Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021793, Fri, 8 Jul 2011 14:07:50 -0300

Re: Lucette - tete
Alexey Sklyarenko: "She [Lucette] complained to her governess who, completely misconstuing the whole matter (which could also be said of her new composition), summoned Van and from her screened bed, through a reek of embrocation and sweat, told him to refrain from turning Lucette's head by making of her a fairy-tale damsel in distress. (1.23)"

JM: "...good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in ‘Bilitis,’ accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first (miserable) term at school."

There have been many exchanges concerning Pierre Louys"s "The Songs of Bilitis" in past Nab-L postings. However, by accident, while inquiring after the (for me) inoffensive expression "minette," I was presented to an equally anonymous production by this same Parnassian (Mount Ida?) and Symbolist poet.* This work might have been hinted at by Nabokov when he makes Mlle Ida "overindulge in Literature" while educating Lucette. How about this title: Manuel de civilite pour les petites filles a l'usage des maisons d'education ?** It makes direct reference to incest, paedophilia and, even through wikipedia, it offers rather crude illustrations (it's found when you click on the link above).

After exploring two items in the "Manuel de civilite" I had to consider under a new light another paragraph in Ada ***.
Later on I'll explore Nabokov's two or three other references to Pierre-Louys, embedded in his text (probably easily found in Boyd's Ada Online)

* He (P.Louys) followed up in 1894 with another erotic collection in 143 prose poems, Songs of Bilitis (Les Chansons de Bilitis), this time with strong lesbian themes.[2] It was divided into three sections, each representative of a phase of Bilitis's life: Bucolics in Pamphylia, Elegies at Mytilene, and Epigrams in the Isle of Cyprus; dedicated to her were also a short Life of Bilitis and three epitaphs in The Tomb of Bilitis. What made The Songs sensational is Louys' claim that the poems were the work of an ancient Greek courtesan and contemporary of Sappho, Bilitis; to himself, Louys ascribed the modest role of translator. The pretense did not last very long, and "translator" Louys was soon unmasked as Bilitis herself. This did little to tarnish The Songs of Bilitis, however, as it was praised as a fount of elegant sensuality and refined style, even more extraordinary for the author's compassionate portrayal of lesbian (and female in general) sexuality[...] .

** "...(written in 1917, published posthumously and anonymously in 1927), a parody whose obscenity is almost unparalleled even in the long history of French clandestine publishing "(wikipedia)

*** "A few blocks from the schoolgrounds, a widow, Mrs Tapirov...had a shop of objets d’art and more or less antique furniture. He visited it on a bright winter day. Crystal vases with crimson roses and golden-brown asters were set here and there in the fore part of the shop... He satisfied himself that those flowers were artificial and thought it puzzling that such imitations always pander so exclusively to the eye instead of also copying the damp fat feel of live petal and leaf. When he called next day ...he touched a half-opened rose and was cheated of the sterile texture his fingertips had expected when cool life kissed them with pouting lips. ‘My daughter,’ said Mrs Tapirov, who saw his surprise, ‘always puts a bunch of real ones among the fake pour attraper le client. You drew the joker.’ As he was leaving she came in, a schoolgirl in a gray coat with brown shoulder-length ringlets and a pretty face.On another occasion...he saw her curled up with her schoolbooks in an armchair — a domestic item among those for sale. He never spoke to her. He loved her madly. It must have lasted at least one term."

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