Nabokov and butterflies

Vladimir Nabokov catching butterflies, LIFE magazine, 1958

I was really delighted today, during my lunch break, to discover two things:

1. This sprawling, fascinating (if a bit outdated; who uses frames anymore?) website: Ada Online. It’s the linked and annotated version of Nabokov’s incredibly difficult novel, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. I don’t know who did it–it appears to belong to a university in New Zealand–but it’s marvelous. What a perfect use of the Internets. It only reaches up through Part I with the annotations, but can you blame them? There’s at least three allusions in practically every sentence (with considerable fractions of Russian, French, and Russo-English!).

2. Nabokov was himself a distinguished lepidopterist, which I learned today means that he studies butterflies. LIFE magazine followed him around in the forest one day, some decades ago, as he sprung about with his net. Knowing this detail about arguably one of the most intelligent writers we can (partially) call our own makes him so much sweeter and gentler in my mind. And so much more interesting. A man who loved butterflies! All of the entomological references in Ada also make a little more sense now.

I have decided that I am going to read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima next. And then I will tackle Guermantes Way. Proust is almost too similar to Nabokov and I need something purely opposite–i.e., the razor-sharpness of Japanese prose–to break my mind up a bit.

I’m not very good at introducing myself these days. I generally end up saying all three of my names now, and so end up looking either really pretentious or stupid.

Angela, thanks for the plug on your Tumblr for my calligraphy! You are darling. Your Tumblr updates bring me lots of joy every day. I too want one of the Chinese dogs spray-painted to look like baby pandas.

She had kept only a few–mainly botanical and entomological–pages of her diary, because on rereading it she had found its tone false and finical; he had destroyed his entirely because of its clumsy schoolboyish style combined with heedless, and false, cynicism. Thus they had to rely on oral tradition, on the mutual correction of common memories.

V. Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

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