Vladimir Nabokov

"Soleil Vert" in Lolita

By sarra_ben_dhia, 28 May, 2022

Hello ! I have a question concerning the French perfume called "Soleil Vert", why this name in particular? I feel like it could be an allusion to something but I can't quite grasp it. It is mentioned in Humbert's poem and in another passage, referred to as "French perfume". 


My Dolly, my folly!

Her eyes were vair,

And never closed when I kissed her.

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?

Are you from Paris, mister?




I lay on her bed that smelled of chestnuts and roses, and peppermint, and the very delicate, very special French perfume I latterly allowed her to use, I found myself unable to assimilate the simple fact that for the first time in two years I was separated from my Lolita. 


Thanks in advance and best regards. 


Alexey Sklyarenko

1 year 9 months ago

An old perfume called Soleil Vert brings to mind the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette mentioned by VN in his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):


Vladislav Hodasevich used to complain, in the twenties and thirties, that young émigré poets had borrowed their art form from him while following the leading cliques in modish angoisse and soul-reshaping. I developed a great liking for this bitter man, wrought of irony and metallic-like genius, whose poetry was as complex a marvel as that of Tyutchev or Blok. He was, physically, of a sickly aspect, with contemptuous nostrils and beetling brows, and when I conjure him up in my mind he never rises from the hard chair on which he sits, his thin legs crossed, his eyes glittering with malevolence and wit, his long fingers screwing into a holder the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette. There are few things in modern world poetry comparable to the poems of his Heavy Lyre, but unfortunately for his fame the perfect frankness he indulged in when voicing his dislikes made him some terrible enemies among the most powerful critical coteries. Not all the mystagogues were Dostoevskian Alyoshas; there were also a few Smerdyakovs in the group, and Hodasevich’s poetry was played down with the thoroughness of a revengeful racket. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)


Hodasevich’s collection Tyazhyolaya lira (Heavy Lyre, 1923) brings to mind VN’s story Tyazhyolyi dym (“Torpid Smoke,” 1935). According to Clare Quilty, un Caporal est une cigarette:


I slapped down his outstretched hand and he managed to knock over a box on a low table near him. It ejected a handful of cigarettes.
“Here they are,” he said cheerfully. “You recall Kipling: une femme est une femme, mais un Caporal est une cigarette? Now we need matches.”
“Quilty,” I said. “I want you to concentrate. You are going to die in a moment. The hereafter for all we know may be an eternal state of excruciating insanity. You smoked your last cigarette yesterday. Concentrate. Try to understand what is happening to you.”
He kept taking the Drome cigarette apart and munching bits of it. (2.35)


In the penultimate couplet of his poem The Betrothed (1886) Kipling says:


A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.


The Betrothed (“I Promessi sposi,” 1827) is a historical novel in three volumes by Alessandro Manzoni. In Chapter Eight (XXXV: 3) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions Manzoni (one of the authors whom Onegin reads):


Стал вновь читать он без разбора.
Прочел он Гиббона, Руссо,
Манзони, Гердера, Шамфора,
Madame de Stael, Биша, Тиссо,
Прочел скептического Беля,
Прочел творенья Фонтенеля,
Прочел из наших кой-кого,
Не отвергая ничего:
И альманахи, и журналы,
Где поученья нам твердят,
Где нынче так меня бранят,
А где такие мадригалы
Себе встречал я иногда:
Е sempre bene, господа.


Again, without discrimination,

he started reading. He read Gibbon,

Rousseau, Manzoni, Herder,

Chamfort, Mme de Staël, Bichat, Tissot.

He read the skeptic Bayle,

he read the works of Fontenelle,

he read some [authors] of our own,

without rejecting anything —

the “almanacs” and the reviews

where sermons into us are drummed,

where I'm today abused so much

but where such madrigals addressed tome

I used to meet with now and then:

e sempre bene, gentlemen.


