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О бабочках Владимира Набокова

Аbout Vladimir Nabokov's butterflies

Nabokov's butterflies, dispersed
Бабочки Набокова разогнаны

The New York Times, May 11, 2004 - International Herald Tribune

Статья о продаже коллекции бабочек Владимира Набокова с аукциона его сыном в мае 2004 года

Nabokov's butterflies, dispersed

Lila Azam Zanganeh. The New York Times, May 11, 2004

GENEVE. To Vladimir Nabokov's favorite translator and only son, the thought of selling the books his father so intricately annotated with fantasy butterflies and personal notes was distressing, but had to be done. Dmitri Nabokov, who turned 70 on May 10, felt his own death approaching, he said in an interview, and wanted to tie up the strands of his life.
So he sold his father's collection, including an elaborate sketch on the flyleaf of a book showing the imaginary "Verina raduga Nab." with dappled wings of violet and blue, blood-orange glimmers and iridescent greens. It was auctioned in Geneva on May 5.

"Of course it tugs at the heartstrings to let go of these lovely butterflies," Nabokov said at his home in Montreux, Switzerland. "The little, simple ones are so touching. But I would rather do a thing like this lucidly. Having seen death close up on three occasions, it's frightening to think you might leave such precious loose ends."

Dmitri has no direct heirs, so when his parents were still alive, it was decided that the books would be auctioned before his death. The collection, except for a few items, was sold last week for nearly $750,000, less than anticipated: Various private collections, most from France and Switzerland, bought parts of it, which will now be scattered to the breeze.

Vladimir Nabokov died near Montreux in 1977. Dmitri Nabokov's library consisted of a wide array of his father's novels, short stories, poems and translations, as well as a small set of critical studies. Dedicated for the most part to Dmitri and his mother, Vera, the books were often autographed and annotated. Many are deftly adorned with butterflies, drawn in ink or color pencils on the first page.

The first major series of Vladimir Nabokov's archives and manuscripts was acquired in 1991 by the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. This second series, and perhaps the last, constitutes more than 100 volumes and 30 titles, a remarkable medley of Russian and American literature.

"I am an American author, born in Russia, educated in England, where I studied French texts," Nabokov once said. After publishing eight novels in Russian, he began a flamboyant writing career in English with "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," written in 1941 when he was 42. "Lolita" came 14 years later, and Nabokov called it "the record of my love affair with the English language."

Others read "Lolita" as a record of a more scandalous sort of affair, which brought that novel and its author international notoriety, along with immense critical acclaim. From then on Nabokov endured ceaseless scrutiny. Who was this man who could write with such heart-rending poignancy about the ever-crafty charms of a nymphet?

In this light the books of Dmitri's library each offer a particular insight into the private Nabokov, whose psyche was a far cry from the myriad personas of his characters. Nabokov was deeply in love with his wife, who died in 1991, and was a tender and attentive father. In a collection of short stories that sold last week, Nabokov wrote: "For Vera. Adorata adorata. From V. Jan. 5, 1970. Montreux." In "Despair" he jotted for his Mitioucha, the diminutive for Dmitri: "For Dmitri. From translator to translator. With love. Vladimir Nabokov. Papa. Montreux. 1966."

The collection also contained ample handwritten notes. On opening pages or in the margins Nabokov points out plentiful misprints and errata. The first page of an early edition of "Ada, or Ardor" reads, among a web of other notes: "p. 257 last line should be 'he was pregnant' (not 'she'!)."

Perhaps the most original piece is a book of expenses (1949-1952), which provides an endearingly scrupulous shopping list: "New Yorker $00.40, Coca-Cola $00.10, movies $1.80, groceries $4.80, April rent $125."

Then there are the fantastical butterflies, each of which sold for $1,500 to $25,000. Those intended for Vera are perhaps the most resplendent and sold for the highest prices. They have variegated colors, delicate artistry and fanciful names. For her he created the blue "Colias verae" and the dark "Maculinea aurora Nab." For Dmitri he drew the translucent "Parnassins concinnus Nab."

Aside from his writing, Nabokov was a world-class lepidopterist who became the curator of the butterfly collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard in the late 1940s. He discovered numerous real species, which bear his name, and created a revolutionary taxonomy still used today.

Nature, Nabokov once said, conjures up the same sort of mystification and magical spell as art. And like so many diaphanous signposts of Nabokov's celebrated "other worlds," these "pretty insects" inhabit his prose: "A butterfly in the Park, an orchid in a shop window, would revive everything with a dazzling inward shock of despair," Van Veen says in "Ada."

Dmitri Nabokov observed that there was a tiny consolation to selling the books. "Today it is possible to scan and preserve superb copies of all the graphic materials," he explained. As for the near future, he said that the earnings from the sale have not been earmarked for a specific project. In time they will probably contribute to the PEN Nabokov literary award, a literary foundation and the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, which the Russian government has threatened to close. Dmitri said he hoped to buy the museum, his family's former home, which is estimated to be worth about $18 million.

Jacques Tajan of the auction house in Paris that presided over the sale said: "People who buy these books need to pay a significant amount of money. Only then will they conserve them adequately." He emphasized the sentimental value of the sale: "It is bliss for me to do this. It will be a terrific memory in my career."

No matter, Nabokov's butterflies were separated. And the distant echo of his "Speak, Memory" seemed to be touching them with its fragile grace: "To love with all one's soul and leave the rest to fate."

The New York Times

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