Nymphet

Nymphet

[nim-fet, nim-fit]
A nymphet is seen to be a sexually precocious, attractive girl, and was notably used by French author Pierre de Ronsard, and popularised by Vladimir Nabokov in the novel Lolita. In Lolita, protagonist Humbert Humbert uses it to describe the 9-14-year-old girls to whom he is attracted. In today's popular press the term is sometimes applied to women in their late teens or early twenties.

Lolita

The archetypal nymphet is the character Lolita of Vladimir Nabokov's novel. Nabokov, in the voice of his narrator Humbert, first describes these nymphets in the following passage:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets."

It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. In fact, I would have the reader see "nine" and "fourteen" as the boundaries - the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks - of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty sea.

For Humbert, a nymphet is in the earliest stages of puberty - "The bud-stage of breast development appears early (10.7 years)". When he meets a streetwalker of 18, he considers her no longer a nymphet, although her body is still in some ways childlike.

Related terms

Faunlet

The term faunlet, also coined by Nabokov and used by Humbert Humbert, is used to describe the young male counterpart of a nymphet, in the same way that the mythological fauns were the counterpart of the nymphs. The term appears in the novel twice:

When I was a child and she was a child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet in my own right, on that same enchanted island of time.

...I met the unblinking dark eyes of two strange and beautiful children, faunlet and nymphet, whom their identical flat dark hair and bloodless cheeks proclaimed siblings if not twins.

Nympholept

Nabokov borrowed the term nympholept, a rare, archaic term meaning a person seized by emotional frenzy, as if enchanted by nymphs. The word is found with this meaning in the poetry of Lord Byron: "The nympholepsy of some fond despair."

Nabokov used the word to describe one who could "discern" nymphets from other girls. In Humbert's own words:

A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs - the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate - the deadly little demon among the wholesome children.

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