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Nabokov Studies 3 (1996) KURT JOHNSON (New York) G. WARREN WHITAKER (New York) ZSOLT BÕ LINT (Budapest) Nabokov as Lepidopterist: An Informed Appraisal Every serious reader of Nabokov is familiar with two biographical facts mat testify to his versatility: first, that he created significant literary works in both Russian and English, and second, that he was not only a writer and teacher of literature but also an avid student of butterflies who performed research and wrote scholarly articles on the subject of Lepidoptera. Most admirers of Nabokov's literary works are themselves well versed in language and literature and thus can reach informed reasoned judgements as to the caliber of bis literary accomplishments. However, because few of those admirers also have training in or significant knowledge of entomology, they are not equipped to gauge Nabokov's accomplishments in that field. Was Nabokov a true scholar of Lepidoptera, or merely a dilettante whose contributions were unremarkable? This article seeks to shed some light on that question. Two of the authors, Johnson and Bálint, are entomologists who have between them spent over three decades studying butterflies. In recent years they have published widely on the same groups of small blue butterflies (or "blues"1) that were the subject of Nabokov's most important scientific contributions . In recognition of Nabokov's important early work, Johnson and Bálint decided to name new species that they discovered or identified after characters in Nabokov's novels and other proper names with suitable Nabokovian associations. G. Warren Whitaker, a New York attorney and an avid reader of Nabokov (and the third co-author of this article) proposed appropriate names from the Nabokov canon for this purpose. (A list of over twenty new species named by Bálint and Johnson and, subsequently, two other authors, is included as Table 2). In all, Nabokov produced nine publications on the blue butterflies between 1941 and 1952. Most were short pieces regarding individual 1. Scientifically, the "Tribe Polyommatini." 124 Nabokov Studies species. Three were longer works—two on North American species of the genus Lycaeides and another summarizing what was then known of the entire fauna of blues occurring in Latin America.2 During this time Nabokov worked principally at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard (Fig. 1) and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, using specimens provided by Dr. William P. Comstock, another early worker on blue butterflies and their relatives (Fig. 2). In a 1945 issue of the periodical Psyche, Nabokov published a classification of the vast array of blues found in Central and South America. Although this work was a seminal effort of the time, based on the scanty material then available, it was not pursued further by either Nabokov or by other scientists until recently, when Bálint and Johnson completed Nabokov's work on the Central and South American blue butterflies3 Bálint and Johnson are thus in a unique position to provide a technical perspective on Nabobov's work in Lepidoptera and, in particular, to evaluate Nabokov's conclusions regarding the Latin American blue butterlies, an assemblage far larger than the number of species Nabokov himself studied. This paper will assess Nabokov's legacy as a lepidopterist in light of these recently completed studies of tropical American blue butterflies. The current status of various names originally proposed by Nabokov for tropical 2. We limit our citations in the present work to these three longer papers—The Nearctic Forms of Lycaeides Hübner (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera) (1943, Psyche [Cambridge, Massachusetts], vol. L, pp. 87-99); Notes on Neotropical Plebejinae (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera), Ibid, op. cit. vol. 52, pp. 1-61; The Nearctic Members of the Genus Lycaeides Hübner (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera) (1949, Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University [Cambridge, Massachusetts], vol. 101, pp. 479-541. 3. Johnson is at the American Museum of Natural History, Bálint at the Hungarian Museum of Natural History; their coauthored studies include twenty-one published papers which have appeared in Acta Zoológica Hungarica, Annales of the Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest, and Reports of the Museum of Natural History, University of Wisconsin (Stevens Point). Additional names by Johnson for groups originally...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 123-144
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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