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Lolita -

What the book is about.

Humbert Humbert has written a journal while incarcerated awaiting trial.  After a failed marriage, he has come to America.  He has accepted a job writing perfume ads and intends to work on a book.  Humbert is a pedophile which he traces to an interaction with a female when he was 12 years old.  Humbert has tried to reignite the feelings he had for his young lover through a marriage and with young prostitutes.  In America, he has come to Ramsdale to live for a few months.  The home where he was originally to stay has burned down and he has been referred to the Haze home where mother Charlotte is raising her 12 year old daughter Delores (aka Lolita).  Humbert agrees to stay at the Haze home with the expectant delight of being with Lolita.

Humbert uses every means possible to be near and to hopefully touch Lolita.  Charlotte decides to send Lolita to a camp and as she leaves with Lolita, Humbert is given a letter in which Charlotte confesses her love for Humbert and asks him to leave.  Humbert stays and he and Charlotte are married.  Charlotte tells Humbert that she plans on putting Lolita into a boarding school.  A concerned Humbert thinks of killing Charlotte at a lake.  Humbert has been keeping a journal about his preying of Lolita which is found by Charlotte.  Charlotte writes two letters, leaves the house and is killed by a car. 

Humbert heads to the camp to retrieve Lolita.  He takes her to a hotel where he plans on drugging her with purple pills that he has received from a physician.  The pills have no effect but Lolita is a willing participant in a sexual encounter with Humbert.  Humbert and Lolita take off for a year long journey throughout the US.  When money runs low, the two settle down in the town of Beardsley, OH where Lolita will attend school.

Humbert decides to remove Lolita for school when he is challenged to keep control of the child.  On the road again Humbert begins to believe that someone is following them.  When Lolita becomes ill, Humbert is forced to have Lolita hospitalized.  Humbert loses Lolita when she is checked out of the hospital.  Humbert does not know who has stolen his Lolita or where she has gone.

Humbert cannot successfully move on from his loss of Lolita.  He becomes attached to another young lady named Rita who has lots of issues; he views many girls always hopeful that he will find Lolita.  One day he gets a letter forwarded from Ramsdale from Lolita.  Lolita is married, pregnant, and in need of money.  Humbert abandons Rita and finds Lolita with the intent of killing Lolita’s husband believing that the husband has taken her away.  Lolita shares that the man that helped her leave Humbert’s was Clare Quilty.  Humbert goes to Quilty to take his revenge for Humbert’s loss.

Favorite passage from the book:  “And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full but unable to cope with my tears.”  (page 282)

1962 Adaptation.

There are quite a few differences in the movie version of the story of Lolita from the book even with Vladimir Nabokov being given the writing credit of the screenplay.  The largest difference is the age of Lolita, in the movie she is 15 in the book she is 12 and what a difference three years makes.  The movie also does not provide the background regarding Humbert’s childhood sexual encounter which is what he blames his pedophilia on nor his failed marriage nor his interactions with Parisian prostitutes.

The movie has changed the character of Humbert Humbert making him a Professor of literature very early on in the story and securing a job at Beardsley College whereas in the book he dabbles in writing and has come to America to write ads for a perfume company and to work on a book.  In the book Humbert and Lolita go to Beardsley because there is girl’s school that Lolita will attend.   Later in the story he is able to get a job teaching but this is over three years after the beginning of the story.

The movie has greatly expanded the character of Clare Quilty.  In both Quilty is a screenplay writer for television but in the movie he seems to pop up all over the place.  In the book Quilty is certainly central to the ending and pops up two other places early in the story and then at the very conclusion.

The movie starts with Humbert coming into a large home where the character named Quilty is in residence.  There is a great scene of word play by the character of Quilty (played by Peter Sellers).  The book starts with a forward by a fictional psychologist named John Ray, Jr. who tells the reader that Humbert is dead and what follows is his journal for people to study his abnormal and evil ways.

The movie has added a number of “like mother like daughter” moments.  The movie adds one interesting element to the story where Charlotte describes her marriage to Harold who happens to be much older than her, an age difference not so different from Humbert and Lolita.

The movie has added a number of scenes between Charlotte, Humbert, and Lolita that are not in the book.  Of note is a scene with the three watching a movie at a drive-in where Lolita and Humbert hold hands and then Charlotte places her hand on-top of the other hands. 

The movie has added a scene with Lolita at a high school dance where Charlotte, Humbert and the Farrows’ are in attendance as well as Quilty and his female interest.  Lolita is shown getting close to a young boy named Kevin (Kevin is mentioned the book) and then is supposed to go to the Farrow’s home for an after dance party.  Her early return home from the party foils Charlotte’s attempt to seduce Humbert.  None of this is in the book especially given the fact that Lolita in the book is only 12 she would be unlikely to attend a high school function.

The movie has a scene where Charlotte asks Humbert about God, she shows Humbert a gun that belonged to her dead husband Harold and then shortly after Humbert is clearly looking at the gun and thinking of killing Charlotte.  In the book Harold did have a gun that comes into Humbert’s procession but it is not mentioned until much later in the story.  Humbert thinks about killing Charlotte at Hourglass Lake by drowning her.  After the two get to shore they are surprised by Jean Farrow who was out painting and saw them the whole time while they swam.

In the movie after Charlotte has been killed, the movie has the Farrow’s seeing the gun while Humbert looks morose in the bathtub.  There is a dialogue that is clearly meant to talk Humbert out of killing himself.  In the book, there is no gun at this point and Humbert is drunk and sleeps well in Lolita’s bed.

The movie has added quite a few tongue and cheek elements, one of the more interesting ones is renaming the camp that Lolita attends from the book’s “Camp Q” to “Camp Climax.”

The movie adds a scene where Quilty is at the hotel where Humbert is about to have his first encounter with Lolita.  Quilty has a long and rather unnecessary dialogue with the hotel’s desk clerk.  Quilty and his female companion then see Humbert and Lolita as Quilty is reading the “funny papers” in the hotel lobby.  The movie has removed an interesting story element in the book where Humbert has secured purple pills that he believes will make Lolita sleep, once asleep Humbert plans on playing with his pet.

The movie adds an unnecessary bit of slapstick when a cot arrives in the first hotel room.  Humbert and the hotel porter struggle with it.  Then a bit later the cot collapses on Humbert.  None of this is in the book; in fact there is no cot in the book.

The movie removes the story element of Humbert purchasing a number of gifts for Lolita that he has given her after picking her up at Camp Q that are described in the book.

The movie has Humbert and Lolita going to Beardsley where Humbert is stated to start as a professor without taking the huge road trip described in the book.  In the book, Humbert wants Lolita all to himself so the two go on the road and stay on the road until money runs low.  They go to Beardsley where Lolita is to attend a girl’s school.

The movie has Quilty sitting in Humbert’s home posing as a psychologist named Dr. Zifp (sic).  Not in the book.

The movie has Lolita as a star of a school play, the first performance is given, Humbert finds out that Lolita has lied about piano lessons and the two hit the road.  In the book Humbert catches on that Lolita is lying and after a “special rehearsal” the two take off on the road.

The movie does not contain the activities of Humbert between the time where Lolita has been taken from him to when he gets a letter from her asking for money.  In the book, Humbert has taken up with a woman named Rita who has her own special problems.  Humbert dumps her as soon as he hears from Lolita.

The movie ends where it began with the scene of Humbert confronting and killing Quilty.  In the book this is the only at the end of the story and in the book there are many people who are assembled at Quilty’s home after Humbert has come downstairs from killing Quilty.

Recommendation about the 1962 adaptation.  Read the book and watch the movie.  The book is truly a classic as is the movie.  The book and the movie are two different stories.  The book is about a pedophile’s fixation on not only Lolita but all pre-pubescent children whereas the movie is about one older man’s fixation (yes still a pedophile) and love affair with his step-child.  The use of the name “Lolita” has been adopted in the lexicon of culture to refer to a young woman who is of loose morals.  This seems to be based much more on the Lolita of the movie and not the Lolita of the book.  The Lolita of the book may be a willing participant of the inappropriate advances of her step-father but she is clearly a victim of horrible sexual abuse.

The movie does have quite a few positive aspects making it a cinematic treat to experience; the travel scenes; the soundtrack; the use of symbolism; the filming in the Haze home; the absolute great performance by Peter Sellers and James Mason all make this movie a must see.

Could you write a book report from watching the 1962 movie?  Absolutely not, the book is a confession by a pedophile who has fixated on a man’s attention to a 12 year old while the movie is more of an inappropriate sexual encounter between an older man and a teenager.  The book has much more material about Humbert Humbert’s fixation with Lolita.

1997 Adaptation.

The 1997 adaptation is closer to the original text than the 1962 movie even though Nabokov was given the top screenwriting credit for the 1962 movie.  There are still a number of big story elements that have been changed between the book and the movie.  In the 1997, Lolita is 14 which is still a large developmental difference than her being 12 in the book. 

The character of Lolita in this movie adaption is shown with an orthodontic retainer.  The retainer is awfully distracting and not part of the story in the book.

There are a few characters that are removed from the story in the 1997 movie:  the Farrow’s; the young nurse when Lolita is in the hospital, and Rita (Humbert’s love interest after Lolita takes off). 

Like the 1962 movie, the 1997 movie begins by showing the viewer right after Humbert has shot Quilty.  Humbert is in a car and driving erratically in a car with the gun and lots of blood.  The book starts with a forward that states Humbert is dead and this is his journal.

The 1997 movie provides the overview of the book with Humbert in France and having a youthful passion of the heart with a young girl.  The movie does not go further into Humbert’s life in France with his marriage and prostitutes as the book does.  The movie then moves forward to Humbert having accepted a teaching position at Beardsley College.  In the book Humbert has come to America and is writing perfume ads and writing a book.

The movie has Charlotte (Lolita’s mother) telling Humbert that she plans on placing Lolita is a boarding school much earlier in the story than in the book, an important element of timing in the story.

The movie removes the element in the book where Humbert and Charlotte are swimming at Hourglass Lake and Humbert thinks of killing her.

The movie has a number of story elements removed after Charlotte’s death; he does not open the letters reading a few of the phrases that Charlotte wrote before she ran out of the house; the movie does not have the other person involved in the car accident offering to pay for the funeral; the movie has removed the story element of Humbert having purple pills that he plans on drugging Lolita with at the first hotel; and the movie does not have Humbert buying things for Lolita for after he picks her up at camp as does the book.

The movie has a scene where Lolita uses her wiles to get Humbert to raise her allowance and be in the school play that are not the same as in the book.

The movie has added an element where Humbert has Lolita write down the license plate number of the car following them and then some time later Humbert sees that Lolita has changed what was written down and he then slaps Lolita.  This scene is not in the book.

The movie has added a scene where Humbert and Lolita are in a small town.  He leaves Lolita in the hotel and gets a shave.  While getting his shave he hears a small story about Quilty on the radio.  Back in the hotel room Lolita’s makeup and hair are askew.  Humbert confronts Lolita and she mocks him for his jealousy.  This scene is not in the book although the book does have two elements where Humbert suspects Lolita of taking and interacting with a man once at a tennis court and once while swimming.

In the movie Humbert has no dialogue with Lolita’s husband Dick whereas in the book they do.

Recommendation about the 1997 movie.  The 1997 adaptation is closer to the book even with Nabokov having a screenwriting credit for the for the 1962 movie.  The 1997 movie changes the age of Lolita from 12 to 14 and removes much of Humbert’s desires as a pedophile that is beyond his fascination with Lolita.  The movie also removes all of Humbert’s activities with the woman he meets and lives with after Lolita gets away from him.

Could you write a book report from watching the 1997 movie?  Not a very good one.  There are too many story elements and inner thoughts from Humbert’s journal missing from the movie to write a book report from only watching the movie.

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Movie Poster


Adaptation Score



Book Title: Lolita

Author:  Vladimir Nabokov

Year Published: 1955

Book Length: 310 pages (hardback)

Film Title:  Lolita

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay: Vladimir Nabokov

Year Released:  1962

Film Length: 152 minutes

Film Title:  Lolita (1997)

Director:  Adrian Lyne

Year Released:  1997

Film Length:  137 minutes


  • Humbert Humbert
  • Delores Haze (Aka Lolita, Lo)
  • Charlotte Haze
  • Clare Quilty

Setting: Paris, France; throughout the US, 1947