Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001194, Fri, 2 Aug 1996 11:36:23 -0700

VN Bibliography: Zimmer 1996 Butterfly Book (fwd)

Dieter E. Zimmer, long associated with the distinguished newspaper Die
Zeit, is Germany's most foremost Nabokovian: translator, bibliographer,
editor and annotator of the magnificent Rowohlt 25-volume edition of
Nabokov's oeuvre, and indefatigable researcher. Among his innumerable
activities is his pursuit of Nabokov's lepidoptera. In 1993 Zimmer
presented much, but far from all, of his Nabokov lepidopteral information
to a publication of the Musee cantonal de Zoologie in Lausanne which is
briefly described in the following paragraph. He has now put out a greatly
expanded version under the title A GUIDE TO NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLIES and
MOTHS. Since the new volume contains much of the original Swiss material
and the same basic format, I reprint my comments on the earlier version,
followed by some remarks on the new material in the 1996 volume. The new
version (which contains only Zimmer's work) is expanded by about
two-thirds, making a volume of over 200 pages. Unlike the 1993 book, the
1996 volume is currently available only in an elegant, self-published form
which may be consulted at the Library of Congress, the Harvard Museum of
Comparative Zoology, the Berg Collection at the NYPL and at the Deutsche
Bibliothek (Frankfurt/Leipsig) and the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin).

"When Nabokov died in July 1977, he left his post-1960 European
butterfly collection to Lausanne Zoological Museum. There were 4,323
specimens, requiring extensive work for their permanent preservation. In
honor of their donor, the museum staged a special exhibition of Nabokov's
butterflies between 26 November 1993 and 29 January 1994. The exhibits
were arranged in chronological order so that the viewer could retrace VN's
collecting expeditions from 1961 through 1975. As a part of its
celebration the museum has published a handsome volume called LES
PAPILLONS DE NABOKOV, ed. Michel Satori. Lausanne: Musee cantonal de
Zoologie, 1993 (ISBN 2-9700051-0-7). The price is 25 Swiss francs plus
The illustrated volume consists of three parts: 1) the exhibition
catalogue, largely adapted from that prepared for an earlier exhib-
ition on VN's butterflies in Milan (1991-1992), sketches VN's life and
the place of lepidoptery in it [pp. 3-24]. There are good black and
white photos of various butterflies that figure in VN's fiction plus
some well known ones of VN himself. 2) the second and far more impor-
tant section [pp. 25-171] is Dieter Zimmer's "Nabokov's Lepidoptera:
An Annotated Multilingual Checklist (English-Latin-French-German-
Italian-Spanish)." Zimmer lucidly explains butterfly nomenclature and
surveys Nabokov's general thoughts on his lifelong (a-)vocation. He
then gives a full alphabetical list of all of the butterflies men-
tioned in VN's works by their scientific and popular names. Also pro-
vided are sections on butterflies named by and for Nabokov, notes on
lepidopterists mentioned by Nabokov, a bibliography of VN's technical
writings on butterflies, butterfly references in VN interviews, and a
general bibliography. 3) The third and final section [pp. 173-200] is
editor Michel Satori's catalogue of VN's collection arranged in
standard taxonomic order with field notes on their time and place of
capture. The first and third sections are in French; the much longer
middle section--in English.
Dieter Zimmer's monograph delivers immensely more than its modest
title suggests and makes the volume an essential item on the shelf of
all serious students of Nabokov."
D. Barton Johnson, Editor

REPORT ON Dieter E. Zimmer's

The new work completely supersedes Zimmer's contribution to the
1993 Swiss publication described above. The new GUIDE is "a (tendentially)
comprehensive annotated index to all the real and imaginary butterflies
and moths found in Nabokov's published English writings, including the
letters, the scientific articles and interviews. As such, it is aimed at
the general Nabokov reader who wants to know more about this author's
lifelong passion for Lepidoptera. It provides a summary of Nabokov's
scientific work, elucidates a good many lepidopterological allusions in
his fiction and makes it possible to trace any particular insect
throughhis writings. Ultimately, by helping to explain what Nabokov's
science was about, this guide hopes to provide a few logs for the narrow
footbridge across the secular gap between science and the arts" (5).
The new volume very substantially expands the annotations found in
the Swiss collection. It also incorporates several new sections, at least
two of which are important aids to Nabokov researchers. Like its
predecessor the GUIDE has at its heart (section 3.1) an
alphabetical listing of of all of the lepidoptera mentioned in VN's
published English writings. Each "lep" is listed by Latin and common name
with page numbers of the work where it is found. It is described, often
with VN's comments. The common names are given in the major European
languages (although, alas, not in Russian). The latest version provides a
very useful supplement to this section. A new listing "Butterflies and
moths, by work and page (in the non-scientific writings)" makes it
possible to locate any of the "leps" in any given work. This will greatly
facilitate the efforts of anyone who wants to do a literary analysis of the
butterflies in, say, ADA. S/he can then consult the "alphabetic" section
to see what VN has said elsewhere about any of ADA's butterflies.
A second major innovation is Zimmer's crisp color reproductions of
75 of the butterflies used by VN in the "Figures" section at the end of his
volume. The alphabetic listings are keyed to the book-end illustrations so that
the Nabokov reader can actually see the lep that Nabokv writes about.
Other innovations are more specialized. A new section (2.2.2) lists
"Butterflies with Nabokovian Names." In addition to the "original" leps
named by and for Nabokov (their current status is here updated), many
newly classified butterflies are being assigned names drawn from VN's
fiction. I have also found the section identifying all of the
lepidopterists mentioned by VN to be useful at times.
The butterflies in VN's fiction undoubtedly hold many surprises
that lie in wait for his readers. One suspects that many are used as
thematic motifs. Dieter Zimmer's invaluable study provides the basis for a
new series of studies by Nabokov scholars. Zimmer's project is a major
contribution to the Nabokov field and one hopes that it will find a
publisher who can make it commercially available.
In the not too distant future Zimmer's work will be joined by
another volume which, together with it , will complete the groundwork for
all subsequent research that touches on VN's lepidoptera. Zimmer's volume
is limited to VN's publications in English. This, of course, includes the
now extant English translations of the Russian novels and stories. It does
not, however, include untranslated Russian-language material, e.g., the
Russian poetry, discarded drafts of Russian fiction, etc. Nor does it
contain VN's unpublished English material--notes, diary entries,
correspondence with lepidopterists, the MS of the unfinished story "The
Admirable Anglewing" or of VN's THE BUTTERFLIES OF EUROPE project.
VN's biographer, Brian Boyd, and naturalist Robert Pyle are
currently engaged in a project which will fill these gaps. Although the
final form of the project has yet to be determined, underlying it is a
nigh-complete compendium of all of VN butterfly-related writing--both
published and unpublished, Russian and English. Among the highlights will
be an English translation of the "Second Appendix to THE GIFT," in which
Fyodor conveys the theoretical views of his famous explorer-lepidopterist
father on butterfly evolution and natural history. This was presumably
intended as an appendix to his aborted biography of his father. (A fuller
description can be found in Jane Grayson's article, "Washington's Gift:
Materials pertaining to Nabokov's GIFT in the Library of Congress," in
NABOKOV STUDIES#1 (1994), pp. 21-68. Nabokov's notes from his years at
the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology are another rich source of new
material that will be included in the Boyd-Pyle compendium. Until this
work is published, Dieter Zimmer's new book will remain the unique source
for Nabokov butterfly information. After the appearance of the Boyd-Pyle
work, Dieter Zimmer's GUIDE TO NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS will be one
of the two foundation reference works for a theme that is central to
Nabokov's life and art.