Maurice Couturier

Maurice Couturier was born on July 10 1939 in a small rural village of western France, Breuil-Barret, Vendée, the fourth child of a very catholic family (a little sister was born three years later). His parents had only elementary school education but his imaginative and intelligent mother was a voracious reader. They owned and farmed twenty-five acres of hilly land and were rather poor. He helped out on the farm and at the age of seven, he was responsible for the death of his father’s cows at a level crossing. His parents were reluctant to let him go to the catholic teacher training college, his elder brother doing his national service and his other brother being already in a seminar. He obtained a scholarship, went to that college (La Tourtelière) for 6 years, and took his baccalauréat at the age of twenty due to his late entrance.

He was immediately hired by a catholic college (junior high) at La Châtaigneraie, living again with his parents for two years, and taught French, History, Geography and English, while undertaking a university degree with the Catholic University of Angers by correspondence. After successfully taking the first-year exams, he was drafted into the army and sent to Algeria where he witnessed the last few months of the war. He served for two months in a unit where the Algerian soldiers doing their national service in the French army were regrouped in accordance with the Evian Treaty, a first step towards an Algerian army. On July 5, Independence Day for the Algerians, he was stationed in Algiers and saw the French flag of his unit replaced by the Algerian one. He and the other members of the French staff were allowed to leave on the eve of Bastille Day; he ended his national service in Oran. These events constitute the background of his second novel, Ziama.

He prepared the second year of his university studies by correspondence in Algeria, passed the exams at the University of Nantes in October 1962, spent a year in England as French assistant, and came back to complete his degree at the Catholic University of Angers where he met Yvonne whom he married in October 1965. Their two daughters, Anne and Françoise were born in 1966 and 1969. He resumed teaching for a year in a catholic college in Angers and was hired the next year by English Department of the Catholic University to teach translation and literature, though he didn’t even have an MA.  The following year, he went to teach English 101 at Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, returning to Angers for two more years while doing research for an MA thesis. In September 1970, he got a two-year contract as assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend where he finished his MA thesis on Midwestern fiction, completed a doctoral dissertation on Zona Gale, and started research for his main dissertation on Nabokov. On his return to France, he registered the subject, “L’énonciation du roman nabokovien” at the Sorbonne with Prof. André Le Vot and defended his doctoral dissertation on Zona Gale at the Sorbonne. Jobless the following year, he settled with his family in a villa at the seaside in Brittany, continuing his research on Nabokov and preparing alone the “agrégation”, that highly competitive exam which he took with success in June 1973. He taught in a Lycée and at the University in Grenoble for a year before being hired by the Sorbonne (Paris IV) where he stayed four years as “assistan”t and “maître assistant”, teaching translation and American Civilization and Literature. He defended his Doctoral Thesis on Nabokov at the Sorbonne in October 1976, passing summa cum laude; it was largely written under the influence of French Structuralism and Roland Barthes was one of the five members of the jury. Meanwhile, he had become vice-president of the French Association of American Studies. In 1977, he attended the first conference on American Studies behind the Iron Curtain. The venue was near Wroklaw in a model farm swarming with mosquitoes, next to a power plant. The experience was so surrealistic that it prompted him to write his first novel, La Polka piquée (L’Age d’Homme, 1982), one of the first global campus novels which predates David Lodge’s Small World (1984). It was during that conference he met Malcolm Bradbury, who also wrote a novel, Rate of Exchange, about the event. Malcolm played an important part in his career later.

Born in the country, he couldn’t stand the big city and transferred as full professor to the University of Nice in 1978 where he stayed until he retired in 1999, teaching mostly twentieth-century English and American literature and pursuing his research on Nabokov and on the poetics of fiction. There he founded a doctoral program and a research center which published a review, Cycnos. He also founded a new department, “Arts, Communication, Langages”, and chaired it for five years. During those years, he went to the United States a number of times as visiting professor at SDSU, lecturer in various universities and fellow at Claremont College. He ended his career as director of the Doctoral School of Arts and Letters and retired in 1999 to pursue his career as a writer.

He published many scholarly essays on Nabokov both in French and in English, translated some of his works, like Lolita, and was chief editor of his novels in the Pléiade-Gallimard Edition. Also he undertook extensive research on the poetics of the modern novel and on censorship, and published a number of essays on the subject. His theory of the figure of the author which repudiates Foucault’s and Barthes’ theory of the death of the author isn’t a theory of reception but of the complex interaction between author and reader via the book industry and under the control of the law. It is based on an extended theory of communication partly inspired by the theories of the invisible college of Palo Alto and partly on psychoanalysis.

Alone or with his wife Yvonne, he translated many books for Les Editions Rivages, Editions Julliard and Gallimard, mostly works written by Nabokov (like Lolita) and David Lodge. His other novels, Vers là d’où je viens and Le Rapt de Lolita, as well as the story of his childhood, Chronique de l’oubli were published in Paris by Orizons.

