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  1. Chicken Sandwich's Avatar
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    #1

    pearl and umbra, with infinitely soft partings

    The only definite sexual events that I can remember as having occurred before my thirteenth birthday (that is, before I first saw my little Annabel) were: a solemn, decorous and purely theoretical talk about pubertal surprises in the rose garden of the school with an American kid, the son of a then celebrated motion-picture actress whom he seldom saw in the three-dimensional world; and some interesting reactions on the part of my organism to certain photographs, pearl and umbra, with infinitely soft partings, in Pichon’s sumptuous Le Beaute Humaine that that I had filched from under a mountain of marble-bound Graphics in the hotel library.
    From Lolita.

    My question concerns the boldfaced part. I have looked up all of the words, but I'm still not sure about the interpretation of this part of the sentence.

    1) Considering that he's talking about the woman/women in the photograph, does "parting" mean "the line on your head made by dividing your hair with a comb" (Longman)? I find it a bit odd, because how can that part of your head be "infinitely soft"?

    2) What does "pearl and umbra" mean? Does "pearl" describe the person(s) in the photograph and "umbra" the particular lighting of the photograph?

    Thank you in advance.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: pearl and umbra, with infinitely soft partings

    Quote Originally Posted by Chicken Sandwich View Post
    From Lolita.

    My question concerns the boldfaced part. I have looked up all of the words, but I'm still not sure about the interpretation of this part of the sentence.

    1) Considering that he's talking about the woman/women in the photograph, does "parting" mean "the line on your head made by dividing your hair with a comb" (Longman)? I find it a bit odd, because how can that part of your head be "infinitely soft"?

    2) What does "pearl and umbra" mean? Does "pearl" describe the person(s) in the photograph and "umbra" the particular lighting of the photograph?

    Thank you in advance.
    Firstly, this La Beaute Humaine is fictional.
    "A good example of this can be found very early in the book, when Nabokov mentions a book entitled "La Beaute Humaine," by Pichon. Clearly, even if one doesn't speak french, one can assume that "La Beaute Humaine" means something to the effect of "The Human Beauty." This assumption is correct. The annotation, however, reveals that this book is a joke, of sorts. Nabokov invented this volume, and the author's name, "Pichon," is a play on the French word for breast, "Nichon."
    Amazon.com: Bisazza62's review of Lolita, 50th Anniversary Edition

    "Pearl and umbra" means something like "light and shade", but the quality of the light and shade is given some poetic imagery. "Infinitely soft partings" are occurring between the light and shade - one would assume between light and shadow on a woman's body. It has nothing to do with hair.

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