Headmistress Pratt: Guide to the Separate Worlds in Lolita

In Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert narrates the story of his love affair with a twelve-year old 'nymphet,' of whom he takes charge, as both lover and quasi-father figure, after her mother's death. Humbert's conversation with Headmistress Pratt of Beardsley School, where he plans to send Lolita, defines the distance between his and Lolita's views of the world. Humbert is an introvert who lives among words and abstract thought, while Lolita longs for a typical American adolescent's social life and depends on the sensory world; these differences, as established in the course of the meeting with Pratt, reverberate throughout the novel.

Of the 'four D's' that Pratt says Beardsley emphasizes, 'Dramatics, Dance, Debating and Dating,' the most significant for Lolita is Dramatics, because it allows her to create a role for herself in a different, happier reality. Humbert grudgingly permits Lolita to participate in the school theater program, seeing it as trivial but harmless; in retrospect, however, he comes to believe that by doing so he has 'suffered her to cultivate deceit' which eventually facilitates her escape from him (209). Humbert is missing the broader...

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