He lives in the country near Grasse and loves hiking.

 

Bibliography

Books

  • Nabokov (first essay in French on this author). Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme, 1979;

  • La polka piquée  (novel). Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme, 1982.

  • Barthelme, written in collaboration with Régis Durand. London and New York, Methuen 1982.

  • Gutenberg, Sterne and Nabokov, Los Angeles, Center for Humanistic Studies, 1989.

  • Textual Communication: A Print-Based Theory of the Novel.  London and New York, Routledge, 1990.

  • Nabokov ou la tyrannie de l'auteur.  Paris, Seuil, coll. “Poétique,” 1993.

  • La figure de l’auteur,  Paris, Seuil, Coll. “Poétique”, 1995.

  • Lolita de Nabokov,  Paris, Didier, 1996.

  • Roman et censure ou la mauvaise foi d’Eros,  Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 1996.

  • Nabokov ou la cruauté du désir, lecture psychanalytique, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 2004

  • Chronique de l’oubli (autobiography). Paris, Orizons, 2008.

  • Ziama (novel), Paris, Orizons, 2009.

  • Nabokov ou la tentation française. Paris, Gallimard, 2012.

  • Nabokov’s Eros and the Poetics of Desire, London and New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013.

  • Vers là d’où je viens (novel). Paris, Orizons, 2016.

  • The Figure of the Author, Saarbruck, Editions Universitaires Européennes, 2017.

  • Novel and Censorship or Eros' Bad Faith, Saarbruck, Editions Universitaires Européennes, 2017. 

  • Le Rapt de Lolita (novel), Paris, Orizons, 2018.

Books edited

  • Representation and Performance in Postmodern Fiction, ed. (proceedings of Nice Conference). Montpellier, Delta, 1983.

  • Ecriture: expression, communication et création. Nice, C.R.D.P., 1985.

  • Lolita, figure mythique. Paris, Autrement, 1998.

  • Œuvres romanesques complètes de V. Nabokov, Vol I, Paris, Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1999.

  • Œuvres romanesques complètes de V. Nabokov, Vol II, Paris, Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2010. 

Translations

  • L'exploit  (translation of Nabokov’s Glory). Paris, Julliard, 1981.

  • Réflexe et ossature  (the translation of Clarence Major’s Reflex and Bone Structure, in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme, 1982.

  • Mademoiselle O  (the translation of  Nabokov's Dozen, in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Julliard, 1983.

  • Détails d'un coucher de soleil  (the translation of Nabokov’s Details of a Sunset  in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Julliard, 1984.

  • Jeu de société  (the translation of David Lodge’s Nice Work  in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 1989.

  • Changement de décor (the translation of David Lodge’s Changing Places  in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 1990.

  • Un tout petit monde (the translation of David Lodge’s Small World in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 1991.

  • Nouvelles du Paradis  (the translation of David Lodge’s Paradise News   in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 1992.

  • Hors de l’abri  (translation of David Lodge’s Out of the Shelter  in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 1994.

  • Lolita (the screenplay, in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Gallimard, 1998.

  • Lolita (the novel). Paris, Gallimard, 2001 (new Folio edition in 2004 and another in Volume II of the Nabokov Pléiade en 2010).

  • La vie en sourdine (the translation of David Lodge’s Deaf Senstence in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 2008.

  • L’Original de Laura (the translation of Nabokov’s The Original of Laura). Paris, Gallimard, 2010.

  • Né au bon moment (the translation of David Lodge’s A Good Time to Be Born), Paris, Rivages, 2015.

  • La chance de l’écrivain (the translation of David Lodge’s Writer’s Luck, in collaboration with Yvonne Couturier). Paris, Rivages, 2019.

Reviews edited

  • “Nabokov”, Delta, N° 17 (October 1983).

  • "Eroticism and Sexuality in American Literature", Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines, N° 20 (May 1984).

  •  "Les sujets de la lettre," Cycnos,  N° 3 (Summer 1987).

  • "Robert Coover", Delta   (May 1989).

  • "La censure aux États-Unis (civilisation)," Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines, N° 52 (May 1992).

  • "La censure aux États-Unis (littérature)," Cycnos,  N° 9 (June 1992).

  • “Nabokov: Autobiography, Biography, Fiction,” Cycnos,  N° 10 (February 1993), proceedings of the first Nice conference.

  • “Le retour de l’histoire dans la fiction américaine des années , Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines,  N° 62 (November 1994)

  • “Nabokov: At The Crossroads of Modernism and Postmodernism”, Cycnos, N° 12 (November 1995), proceedings of the second Nice conference.

  • “La problématique de l’auteur”, Cycnos,  Vol. 14, N° 2 (Autumn 1997).

  • “Annotating vs. Interpreting Nabokov”, Cycnos, Vol. 24, N° 1 (spring 2007), proceedings of the third Nice conference.