In his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 219) VN points out that there is a canceled reading, “Lalande” (Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, 1732-1807, French astronomer), instead of “Manzoni,” in the fair copy. Mrs. Richard F. Schiller (Lolita’s married name) dies in childbed in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. Gray Star brings to mind seraya ot zvyozd dal’ (remote regions grey from the stars) mentioned by VN at the beginning of Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his autobiography:


Сколько раз я чуть не вывихивал разума, стараясь высмотреть малейший луч личного среди безличной тьмы по оба предела жизни? Я готов был стать единоверцем последнего шамана, только бы не отказаться от внутреннего убеждения, что себя я не вижу в вечности лишь из-за земного времени, глухой стеной окружающего жизнь. Я забирался мыслью в серую от звёзд даль -- но ладонь скользила всё по той же совершенно непроницаемой глади. Кажется, кроме самоубийства, я перепробовал все выходы. Я отказывался от своего лица, чтобы проникнуть заурядным привидением в мир, существовавший до меня. Я мирился с унизительным соседством романисток, лепечущих о разных йогах и атлантидах. Я терпел даже отчёты о медиумистических переживаниях каких-то английских полковников индийской службы, довольно ясно помнящих свои прежние воплощения под ивами Лхассы. В поисках ключей и разгадок я рылся в своих самых ранних снах -- и раз уж я заговорил о снах, прошу заметить, что безоговорочно отметаю фрейдовщину и всю её тёмную средневековую подоплеку, с её маниакальной погоней за половой символикой, с её угрюмыми эмбриончиками, подглядывающими из природных засад угрюмое родительское соитие.


Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. Short of suicide, I have tried everything. I have doffed my identity in order to pass for a conventional spook and steal into realms that existed before I was conceived. I have mentally endured the degrading company of Victorian lady novelists and retired colonels who remembered having, in former lives, been slave messengers on a Roman road or sages under the willows of Lhasa. I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues—and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. (Chapter One, 1)


Luch being Russian for “ray,” maleyshiy luch lichnogo (the faintest of personal glimmers) that VN tried to distinguish in the impersonal darkness on both sides of his life reminds one of John Ray, Jr. (the author of the Foreword to Humbert's manuscript).


On the other hand, an old perfume called Soleil Vert (Green Sun) makes one think of Balmont's collection Budem kak solntse (“Let's Be Like the Sun,” 1903). “Clare Obscure” (as Humbert calls Quilty) seems to hint at Clair-Obscur, a poem by Thor Lange (a Danish poet and linguist, 1851-1915, who lived in Russia since 1875) translated into Russian by Balmont:


Застенчивая Ночь, твои немые ласки

Я с жадностью ловлю, ты нежно льнешь ко мне,

Ко мне, чья молодость - слова забытой сказки,

Кто счастье знал лишь миг, и то давно, во сне.


Люблю, люблю тебя. Чуть шепчущий и мглистый,

Твой тихий полумрак - приют от вечных бурь,

Меня пугает свет, мне страшен день лучистый,

Мне бездной кажется глубокая лазурь.


Да, я ночной цветок. Смотри, такой печальный.

О Ночь, возьми меня и дай мне мир вкусить, -

Пусть буду я всегда, как серафим опальный,

На розовых крылах сквозь сумерки скользить.


Balmont is E. A. Poe's Russian translator. The characters in Poe’s story The Spectacles (1844) include Madame Eugenie Lalande. In 1835 Poe wrote a favorable review of Manzoni’s "Betrothed Lovers." In his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1837) Poe mentions the dromedary, or camel of the desert:


