The passage I chose starts at the last paragraph on page 203 and continues onto 204—it occurs right after Humbert discovers Lolita skipped her lesson.
“So downstairs I went clearing my throat and holding my heart. Lo was now in the living room, in her favorite overstuffed chair. As she sprawled there, biting at a hangnail and mocking me with her heartless vaporous eyes, and all the time rocking a stool upon which she had placed the heel of an oustretched shoeless foot, I perceived all at once with a sickening qualm how much she had changed since I first met her two years ago. Or had this happened during those last two weeks? Tendresse? Surely that was an exploded myth. She sat right in the focus of my incandescent anger. The fog of all lust had been swept away leaving nothing but this dreadful lucidity. Oh, she had changed!”
Upon hearing the news of Lolita’s misbehavior, Humbert goes downstairs while “holding [his] heart.” The sentence by itself sounds like something a person who fears they’re about to get their heart broken would say. I suppose in a way, he is—anything bad linked to Lolita could ruin his perfect world of him and his nymphet. Though Humbert is a pedophile, the wording of this sentence that implies his heart is fragile and easily damaged, is something that causes the audience to empathize.
He then sees Lolita “sprawled there, biting at a hangnail…” The word “sprawled” is ugly, unladylike, and a very unattractive choice. He could have said “laid” or “sat” but he didn’t. Humbert proceeds to describe Lolita in the ugliest way—she had “heartless vaporous eyes” and “an outstretched shoeless foot.” It is hard to imagine a young girl with such menacing eyes, especially if she was just sitting there unaware of the trouble she was about to be in. It is clear Humbert wants us to see Lolita in this moment as a demonic being. He even describes her growing foot to be disdainful, as if growing up were the worst thing in the world. Though growth is a natural, healthy aspect of any person, to Humbert all it symbolizes is his nymphet slipping away from him. Lolita is supposed to be going through the most changes right now as a preteen, and yet Humbert acts as if he had been blinded and now just realized what horrific changes had occurred.
“I perceived all at once with a sickening qualm how much she had changed since I first met her two years ago.” Well….duh! She’s in her growing years, of course she changed! But this sentence has the effect of letting the reader see Lolita through Humbert’s twisted eyes. By growing/changing, she had lost the pure beauty she had as a child, and this is a very sad moment for Humbert. He is genuinely upset and confused in this passage, as if he hadn’t known Lolita would grow up.
The second to last sentence beginning with “The fog…” shows that Humbert, up until this moment, saw Lolita through his own version of rose-colored glasses. His lust for her shielded him from her changes, and in his eyes she had stayed his innocent nymphet, constant, for the past two years. In reality, growth doesn’t occur over night and Humbert must have noticed it. However, he was in control of their world so he could pretend that nothing was going to change. Now, he is realizing that Lolita is no longer under his control and he could be losing her. His loss of control and the pain of the prospect of losing her is too much for him to handle, so he acts as if she had changed and it was he who didn’t want her anymore, not the other way around. It is a defense mechanism, in order to save him the truth which he can’t handle.