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).

Re: [NABOKV-L] SIGHTING: VN the Lepidopterist in NAUTILUS, from B. Boyd
Brian Boyd <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>
1/5/2014 2:54 PM
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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