The French Practice of “Mention Fictive”

Of the 126 editions of Nabokov translated into French, five display the old French publishing practice of “mention fictive” or “édition fictive”. This is when a publisher issues copies of a book with different and purposely misleading printing statements on their covers, spines, or title pages in order to give the potential book buyer the impression that the book is so popular that the publisher had to order additional impressions from the printer. (For instance, in 1934 Bernard Grasset issued Chambre obscure in at least five states, three of which display édition statements on their spines.) The giveaway, though, is the colophon at the end of every French book. If a publisher says a book has gone through multiple impressions or éditions but the printing dates embedded in the colophon are all the same, we have instances of mention fictive.

Besides Bernard Grasset’s 1934 Chambre obscure, mention fictive is also present in Gallimard’s 1939 and 1959 La méprise, Albin Michel’s 1951 La vraie vie de Sebastian Knight, and Gallimard’s 1958 Lolita (whose state a first trade printing of 23-Apr-1959 comprised édition one through at least seventy-seven.). See the French D item drafts for details.

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  1. James O'Sullivan’s avatar

    Do you think that this perhaps also applies to the Olympia Press L’Affaire Lolita? It seems a little scarcer than both the stated limitation of 5000 and the book’s insertion of named individual ‘subscribers’ (?) would suggest. Pearson mentions that Girodias’s father, Jack Kahane, was prone to the utilizing the ‘mention fictive’ at his Obelisk Press.

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    1. admin’s avatar

      I don’t see mention fictive in L’Affaire Lolita though the stated press run of 5000 is oddly large, both for its time and for the relative scarcity today. I’m aware of the personalization of some copies, but haven’t learned anything in detail about them so far. Who is this Pearson you mention? Can you point me to a source?

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    2. James’s avatar

      Sorry – Neil Pearson is the author of ‘Obelisk: A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press’. He’s also a bookseller and well-known (in the U.K.) actor. See http://www.neilpearsonrarebooks.com/BOOKS-AND-ARTICLES/catalogues
      Under A51b of the bibliography section (p.219), he writes:
      “Kahane often inflated the number of impressions through which a title had passed, presumably in the hope that such a mention fictive would boost sales.”
      (You can read the above using Google books if you search appropriately).
      However, having asked the original question, I thought to look in Kearney’s ‘The Paris Olympia Press’, he makes no mention of a possibly inflated figure for L’Affair Lolita’. He notes (1.17.1) that some copies don’t have the special printing sentence (a fact of which I was unaware).
      It still seems rather scarcer than the limitation suggests, but there are other possible reasons to explain that, of course.

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