NABOKV-L post 0017562, Mon, 5 Jan 2009 23:01:27 -0200

M.Wildish: OED entry: nymphet
1. young wife, bride[...];2.marriageable maiden; 3. daughter-in-law;4. young girl;5. Nymph or goddess of lower rank, esp. of springs: hence, poetically, water, in mystical theology; applied to souls seeking birth; 6. doll, puppet; ; 7. young bee or wasp: in the pupa stage; 8. winged male of the ant; 9. kind of mollusc; 10. point of the ploughshare; 11.hollow between the under-lip and chin: depression on the shoulder of horses; 12. opening rosebud; 13. clitoris;14. niche.

JM:: It seems that item 5 is prevalent in Ada [ "nymphs ...elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors"] Various authorial hints indicate that OED items 7,9,10,11,13 are to be desconsidered [ or else, why would there be a "Mr.Nymphobottomus"?..."the celebrated old rascal who drew his diminutive nudes invariably from behind - fig-picking, peach-buttocked nymphets straining upward, or else rock-climbing girl scouts in bursting shorts - [...] schoolgirls and poolgirls ..." ]
Even so, at last, I understand the original meaning of nymphomania. But how did Dr. Van Veen see Ada, or conceptualize nymphomania is unclear: "A diligent student of case histories, Dr Van Veen never quite managed to match ardent twelve-year-old Ada with a non-delinquent, non-nymphomaniac, mentally highly developed, spiritually happy and normal English child in his files."
After having concluded that "nymphets", in "Lolita" are unrelated to butterflies and moths, there are two curious entries on "nymphalic" insects, in ADA. The first might simply indicate metaphoric variations taking wing from Proustian themes ( Odette, Guermantes...), somehow related to the gipsy Carmen and to Lolita.
Bobby Ann Mason connects this carmen-larva in Ada to Lolita through pedophile Zemski (Insects and Incest, 1974, "Nabokov's Garden). I didn't check in Boyd's annotations, but Google showed me a "Nymphalis" butterfly, though: it is the "Mourning cloak" or the "Camberwell beauty"... I found no description of a "N.carmen" butterfly.
The Zemski genealogy which I checked following B.A.Mason was more informative because it refers not only to an ancestor called Daria, ie "Dolly" but also to a special "blue" that reminds Van of Proustian themes*.

The second example has Van call Ada "his butterfly" (in other moments she was a "nymphet"!), while the insect in question is an "imitation Vanessa" ...

(a) "A freshly emerged Nymphalis carmen was fanning its lemon and amber-brown wings on a sunlit patch of grating, only to be choked with one nip by the nimble fingers of enraptured and heartless Ada; the Odettian Sphinx had turned, bless him, into an elephantoid mummy with a comically encased trunk of the guermantoid type;"

(b) "Ada [...] pointed out some accursed insect that had settled on an aspen trunk.(Accursed? Accursed? It was the newly described, fantastically rare vanessian, Nymphalis danaus Nab., orange-brown, with black-and-white foretips, mimicking, as its discoverer Professor Nabonidus of Babylon College, Nebraska, realized, not the Monarch butterfly directly, but the Monarch through the Viceroy, one of the Monarch's best known imitators. In Ada's angry hand.)...'Tomorrow you'll come here with your green net,' said Van bitterly, 'my butterfly.'"


* Van's maternal grandmother Daria ('Dolly') Durmanov, was the "daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, who had married, in 1824, Mary O'Reilly... Dolly, an only child... married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov." [...]

"A former viceroy of Estoty, Prince Ivan Temnosiniy...had a millennium-old name that meant in Russian 'dark blue.'[...]Van could not help feeling esthetically moved by the velvet background [..] In later years he had never been able to reread Proust [...] without a roll-wave of surfeit [...]; yet his favorite purple passage remained the one concerning the name 'Guermantes,' with whose hue his adjacent ultramarine merged in the prism of his mind...

Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699-1797) was "a friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap....the rose-bud-lover...[...]

Prince Zemski had one for every bed of his harem of schoolgirls [...].

The Zemskis were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them loved small girls, and another raffolait d'une de ses juments [...]
Concerning Lucette, Van wondered "whether she had become fat and freckled, or had joined the graceful Zemski group of nymphs."

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: