NABOKV-L post 0021201, Thu, 20 Jan 2011 08:12:48 +0100

Re: An interesting interview of Nabokov in French
Dear Jansy,

In the book I have just written, I answer your question, I think. Here is the
page of my book on the subject... in French, unfortunately.

Best wishes,

Maurice Couturier

> Maurice Couturier: "While writing my new book ("Nabokov, ou la tentation
> française"; it hopefully will come out this year) in which I study Nabokov's
> brand of French, his many stays in France, the circumstances in which
> "Lolita" was published and censored in France, Nabokov's strong opinions
> about French authors from Ronsard to Robbe-Grillet, and the reception of his
> works in France, I came across a very interesting interview he gave to
> "L'Express" in 1959 which I would like to
> share, in my translation, with the Nabokovians..."
> JM: A few months ago I came across an information related to Ronsard (it was
> posted in the Nab-L, Oct. 2010, #110) in which Maurice Couturier affirms that
> Nabokov may not have been familiar with Ronsard's "chanson," where the term
> "nymphette" appears*.
> In the interesting interview he generously translated and shared with the
> List we find that Nabokov was familiar with "a sonnet" by Ronsard, but that
> he considered that it was not a genuine "nymphetic" coinage, as it was in the
> case of his word in connection to the particular kind of "nymphet" he
> describes in "Lolita". I wonder if Couturier could expand on his point about
> Ronsard's priority in the use of "nymphette," if Nabokov's claim ( "an
> infrigement of my rights") is justified or not.
> extracted item from the interview given to L'Express in Paris - 1959 and
> translated by Maurice Couturier:
> - Did you invent the word "nymphet"?
> V. Nabokov: Yes, I did. There was already the word "nymph". And Ronsard, who
> likes Latin diminutives, used the word "nymphette" in a sonnet. But not in
> the sense I used it. For him it was a nymph who was gentle....
> ..............................................................................
> * cf. Maurice Couturier -« The Distinguished Writer vs the Child », Cycnos,
> Volume 10 n°1, mis en ligne le 13 juin 2008, URL :
> " A pity, by the way, that
> Mademoiselle did not read all of Ronsard's poetry to him. He would never have
> claimed, as he did in a letter, that he had invented the French word
> "nymphette" : "I am informed that a French motion picture company is about to
> make a picture entitled 'The Nymphets' ('Les Nymphettes'). The use of this
> title is an infringement of my rights since this term was invented by me for
> the main character in my novel Lolita and has now become completely
> synonymous with Lolita in the minds of readers throughout the world."17 The
> French word appeared in the late fifteenth century and was later used by
> Ronsard in one of his "Chansons"[...] The opening lines could be translated
> as follows: "Little gamesome nymph,/ Nymphet I idolize." It is always tricky
> to claim one's rights upon a word, especially a foreign word which is easily
> derived from a very common one. Nabokov knew his Ronsard, of course, and he
> quoted him in Lolita, but apparently he did not know this "chanson" which was
> set to music by Clément Jannequin. It is thanks to him, though, that the word
> got a new lease on life in French in the very special meaning we know. "
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Search archive with Google:

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

Manage subscription options: