggle because he wants to ravish his precious Lolita, but he knows that it is not right. This inner struggle is what separates Humbert and Quilty. While Humbert has genuine concern for Lo, because he truly loves his image of Lo, Quilty has genuine concern for himself. Quilty does not care about Lo’s feelings or well being, he just does what he does for the thrill and pure enjoyment. Humbert admits what he is and he apologizes for it. “oh my poor, bruised child. I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid,” (284). Quilty makes no apology but blames Humbert. He told Humbert that he saved Lo from being molested like he did not plan on molesting her as well. Quilty does not care about consequences because he has experienced them already. Quilty is not scared about going to prison because he has been, but Humbert gets nervous around cops. Humbert loses himself when he loses Lo. Since Quilty is Humbert’s double he can also be viewed as a split personality. When Humbert is betrayed by Lo and something changes in him. “I pursued the shadow of her infidelity;” (215). This is the first time he has sex with Lo, every other time he counts it as making love. When he senses her betrayal he wants to punish her and reclaim her as his. Quilty scares Humbert because he feels he can lose Lo to him, and he his rightful afraid. Humbert does not want to lose to Quilty, but he is more afraid to lose himself within Quilty. Lolita starts off with Humbert being confident in who he is and what he stands for. “Humbert Humbert showed his immigration papers, smiled stiffly, and smuggled in his secret self.” (“Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years” Brian Boyd). What is Humbert’s secret self? His fetish for children would be considered his secret self. But looking at doubles Quilty is a more plausible answer.
Quilty frightens Humbert because Quilty has no self control. Humbert is scared of being caught whereas Quilty could care less. One alternative is that Quilty was following Humbert’s every move and Lo talked about nothing but Humbert. That is the only way that Quilty would know everything and visit every single hotel and use pseudonyms that only Humbert could guess the significance of. It was all one big game to Quilty and Lo. Or Humbert lost control. He lost himself while dealing with an unruly child who refused to love him. Quilty was in the background until he got tired of Humbert’s careful and cautious ways. Quilty unravels Humbert who breaks down and becomes empty without Lo. He took control of the situation because Humbert could not handle Lo. Quilty wanted to break Lo’s spirit since Humbert was so unsuccessful at it. Quilty believes he is aiding Humbert by changing Lo, but when Humbert gains control back he still let’s Lo have the upper hand. He gives her four thousand dollars because he thinks she will finally love him. But she still refuses to willingly give herself over to Humbert. Quilty is a copy of Humbert. He is everything Humbert would need to be if he ever wanted to gain Lo’s love. Humbert asked for love and Quilty stole it. Humbert let Quilty come out because he was not criminal enough to actually commit all the crimes he imagined in his brain. When Humbert sees what he has done to his “daughter” he kills Quilty. Humbert relies on Quilty to do the major criminal acts so he can blame someone else. But Quilty would have never came out if Humbert never stole Dolores Haze’s childhood.
To fear is to expect punishment. To love is to know we are
immersed, not in darkness, but in light.
– Mother Teresa