In celebration of the centenary of Vladimir Nabokov’s birth, Kurt Johnson and Steve Coats wrote Nabokov’s Blues, about Nabokov’s passion for butterflies and scientific investigations into blue butterflies. Our own Karner Blue butterfly has its own chapter called “Dancing with Fire” in the book. Here is a brief excerpt which describes Nabokov’s feelings for the Karner Blue.
“Nabokov developed a deep, lifelong affection for this [the Karner Blue Butterfly]. In 1975, when he found out that The New York Times had used a drawing of the Karner Blue to illustrate an article about the federal government’s first listing of endangered insects, he wrote a letter to the editor: ‘By a nice coincidence,’ he said, ‘the so-called Karner Blue illustrating Bayard Webster’s note on insects needing protection is a butterfly I classified myself. It is know as Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov or more properly Lycaeides samuelis Nabokov (I considered it at first to be a race of the western melissa Edwards, but have concluded recently that it is a distinct species).’
“He also revealed that is was the butterfly he had described in a well-known passage of his novel Pnin, although he attached no name to it in the novel: ‘A score of small butterflies, all of one kind, were settled on a damp patch of sand, their winds erect and closed, showing their pale undersides with dark dots and tiny orange-rimmed peacock spots along the hindwing margins; one of Pnin’s shed rubbers disturbed some of them and, revealing the celestial hue of their upper surface, they fluttered around like blue snowflakes before settling again.’
“In 1952, reviewing Alexander B. Klot’s Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, East of the Great Plains, Nabokov described how he kept track of the butterfly in the Albany Pine Barrens, which is its type locality – – that is, the source of the type specimen that Nabokov used to name it: ‘I visit the place every time I happen to drive ) as I do yearly in early June) from Ithaca to Boston and can report that, despite local picnickers and the hideous garbage they leave, the lupines and Lycaeides samuelis Nab. are still doing as fine under those old gnarled pines along the railroad as they did ninety years ago.'”
The Authors will spoke at the Save the Pine Bush vegetarian/vegan dinner on Wednesday, January 26, 2000.
Stephen Jay Gould’s comments about the new book, Nabokov’s Blues:
“If Vladimir Nabokov had never written a line of fiction, he would have an honored reputation as a naturalist, and an expert on a large group of butterflies known as Blues. he loved his butterflies as passionately as his literature and both pursuits built the fullness of his life. Johnson and Coate’s biological expertise and keen understanding of Nabokov’s work allow us to integrate and understand one of the great figures of twentieth-century art – and science.”
Save the Pine Bush is part of a ring of web sites about Nabokov, his literature and the butterflies he studied. Check out these links!
Endangered Butterflies site by author Kurt Johnson. This site features an excellent article by Robert Dirig on his experiences with the Karner Blue. The article is called “Karner Blue Sing Your Purple Song”.
Butterfly Garden January 2000 article on Vladimir Nabokov
Zembla the Vladimir Nabokov site
Zoland Books, publisher of Nabokov’s Blues