In a subsequent portion of this narrative I shall have frequent occasion to mention this species of tortoise. It is found principally, as most of my readers may know, in the group of islands called the Gallipagos, which, indeed, derive their name from the animal-the Spanish word Gallipago meaning a fresh-water terrapin. From the peculiarity of their shape and action they have been sometimes called the elephant tortoise. They are frequently found of an enormous size. I have myself seen several which would weigh from twelve to fifteen hundred pounds, although I do not remember that any navigator speaks of having seen them weighing more than eight hundred. Their appearance is singular, and even disgusting. Their steps are very slow, measured, and heavy, their bodies being carried about a foot from the ground. Their neck is long, and exceedingly slender; from eighteen inches to two feet is a very common length, and I killed one, where the distance from the shoulder to the extremity of the head was no less than three feet ten inches. The head has a striking resemblance to that of a serpent. They can exist without food for an almost incredible length of time, instances having been known where they have been thrown into the hold of a vessel and lain two years without nourishment of any kind-being as fat, and, in every respect, in as good order at the expiration of the time as when they were first put in. In one particular these extraordinary animals bear a resemblance to the dromedary, or camel of the desert. In a bag at the root of the neck they carry with them a constant supply of water. In some instances, upon killing them after a full year’s deprivation of all nourishment, as much as three gallons of perfectly sweet and fresh water have been found in their bags. Their food is chiefly wild parsley and celery, with purslain, sea-kelp, and prickly pears, upon which latter vegetable they thrive wonderfully, a great quantity of it being usually found on the hillsides near the shore wherever the animal itself is discovered. They are excellent and highly nutritious food, and have, no doubt, been the means of preserving the lives of thousands of seamen employed in the whale-fishery and other pursuits in the Pacific. (Chapter 12)


The entries from a comparatively recent (1946) Who's Who in the Limelight that Humbert finds in the prison library begin with "Pym, Roland:"


I had my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs. Maximovich neé Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology; but they appear not to have been published yet. These scientific products take of course some time to fructuate. I hope they will be illustrated with photographs when they do get printed, although it is not very likely that a prison library will harbor such erudite works. The one to which I am restricted these days, despite my lawyer’s favors, is a good example of the inane eclecticism governing the selection of books in prison libraries. They have the Bible, of course, and Dickens (an ancient set, N.Y., G.W. Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII); and the Children’s Encyclopedia (with some nice photographs of sunshine-haired Girl Scouts in shorts), and A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie; but they also have such coruscating trifles as A Vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone, author of Venice Revisited, Boston, 1868, and a comparatively recent (1946) Who’s Who in the Limelight - actors, producers, playwrights, and shots of static scenes. In looking through the latter volume, I was treated last night to one of those dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love. I transcribe most of the page:

Pym, Roland. Born in Lundy, Mass., 1922. Received stage training at Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N.Y. Made debut in Sunburst. Among his many appearances are Two Blocks from Here, The Girl in Green, Scrambled Husbands, The Strange Mushroom, Touch and Go, John Lovely, I Was Dreaming of You.

Quilty, Clare, American dramatist. Born in Ocean City, N.J., 1911. Educated at Columbia University. Started on a commercial career but turned to playwriting. Author of The Little Nymph, The Lady Who Loved Lightning (in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom), Dark Age, The strange Mushroom, Fatherly Love, and others. His many plays for children are notable. Little Nymph (1940) traveled 14,000 miles and played 280 performances on the road during the winter before ending in New York. Hobbies: fast cars, photography, pets.

Quine, Dolores. Born in 1882, in Dayton, Ohio. Studied for stage at American Academy. First played in Ottawa in 1900. Made New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to Strangers. Has disappeared since in [a list of some thirty plays follows].

How the look of my dear love’s name even affixed to some old hag of an actress, still makes me rock with helpless pain! Perhaps, she might have been an actress too. Born 1935. Appeared (I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but please do not correct it, Clarence) in The Murdered Playwright. Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with! (1.8)


Hope, this helps:), A.

Alexey Sklyarenko

1 year 9 months ago

An old perfume called Soleil Vert brings to mind the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette mentioned by VN in his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951)

(Sorry, cannot delete this ghost message)




1 year 9 months ago

Thanks a lot for your very elaborate and instructive answer! It is sure of a great help, it was an amazing read. I wasn't aware of all the references.



My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair,

And never closed when I kissed her.

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?

Are you from Paris, mister?


It seems that there is more to it. In his sonnet Le flambeau vivant ("The Living Torch") Baudelaire mentions ces Yeux pleins de lumières (those eyes aglow with light) and le soleil (the sun):


Ils marchent devant moi, ces Yeux pleins de lumières,
Qu'un Ange très savant a sans doute aimantés
Ils marchent, ces divins frères qui sont mes frères,
Secouant dans mes yeux leurs feux diamantés.

