NO writer of Nabokov's stature, not even Goethe, has been a more passionate student of the natural world or a more accomplished scientist. No one has ever evoked with more enchantment how a child's first passion for nature can grow into lifelong love and devotion. In the years after Lolita thrust him into fame, Nabokov became the world's best-known lepidopterist. He had been highly respected by fellow specialists for the papers he wrote while in charge of Lepidoptera at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, in the 1940s, at a time when he was also earning a reputation in America for his stories and poems in The Atlantic Monthly, but those who saw his zeal for butterflies featured on the cover of Time or in the pages of Life in the 1960s often assumed that he was a mere hobbyist. The scale and significance of his butterfly work remained a mystery to many until scientists started to re-examine and expand on his work at the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. One of the foremost of these scientists, Kurt Johnson, has recently, with Steve Coates, written eloquently of Nabokov's inspiration and legacy in (1999).
Nabokov had long contemplated publishing his collected scientific papers, but this plan, like many of his most ambitious butterfly projects, remained unrealized. Now Beacon Press, of Boston, has undertaken a project almost as ambitious as any Nabokov himself conceived: to publish an anthology of his astonishingly diverse writing about butterflies, whether scientific or artistic, published or unpublished, carefully finished or roughly sketched, in poems, stories, novels, memoirs, scientific papers, lectures, notes, diaries, letters, interviews, dreams. As Nabokov's biographer, I co-edited -- the largest and most varied collection of his work in any single volume -- with the distinguished nature writer Robert Michael Pyle, the author of While Nabokov was alive, Pyle had agitated for the protection of the Karner Blue, a butterfly that Nabokov first named as at least a distinct subspecies in a paper in the 1940s and introduced playfully into Pnin in the 1950s. Partly because of the help that Nabokov gave to the initiative of Pyle and others in the 1970s, the little Karner Blue has become a major symbol of the conservation movement in the American Northeast.
introduced Nabokov to his first extended audience in the English-speaking world more than half a century ago. Now, a full century after his birth, it offers readers prize new specimens from Nabokov's Butterflies, natural hybrids of his twin passions for literature and Lepidoptera.
ATHER'S Butterflies," the longest piece of Nabokov fiction to have remained unpublished until now, is a kind of pendant, or postponed prologue, to what is often rated the finest Russian novel of the twentieth century.