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Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings Hardcover – April 21, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Admirers of the great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) know that collecting and classifying butterflies was for him not so much a hobby as an obsession, especially during the 1940s, when he worked for Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and made important discoveries about the American genera known as Blues. Butterfly-linked images and ideas pervade some of his fiction, and butterfly-collecting expeditions took up much of his free time. Nabokov biographer Boyd and butterfly expert Pyle team up to offer a gigantic compendium of butterfly-relevant Nabokoviana. Reprinted here are draft reminiscences later revised for the autobiography Speak, Memory; the 1920 technical paper "A Few Notes on Crimean Lepidoptera"; selected parts of the later scientific and technical work; numerous poems with butterfly-related lines, some in English, some translated from Russian; Nabokov's last short story, "The Admirable Anglewing"; excerpts from letters and interviews; notes for the New Yorker ("Incidentally, pinching the thorax is a much simpler way of dispatching a butterfly") and segments of Nabokov's lecture notes; and lepidopteran passages from the novels and stories. Among the previously unpublished works, one standout is the 36-page essay (originally in Russian) that Nabokov meant to use as the afterword to The Gift. Also present are the surviving fragments of Nabokov's never-completed descriptive catalogue, Butterflies of Europe. Boyd and Pyle contribute separate, informative and sometimes parallel introductions. Not even a Nabokov-obsessed taxonomist would want to read this collection from start to finish: it is, though, a volume devotees will delight to browse in and scholars will want to own. 30 color and 30 b&w illus. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Apr.) FYI: For more information on Nabokov's Butterflies, see Book News, Feb. 28.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The recent publication of Kurt Johnson and Steven L. Coates's Nabokov's Blues (LJ 10/15/99) brought to light Nabokov's expertise in the study of butterflies. The distinction of this new volume is that it contains never-before-seen writings by Nabokov on the subject. The book includes poems, letters, diary entries, interviews, and technical articles that combine the author's passions for science and literature. Nabokov biographer Boyd provides a lengthy introduction that places Nabokov's studies within the context of his life. Nabokov's son Dmitri presents a new translation, from the original Russian, of "Father's Butterflies," a 36-page afterword to The Gift. Also translated are 12 poems that had been unavailable in English. For the specialist or the reader wanting to learn more about the scientific side of Nabokov's life, there is much here to discover. Recommended for academic libraries.
-Ronald Ray Ratliff, Emporia P.L., KS
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 782 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1st edition (April 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807085405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085400
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.1 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion," wrote Valdimir Nabokov. "If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender." This was certainly an unusual way in which to view the world and one that not many readers, even those who adore Nabokov, have shared.
In fact, the ferocity of Nabokov's obsession with butterflies has only just begun to become clear with the publication of this gorgeous new book, a volume of heretofore unpublished and uncorrected writings on the subject of butterflies, edited by Nabokov's biographer Brian Boyd, together with Michael Pyle, an expert on butterflies. All translations were done by Nabokov's son, Dmitri, who has lavished his time and talent on his father's work for several decades.
Even those of us who cannot get enough of Nabokov and cannot praise him highly enough may find more than 700 densely-printed pages on the subject of butterflies a little much. As much as we love Nabokov, do we really want to read page after page of his highly technical descriptions of the various species of butterfly? Are these writings really important, from a scientific viewpoint? Is there any connection between Nabokov's passion for butterflies and his extraordinary fiction?
Although most people would probably answer "no" to the first two questions, the answer to the third is a surprisingly enthusiastic, "yes."
In his wonderful introduction, Boyd begins to elucidate the connections between Nabokov the writer and Nabokov the lepidopterist.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By dandylion001 on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pick up this book, open it to any page and begin reading. You won't be able to put it down. From "Laughter," a poem as lovely and delicate as the azure it honors, to the detailed drawings, artistic renderings, and delightful writings, it soon becomes obvious that Nabokov saw a universe in a butterfly's wing. How fortunate we are that he left this magnificent record of his thought and activity. Begin reading anywhere and soon you will be drawn into his world, a world always colored by the butterflies and moths that were his passion. Now I have to reread his fiction with a new eye. Nabokov's passionate life and work is an inspiration to the least of us.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dwight D. Schmidt on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Yes, this book is the perfect companion to Nabokov's Blues and the stories of Lepidoptera spun in Nabokov's own Speak, Memory and Strong Opinions. You won't get the narrative read of Nabokov's scientific career as so aptly written by Johnson and Coates last year, but this is different fare-- the hard stuff-- letters, excerpts, drawings, complete works, interviews, speeches and expert commentary. Also, the book goes into all the aspects of Nabokov's work on butterflies, including the projects he did not complete. With this book and the other books of the centennial there will no further doubt about Nabokov's important contribution to science and the fact that, even minus literature, he could have made quite a name for himself in that field alone.
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By Kurt Johnson on April 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Cornucopia" (about this book from Booklist)is indeed the word for this important and extremely enjoyable book. As one close to the book's germination and content I want to let Amazon readers know a bit about what's inside. Overall, by publishing all the previously published and unpublished works by V. Nabokov concerning butterflies, both literary and scientific (I say "works" because it includes both writings and drawings) the book includes not only all the background material to the other science-related books from Nabokov's centenary year (Vera's Butterflies; Nabokov's Blues) but a mountain of unique material and comment as well. The introductions, by biographer Boyd and lepidopterist Pyle, form a good balance-- Boyd's excelling from his in-depth knowledge of Nabokov's life and literature and Pyle's reflecting copious digging into remembrances and memorabilia of lepidopterists whose relationship with, or "take" on, Nabokov had simply never been recorded. The literary, letter, and interview selections give the reader about as much material (at least regarding the influence of science and butterflies on Nabokov's literature) as would owning Nabokov's Selected Letters, short stories, much of his autobiography Speak, Memory and his memoir Strong Opinions. The wonderful color and BxW illustrations include not only ample supply from Nabokov's scientific publications and archives, but from the drawings previously featured in 1999 by Sarah Funke's Vera's Butterflies (which is not as easy to obtain). Moreover, there is an additional value in the books' material have been presented chronologically.Read more ›
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alex C. Telander on November 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Last year a beautiful book became available that was apparently missed by many. Maybe it was because of length, numbering some eight hundred pages; maybe it was the unknown author, Vladimir Nabokov, whose name was unable to stir emotions in readers, prompting them to out and acquire this book; or maybe it was the title, Nabokov's Butterflies, and this accusation (not to mention the picture of butterflies on the cover) that led the reader to steer clear of this book.

Some thought the collection entailed poems and excerpts, but mostly boring and pointless stories about butterflies and their scientific aspect. People who fall into any of the above categories made a big mistake, and for the ones who never heard about the book: read further and then make a serious decision about acquiring this piece of unique literature.

Vladimir Nabokov was born in Russia and from an early age fell in love with butterflies. "If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender," writes Nabokov in an excerpt from his autobiography. Also, at this age, Nabokov began writing poems and stories, and then he turned to novels about butterflies. He is also the creator of stories where butterflies are incorporated into the general fiction as a metaphor or some decide to enhance an aspect about the character or point about the plot, this making the story poignant in a never before seen way.

In the story "Pale Fire," the first of one of the stanzas in a poem is: "Another winter was scrape-scooped away." The writing is just so fresh, aching with beautiful language that stirs up emotions and renders one simply in awe with this awesome prose.
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