Me sauvant de tout piège et de tout péché grave,
Ils conduisent mes pas dans la route du Beau
Ils sont mes serviteurs et je suis leur esclave
Tout mon être obéit à ce vivant flambeau.

Charmants Yeux, vous brillez de la clarté mystique
Qu'ont les cierges brûlant en plein jour; le soleil
Rougit, mais n'éteint pas leur flamme fantastique;

Ils célèbrent la Mort, vous chantez le Réveil
Vous marchez en chantant le réveil de mon âme,
Astres dont nul soleil ne peut flétrir la flamme!


They walk in front of me, those eyes aglow with light
Which a learned Angel has rendered magnetic;
They walk, divine brothers who are my brothers too,
Casting into my eyes diamond scintillations.

They save me from all snares and from all grievous sin;
They guide my steps along the pathway of Beauty;
They are my servitors, I am their humble slave;
My whole being obeys this living torch.

Bewitching eyes, you shine like mystical candles
That burn in broad daylight; the sun
Reddens, but does not quench their eerie flame;

While they celebrate Death, you sing the Awakening;
You walk, singing the awakening of my soul,
Bright stars whose flame no sun can pale!

(transl. W. Aggeler)


In his essay Charles Baudelaire (1909) Andrey Bely mentions the enjambement "le soleil -- rougit" in this sonnet:


Ритм Бодлэра соединяет основные черты классической ритмики с разнообразием ритмических модуляций, так резко выразившихся впоследствии в "свободном стихе". Cassagne указывает на то, что из 167 стихотворений Бодлэра 112 написаны александрийским стихом; такое предпочтение, оказываемое Бодлэром александрийскому стиху, опять-таки понятно, если принять во внимание величавость и строгость бодлэровской музы (здесь опять встречает нас строгое соответствие содержания с формой). Вместе с тем александрийский стих у Бодлэра принимает подчас триметрический ритм Виктора Гюго; но, вопреки Морису Граммону, бодлэровский триметр изображает величавые движения души (вместо движений стремительных, по Граммону); Бодлэр часто пользуется переносом предложения из строки в строку (enjambement): "le soleil -- (перенос) -- rougit". Здесь Бодлэр идет вопреки Ла-Гарпу вместе с теоретиком Бек де Фукьером. Cassagne указывает на то, что любимый ритмический ход Бодлэра есть комбинация "enjambement" с триметром или с капризной игрою цезур; все эти черты уже отличают бодлэровский стих от классиков; двойственность стиля видит в нем и Теофиль Готье; с другой стороны, заявление Стефана Маллармэ о том, что молодые поэты пытаются создать лишь большую гибкость стиха в пределах основных правил классической метрики, тесно сближают Бодлэра с последующей эпохой французского символизма. К числу особенностей бодлэровской ритмики относится обилие многосложных слов, которые, по мнению Cassagne и Брауншвейга, способствуют замедлению темпа.

Но более всего параллелистический характер бодлэровского символизма воплощен в форме соответствия между содержанием образа и его словесной инструментовкой; во французской поэзии нет равного Бодлэру инструменталиста; поразительно обилие (и как бы чрезмерность) аллитераций и ассонансов в поэзии Бодлэра.

Бодлэр сознательно искал аллитераций, вероятно, под влиянием С.-Бёва и еще более под влиянием своего великого учителя и таинственного двойника, Эдгара По (Существует сочинение Бек де Фукьера "Traité gênerai de versification française", где уже давно отмечена роль ассонансов и аллитераций).


Boris Bugaev's penname, Bely means in Russian "white" (vert is French for "green"). Belka (Russian for "squirrel") comes from belyi (white). Vair is "fur obtained from a variety of red squirrel, used in the 13th and 14th centuries as a trimming or lining for garments."


In his essay Bely mentions the influence on Baudelaire of Edgar Poe, Baudelaire's great teacher and mysterious double. Lolita was abducted from Humbert by his mysterious double, Clare Quilty. In the Russian Lolita (1967) the name of Quilty's coauthor, Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), becomes Vivian Damor-Blok. In Alexander Blok's poem Neznakomka ("The Unknown Woman," 1906) the incognita exhales perfume and fog:


И медленно, пройдя меж пьяными,
Всегда без спутников, одна
Дыша духами и туманами,
Она садится у окна.


