Chapter 44 Summary
One day Miss Pratt, the headmistress of Lolita’s school, asks Humbert to come in for a conference. He knows that Lolita is doing poorly in her classes, but his guilty conscience makes him suspect that Miss Pratt has found out about his sexual abuse. He has a large drink to steady his nerves, and then he goes to the meeting.
Miss Pratt is indeed worried that something is wrong with Lolita sexually, but she does not suspect the cause. The headmistress explains that Lolita is rude to her teachers and, more worryingly, indifferent to boys. It is well-known that Humbert prevents his daughter from dating, and Miss Pratt scolds him for being too old-fashioned and harming Lolita’s social development.
After digging through some papers, Miss Pratt reads out many pseudo-psychological observations Lolita’s teachers have made about her everyday behaviors—how she sits, how often she sighs, how she holds books as she reads. Miss Pratt suggests that Lolita seems totally uninterested in sex and may in fact not know the facts of life. As Humbert squirms uncomfortably, Miss Pratt accuses him of failing to do enough to make sure that his growing daughter knows about the sexual world that awaits her in adulthood.
Near the end of this interview, Miss Pratt demands that Humbert allow Lolita to play a role in the school’s upcoming play, The Enchanted Hunters, written by the famous playwright Clare Quilty. Quilty has promised to visit the school during the rehearsal period, which is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved. According to Miss Pratt, Lolita needs room to blossom as a person and to interact normally with her peers without her father’s constant presence. Lolita has potential, but she fails to make close connections to other people. In fact, she mercilessly ridicules the girls and young teachers who engage in normal, innocent dating behavior.
Just before Humbert leaves, Miss Pratt also complains about the language Lolita uses. Some of the students at Beardsley come from quite respectable families, and Lolita’s swearing is quite shocking to them. Lolita recently defaced some “health pamphlets” by writing cuss words all over them in lipstick. Miss Pratt is planning to give Lolita detention for this, but she is not terribly angry. Above all, the woman seems really eager to help Lolita get over whatever is bothering her.
As soon as he can safely do so, Humbert excuses himself and goes to find Lolita in a study room, where she is reading with another girl. He is ready to collapse from the “torture” of his conference with Miss Pratt, so he sits down beside Lolita and, in exchange for a few cents and permission to take part in the school play, induces her to masturbate him underneath the desk.