About butterflies and elephants
In "Entomology: Nabokov's scientific artistry,"
Vladimir Lukhtanov writes: "Nabokov's fiction is permeated by science, as
Fine Lines amply reveals. He was a master in the use of motif and symbols.
In his novel Lolita (Olympia, 1955), for instance, the town Lepingville is
named after 'lepping', butterfly hunters' slang for chasing butterflies, and
Elphinstone after Elphinstonia, a subgenus in the white butterfly genus
Jansy Mello: The association of Elphinstone to the white Elphinstonia
butterfly came as a surprise to me. I had always associated "Elphinstone"
to the German word for ivory: Elfenbein (elephant bone), spurred by the
author's playful choice of calling a dentist Ivor (Clare Quilty's brother)
and also by the sound of "elf". Such eburnean connection must have been
amply elaborated upon already but I return to it because it's difficult to
miss an opportunity to recover a line, a paragraph or a word in "Lolita"to
dwell on it at leisure.
Quotes: Introducing a dentist called Ivor, linked to ivory and elf:
(1,19) " Jean sighed. 'I once saw,' she said, 'two children, male and
female, at sunset, right here, making love. Their shadows were giants. And I
told you about Mr. Tomson at daybreak. Next time I expect to see fat old
Ivor in the ivory (nude?). He is really a freak, that man. Last time he told
me a completely indecent story about his nephew. It appears -'
and (1,27) "some elfish chance offered me the sight of a delightful child
of Lolita's age, in Lolita's type of frock, but pure white, and there was a
white ribbon in her black hair. She was not pretty, but she was a nymphet,
and her ivory pale legs and lily neck formed for one memorable moment a most
pleasurable antiphony (in terms of spinal music) to my desire for Lolita,
brown and pink, flushed and fouled."
Making explicit the "Elephant" in "Elphinstone" - and, rather strangely,
bringing together two of the rare references to the dentist Ivor Quilty and
Camp Q (Cue), i.e., Lolita's summer camp ( is this just a coincidence?):
(1,14) "Really, monsieur, I am very sorry about that tooth of yours. It
would be so much more reasonable to let me contact Ivor Quilty first thing
tomorrow morning if it still hurts. And, you know, I think a summer camp is
so much healthier, and - well, it is all so much more reasonable as I say
than to mope on a suburban lawn and use mamma's lipstick, and pursue shy
studious gentlemen, and go into tantrums at the least provocation**."
and (2,29) "She was smoking herself. First time I saw her doing it. Streng
verboten under Humbert the Terrible. Gracefully, in a blue mist, Charlotte
Haze rose from her grave. I would find him through Uncle Ivory if she
refused [...].Her camp (Cue, Q) five years ago. Curious coincidence -
...took her to a dude ranch about a day's drive from Elephant
Other mentions of the name "Elphinstone," in Lolita, have inspired still
more different interpretations. In the blog [
Vlinders ponders about a "reference to Carroll's great-grandfather, also
named Charles Dodgson like Lewis Carroll, who was bishop of Elphin," and
another to E.A. Poe in a hotel registry during the cryprogrammic paper
chase: "P.O. Elphinstone."
The author also considers that the lines ("(.) they also have coruscating
trifles as "A vagabond in Italy" by Percy Elphinstone, author of "Venice
revisited", Boston, 1868 (.)" p.31 TAL) indicate John Ruskin.
In fact, VN was a "master in the use of motif and symbols." And turning
references into a sort of hopscotch through time, too?
btw: Barrie Karp's posting with the interview with Maar brings up
instigating queries related to "what was VN's intention" while referring,
citing, alluding to or mentioning different characters and authors.
*- (1,14) "mamma's lipstick /shy studious gentlemen" ... (2,16) "She had
not washed; yet her mouth was freshly though smudgily painted, and her broad
teeth glistened like wine-tinged ivory, or pinkish poker chips."
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