Without drunken men to hinder,
Alone, she walks across the room
And settles down by the window
Exhaling fog and sweet perfume.

My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair,

And never closed when I kissed her.

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?

Are you from Paris, mister?


Humbert was born in 1910, in Paris. Andrey Bely's collections of essays Lug zelyonyi ("The Green Meadow") came out in 1910. Its title was borrowed from Orfey i Evridika ("Orpheus and Eurydice," 1904) a poem by Valeriy Bryusov:


Вспомни, вспомни луг зеленый --

Радость песен, радость пляск.


Humbert can be compared to Orpheus and Annabel (Humbert's first love who died of typhus in 1923, in Corfu), to Eurydice. Bryusov translated into Russian all poems of Edgar Poe (including Annabel Lee). 


Bryusov is the author of Devochka s tsvetami ("A Girl with Flowers," 1913), a rather Humbertian poem:


Собирай свои цветочки,
Заплетай свои веночки,
Развлекайся как-нибудь,
По лугу беспечно бегай!
Ах, пока весенней негой
Не томилась тайно грудь!
У тебя, как вишня, глазки,
Косы русые — как в сказке;
Из-под кружев панталон
Выступают ножки стройно…
Ах! пока их беспокойно
Не томил недетский сон!
Увидав пятно на юбке,
Ты надула мило губки,
Снова мило их надуй!
Эти губки слишком красны:
Ах! пока угрюмо-страстный
Не сжимал их поцелуй!


Bryusov compares the little girl's eyes to vishnya (a cherry). The poem's last word is potseluy (a kiss). Lolita's eyes were never closed when Humbert kissed her. 


Bryusov's poem was included in his collection Sem' tsvetov radugi ("Seven Colors of Rainbow," 1916). In the first line of his poem Baudelaire (1923) Bryusov mentions pachuli (Patchouli, a perfume):


Давно, когда модно дышали пачули,
И лица солидно склонялись в лансье,
Ты ветер широт небывалых почуял,
Сквозь шелест шелков и из волн валансьен.
Ты дрожью вагона, ты волью фрегата
Мечтал, чтоб достичь тех иных берегов,
Где гидрами — тигр, где иглой — алигатор,
И тех, что еще скрыты в завес веков.
Лорнируя жизнь в призму горьких иронии,
Ты видел насквозь остова Second Empire,
В салонах, из лож, меж кутил, на перроне, —
К парижской толпе припадал, как вампир.
Чтоб, впитая кровь, сок тлетворный, размолот,
Из тигеля мыслей тек сталью стихов,
Чтоб лезвия смерти ложились под молот
В том ритме, что был вой вселенских мехов!
Твой вопль, к сатане, твой наказ каинитам,
Взлет с падали мух, стон лесбийских «epaves» —
Над скорченным миром, с надиров к зенитам,
Зажглись, черной молнией в годы упав.
Скорбя, как Улисс, в далях чуждых, по дыму,
Изгнанник с планеты грядущей, ты ждал,

Что новые люди гром палиц подымут —
Разбить мертвый холод блестящих кандал.
Но вальсы скользили, — пусть ближе к Седану;
Пачули пьянили, — пусть к бездне коммун.
Ты умер, с Нево видя край, вам не данный,
Маяк меж твоих «маяков», — но кому?


Sedan (a commune in the Ardennes) mentioned by Bryusov at the end of his poem brings to mind Humbert's old car (a sedan) at the end of his poem:


My car is limping, Dolores Haze,

And the last long lap is the hardest,

And I shall be dumped where the weed decays,

And the rest is rust and stardust.


The first recorded use of the word "sedan" in reference to an automobile body occurred in 1912. The name derives from the 17th-century litter known as a sedan chair, a one-person enclosed box with windows and carried by porters. After his death Humbert will be dumped out of his car.


Le Spleen de Paris, also known as Paris Spleen or Petits Poèmes en prose, is a collection of 50 short prose poems by Charles Baudelaire.