Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024978, Mon, 6 Jan 2014 01:21:13 -0200

Re: THOUGHTS: L. sublivens--B.Boyd response to J.Mello
Hello, Brian

What an informative, beautifully researched and marvellously written contribution. Thank you for anticipating this information about Nabokov's female "sublivens" and her link to lightnings.

In the preface for "Vladimir Nabokov: Alphabet in Color", the initial lines in your closing paragraph refer to a world from "where electricity is banned as improper..," before you proceed with the theme related to colors and rainbows. The connection between Nabokov's lightining-loving butterflies and the contrasting Lettrocalamity, in Ada, took my by surprise (its consequences were vaster than the death of HH's mother in a picnic...) *

In this same article you mentioned Gennady Barabtarlo's "guide to Nabokov's short novel Pnin" where he "records 238 uses of color terms from amber to yellow via amber-brown, cadmium red, emerald-and-grey, magenta, mahogany and mauve, opalescent, pearly and platinum, slate-gray. snow-and-rose, straw and strontian..."
Perhaps its was due to sheer color-blindness that, early in the afternoon, I'd to a friend that I found Nabokov's scientific article on the "Lycaeides sublivens" curiosly reticent in its rendering of the butterfly's colors (he preferred "livid" and "arctic appearance" at first, later he detailed their "weak brown", "olivaceous cast","cinder-blue" or "greyish blue" coloring). The dark blue and surly lightining (the archaic "livens", mentioned by you) would have rested outside in the sumptuous laund...

In your foreword you also quoted an example of "chromesthesia", where the blind Muldoon's arched eyebrows reflect the various colors of the rainbow he could feel by touching colored chalk-pencils (ADA). The name Muldoon rang a bell since I'd just read about Paul Muldoon in John Lennard's "The Poetry Handbook"*

Could Nabokov have had this Muldoon in mind at the time he prepared his novel? Probably not, since Paul Muldoon was born on 20 June 1951 and would be too young at the time Nabokov was writing "Ada." Curiously, Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet and Nabokov's character loves Irish poetry [ "he would finger his blind books or listen, in red-lidded bliss, to records of music, bird songs, and Irish poetry." And Muldoon has (wiki) "published over thirty collections and won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize [ ] He is also the president of the Poetry Society (U.K.) and Poetry Editor at The New Yorker."

Coincidences? Prophetic powers?


* - "But let me give the last word to a novel about which I could write - have written - much, much more: Ada, a kind of twinned Iris or hypertrophied reverse of Speak, Memory's rainbow. In a world where electricity is banned as improper (and electricity is, after all, shocking, isn't it?), and hydraulic surrogates have to be found, Ada's great-grandmother pipes a stream on her estate to make it "carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of platinum segments"[ ... ] Notice - I just have - that Violet and Oranger form the beginning and end of Ada's acrostic spelling of the spectrum: vibgyor." [ http://www.gingkopress.com/07-art/vladimir-nabokov-foreword.html ]

** - "Another interesting category is scientific diction, alarmingly excluded not only from poetry but almost all mass-media and common conversations [ ] Even as great a polymath as Nabokov, six years a Research Fellow in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, writing in 'A Discover' of a butterfly says only " I found it and I named it, being versed[/] in taxonomic Latin"; the name he gave, Lycaeides sublivens Nabokov mentioned in his afterword 'On a Book entitled Lolita' and naturally iambic, is unmentioned in the poem devoted to its bearer. Nabokov did hymn his pleasure in science:[ ] and thought of his butterfly "wide open on its pin (though fast asleep) The commoner reaction is Dickinson's [...]' Whereas I took the Butterfly- [/]Aforetime in my hand- [/] He sits erect in 'Cabinets'- [/]The clover bells forgot' [...] It is, of course, hard for the unintiated. Muldoon did manage to get into his long poem 'Yarrow' "a sprig of Achillea millefolium, as it's classed [ ] "my precious Bufo bufo", and "the larva[...]of Pieris[/]brassicae ..." John Lennard "The Poetry Handbook".

-----Mensagem Original-----
De: Nabokv-L
Enviada em: domingo, 5 de janeiro de 2014 20:56
Assunto: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: L. sublivens--B.Boyd response to J.Mello

EDNote: The publication Brian Boyd mentions below will include around 150 of Nabokov's scientific drawings and essays by most of the scientists who followed up on Nabokov's taxonomic work, and a few by humanists to boot. It will appear in Spring 2015 (from Yale UP).

Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] SIGHTING: VN the Lepidopterist in NAUTILUS, from B. Boyd
From: Brian Boyd <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>
Date: 1/5/2014 2:54 PM
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@listserv.ucsb.edu>

In response to Jansy's query about the species name sublivens, here's an excerpt from an article I've written forthcoming in Fine Lines: Nabokov's Scientific Art, edited by Stephen Blackwell, the current Mr Nabokv-L Universe, and Kurt Johnson, if our moderator will allow it:

"Vivian Darkbloom" is a by now famous anagram for Vladimir Nabokov, and Elphinstone in real life is Telluride, the mountain town above which this very Nabokov, as his afterword notes, caught the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens. In his short paper on catching these females, written as he composed Lolita, Nabokov reports the "daily electric storm, in several installments, accompanied by the most irritatingly close lightning I have ever encountered anywhere in the Rockies."[i] He was after the female of sublivens: after, if you like, a female who loved lightning, since this was her type locality (and since Nabokov was able, even with this lightning to contend with, to catch ten females here). With his penchant for verbal play Nabokov would also have recognized the near-pun embedded in the species name he bestowed before he ever found the species in situ: sub-livens (dark bluish) almost spells out "under lightning," since levin is an archaic word for "lightning," still used by nineteenth-century poets he knew well, like Scott, Longfellow and Swinburne.[ii] Vladimir Nabokov had written in 1951 and published in 1952, as he was writing Lolita, his report on this female who lived among lightning, in curious conjunction with the Vivian Darkbloom who had written with Quilty The Lady Who Loved Lightning, staged at another location high in the Rockies. Quilty is on the way to capturing at Elphinstone the female he has dreamed of and has even written into The Enchanted Hunters as Diana; Nabokov has captured the female he had wanted to find for years (since he first named the species, from male specimens, in 1949) on those lightning-struck slopes from where, in the topography of fiction, Humbert will bemoan Lolita's absence.


[i] "The Female of Lycaeides argyrognomon sublivens," The Lepidopterists' News, 6: 1-3 (1952), 35-36; Nabokov's Butterflies, 480-82, p. 481.

[ii] Or did he intend the pun from the first? He had already caught butterflies in the high Rockies, already been exposed to lightning there, when he named the species, identifying as the type locality Telluride, in the high Rockies: see The Nearctic Members of the Genus Lycaeides Hübner, Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 101:4 (1949), 479-541, pp. 513-16; see also Nabokov's Butterflies, 425.

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