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Vladimir Nabokov about butterflies

Владимир Набоков о бабочках



AUDUBON'S BUTTERFLIES, MOTHS AND OTHER STUDIES Compiled and edited by Alice Ford Anyone knowing as little about butterflies as I do about birds may find Audubon's lepidoptera as attractive as his bright, active, theatrical birds are to me. Whatever those birds do, I am with them, heartily sharing, for instance, the openbilled wonder of "Green Heron" at the fantastic situation and much too bright colors of "Luna Moth" in a famous picture of the "Birds" folio. At present, however, I am concerned only with Audubon's sketchbook ("a fifteen-page pioneer art rarity" belonging to Mrs. Kirby Chambers of New Castle, Kentucky) from which Miss Ford has published drawings of butterflies and other insects in a handsome volume padded with additional pictorial odds and ends and an account of Audubon's life. The sketches were made in the 1820s. Most of the lepidoptera which they burlesque came from Europe (Southern France, I suggest). Their scientific names, supplied by Mr. Austin H. Clark, are meticulously correct-- except in the case of one butterfly, p. 20, top, which is not a Hamaeris but a distorted Zerynthia. Their English equivalents, however, reveal some sad editorial blundering: "Cabbage," p. 23, and "Miller," p. 91, should be "Bath White" and "Witch," respectively; and the two moths on p. 64 are emphatically not "Flesh Flies." In an utterly helpless account of the history of entomological illustration, Miss Ford calls Audubon's era "scientifi-cally unsophisticated." The unsophistication is all her own. She might have looked up John Abbot's prodigious representations of North American lepidoptera, 1797, or the splendid plates of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century German lepidopterists, or the rich butterflies that enliven the flowers and fruit of the old Dutch Masters. She might have traveled back some thirty-three centuries to the times of Tuthmosis IV or Amenophis III and, instead of the obvious scarab, found there frescoes with a marvelous Egyptian butterfly (subtly combining the pattern of our Painted Lady and the body of an African ally of the Monarch). I cannot speak with any authority about the beetles and grasshoppers in the Sketchbook, but the butterflies are certainly inept. The exaggerated crenulation of hindwing edges, due to a naive artist's doing his best to render the dry, rumpled margins of carelessly spread specimens, is typical of the poorest entomological figures of earlier centuries and to these figures Audubon's sketches are curiously close. Query: Can anyone draw something he knows nothing about? Does there not exist a high ridge where the mountainside of "scientific" knowledge joins the opposite slope of "artistic" imagination? If so, Audubon, the butterfly artist, is at sea level on one side and climbing the wrong foothill on the other. The New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1952.

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