“I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerbockers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts.”
|From VN's personal collection|
The three volume set of this work indisputably shaped Nabokov's first perceptions of the hidden world of taxonomy; a world concerned with type specimens, small red tags, and the tiniest of minutia. It has been confirmed that the Nabokov family library in Vyra, Russia held a copy of this book. Perhaps, it is the very same one that Nabokov is enjoying featured in the picture above. Although, Nabokov appears to exhibit the politeness and propriety as expected from a young aristocratic boy, one can only imagine a young Vladimir privately perusing this book's pages and beautiful color lithographs with gluttonous delight.
A little known fact is that Nabokov deeply admired author Samuel Hubbard Scudder, author of this work. Nabokov emigrated to the United States in 1940 and within a year moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he would volunteer to organize the then disheveled collections of butterfly specimens held in the Museum of Comparative Zoology's Entomology Department. This is the collection that was started by Samuel Scudder and A.S. Packard in 1859. In fact, many of the specimens held in the collection were personally contributed by Scudder himself. It was not by a twist of fate that Nabokov ended up in Cambridge; his admiration for Scudder had paved the way.
|From the Book of the Week|
|The Karner Blue, its own species?|
|Migratory patterns of the Blues from N.Pierce's et. al. article|
|Nabokov's fanciful illustrations|
So are we to remember this man foremost as a Novelist or a Lepidoperist? Surely, his books would have been nothing without his butterflies. The pages of Nabokov's fictional work flutter with 570 mentions of butterflies and entomologists have now named over 20 species of butterfly after characters from his novels. Ironically, it was Nabokov's literary importance and notoriety that drew disdain from the very community that he so desired to be apart of. Most full time lepidopterists considered Nabokov a boyish aficionado with a reputation for excessive"splitting." Moreover, they felt he had not earned but garnered the title "most famous lepidopterist in the world," simply because of his literary status. Since many of Nabokov's contributions to the sciences have been vindicated we think it only right to remember him as much a lepidopterist as a literary giant. The notion that the twain can meet is perhaps embodied in a quote from his novel Pale Fire: "Does there not exist a high ridge where the mountainside of 'scientific' knowledge joins the opposite slope of 'artistic' imagination?"
Yes, and it is on this Ridge where one will find Nabokov. At last Nabakov has been wholeheartedly accepted by the very community that once disregarded him. We know he would be pleased if he were alive today. Is it not comforting to know that a man of such incredible fame considered the life of the taxonomist, who busies himself with the classification and description of all of Earth's wonderful creatures, the most rewarding of all. He knew the work to be done was endless, the pay less than fabulous, and the fame? Are you kidding? The thought is laughable. The work of the taxonomist is oft overlooked and its characters considered by society as dusty anachronisms who do monotonous "detail-oriented things." Yet the work that is done is not done for the attention or glamor that it brings, but rather the inner satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are making a contribution that is vitally important to the existence and persistence of life.
|Photocredit: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ann Swengel|
Pictures of Butterflies on BHL Flickr
Book of the Week: The butterflies of the eastern United States and Canada : with special reference to New England
Taxon Bibliographies of the Lycaiedes in the BHL
The Nearctic members of the genus Lycaeide, Nabokov
NYTimes: Nabokov Theory Vindicated
Nabokov Museum, holds his personal collection of butterflies and illustrations
Nabokov Butterfly Bibliography