Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, September 01, 2006

Words from the Master

One of the difficulties about trying to write about butterflies is that one of the 20th century's literary stars was also a lepidopterist. In addition to writing such works as Lolita and Pale Fire, Vladmir Nabokov was a highly respected entomologist who has named several species of butterflies and, in turn, has had species named after him. An entire chapter of his autobiography is devoted to butterflies and collecting. The chapter ends with one of my favorite passages. It describes very closely the sensations that I was experiencing in the field yesterday, but with a clarity of prose that I can't even approach.

[T]he highest enjoyment of timelessness- in a landscape selected at random- is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstacy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern- to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

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At 22:28, Blogger rodger said...

I forgot Nabokov was an entomoligist. I remember learning that shortly after reading Lolita and wanting to know everything about him. I fell in love with his style, his humor and his wordplay in that tragic tale.

Thanks for the reminder, I'll have to revisit his works. It's been a while since I've picked up one of his books.

At 07:47, Blogger Doug said...

Nabokov is more fun to read if you know about butterflies. He was a very accomplished entomologist. In Pale Fire there are a bunch of butterfly in jokes that the average reader is unlikely to get. Nabokov's entomological work has recently received renewed, and favorable scrutiny. He did a revision of a group of small blue butterflies from the neotropics. In the late 80's, this work was revisited and expanded. Several collecting trips to the Caribbean and South America reveled a bunch of previously unknown species that fit within his classification scheme. These were named with references to his literary works. There is a fun, well-written book describing this endeavor. It's called Nabokov's Blues by Kurt Johnson and Steven Coates. Recommended.


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