Johnson, D. Barton. A Field Guide to Nabokov’s Pale Fire: Waxwings and the Red Admiral. 2007

Bibliographic title
A Field Guide to Nabokov’s Pale Fire: Waxwings and the Red Admiral
Periodical or collection
The Real Life of Pierre Delalande: Studies in Russian and Comparative Literature to Honor Alexander Dolinin
Periodical issue
v. 2
Publication year

Matthew Roth writes:

Don Johnson's article is a wonderfully detailed descriptive and (occasionally) interpretive essay focusing on all the birds that appear in Pale Fire, as well as the Vanessa atalanta. Among the most interesting passages are those devoted to the folkloric associations generated by both the bohemian waxwing and the red admiral. The author clearly shows that bird and butterfly have similar associations with death and doom. Another interesting note regards the ring-necked pheasant Shade mentions in the poem.

DBJ makes several interesting observations at the conclusion of the article. One, of course, is that Kinbote is surprisingly accurate in his ornithological descriptions (despite what VN said in an interview after the fact). He writes that the reader "faces the problem of accounting for Botkin's knowledge of local fauna. The birds that Kinbote/Botkin mentions are in their proper places at the proper times. And, not so incidentally, he sometimes seem to know too much, e.g., the original Linnaean generic name Ampelis for waxwings, a term that has not been in use . . . since about 1900 when Bombycilla became the standard term. Even stranger, he knows that the former means "of the vineyard," a fact that enables him to create the bizarre vignette that Gradus/Vinogradus comes from a long line of liquor dealers" (669).