Degree Year

1983

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

Advisor(s)

David Walker

Keywords

Vladimir Nabakov, Characters, Pale Fire

Abstract

Vladimir Nabokov, as critics have often pointed out, neatly contained his greatest concerns within the realm of his twin obsessions, books and butterflies. In many ways, in fact, his two passionate interests proved redundant--an overlapping of which he grew increasingly aware during his life. According to Nabokov, a work of art exists at the imaginary point where language and lepidoptery intersect. Here, he says, "there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science." But perhaps Nabokov best described the merger when he expressed in one medium the importance of the other:

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep), and safe from creeping relatives and rust, in the Secluded stronghold where we keep type specimens it will transcend its dust. Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss, poems that take a thousand years to die but ape the immortality of this red label on a little butterfly.

Although he never directly compares specimens caught in his net to those captured on his pages, Nabokov's works provide an abundance of references to their author's ambivalent position as captor, killer, and cataloger of his heroes and heroines. The implications of these references in many ways echo the thoughts of John Fowles in The Collector. (Fowles' work describes the struggles of a slightly deranged young lepidopterist intent on expanding his collection to include a young woman, who ultimately dies in, and probably of, captivity.) Both authors display a frustration with the restricted, suspended quality of a person or place trapped in a work of art. Each grapples with the writer and butterfly collector's paradox: To preserve a specimen, one must kill it, robbing the creature of many of those attributes which made it desirable in the first place.

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