Kobaltana in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 03/05/2021 - 03:05

In his Index to Shade’s poem Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions Kobaltana (in Kinbote’s Index the entry Kobaltana immediately follows the entry Kinbote, Charles, Dr):


Kobaltana, a once fashionable mountain resort near the ruins of some old barracks, now a cold and desolate spot of difficult access and no importance but still remembered in military families and forest castles, not in the text.


Kobal’t being the Russian name of cobalt (a chemical element), Kinbote’s Kobaltana seems to hint at the butterfly Itylos cobaltana.


From Wikipedia:


Itylos is a butterfly genus in the family Lycaenidae. There has been confusion regarding the correct name; the present genus was discussed in 1945 by the famous lepidopterist and author Vladimir Nabokov as Parachilades but had been described already in 1921. Nabokov used the name Itylos for the genus which nowadays is known as Madeleinea.


Madeleinea is a butterfly genus in the family Lycaenidae. These Andean butterflies are very interesting from a taxonomic standdpoint. This genus was discussed by famous author and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov in 1945. However, he used the name Itylos, which actually refers to a closely but distinct genus described in 1921. That was not known in his time however, as the relationships of the butterflies discussed by Nabokov were only resolved in 1993. In any case, Nivalis was proposed as a replacement name by Emilio Balletto but for technical reasons turned out to be unavailable. Zsolt Bálint subsequently established the currently-valid name. The latter researcher, in cooperation with Kurt Johnson, since then described many taxa new to science. To honor the contributions of Nabokov to entomology - chiefly concerning Lycaenidae - these were often given names referring to the novels of Nabokov, or characters therein.


Let me also draw your attention to the updated version of my previous post, “David van Veen & Vatican in Ada; Emblem Bay & Iris Acht in Pale Fire.”


Alexey, I found this most interesting and therefore looked into it a bit. From what I understand, (chiefly from Dieter Zimmer https://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dzbutt7.htm), there was some contention about the South American Blues that Nabokov reviewed in 1945, which he called Itylos. The site does not say what specific names he followed Itylos with (I can't seem to find a translation for Itylos, either).

However it was not until 1993 that VN’s work was examined more closely and changes were made. There were also new species recognized that needed names and the Vladimir Nabokov Society set up a board of scholars to suggest new names. The new names were all taken from Nabokov’s works (i.e. Itylos luzhin, Itylos Pnin) Some of the Itylos were re-named Madeleinea. Within that group are Madeleinea cobaltana, Madeleinea Lolita.

Therefore, it would seem, “Kobaltana” did not derive from the butterfly, but the other way around, and not until after Nabokov’s death. 

Nevertheless, I think it is quite likely that Nabokov may have had his “Blues” in mind when he came up with the word for the treasure locus, “Kobaltana.” (See https://thenabokovian.org/node/51156)

Mary, thanks for reminding me about the ruins of some old barracks near Kobaltana where, according to VN, the crown jewels are hidden (your link didn't work, though). If, as you suggest, the butterfly were named after Kobaltana in Kinbote's Zembla, its name would be Madeleinea kobaltana.


Kobaltana + Zembla + vdova = Nabokov + Malta/Talma + blaze + dva


vdova - widow; in Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat' stuliev ("The Twelve Chairs," 1928) Ostap Bender marries in Stargorod ("Oldton") vdova Gritsatsueva, "a passionate woman, a poet's dream (the wedding takes place on May 2, 1927); the Zemblan Revolution broke out on May 1, 1958 

Talma - a French actor (1763-1826) who is mentioned by Count Nulin in Pushkin's Graf Nulin ("Count Null," 1825); a world-famous Zemblan actor and patriot Odon helps the King to escape from Zembla

dva - 2; in VN's play Sobytie ("The Event," 1938) Mme Vagabundov (who speaks in verse) rhymes vdova and dva: Ya sama vdova - i ne raz, a dva (I myself am a widow - and not once, but twice)