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Numbers and Names (... some statistics)

A complete list of all Lepidoptera ever mentioned by Nabokov in his writings permits some statistical inferences.

In Nabokov's narrative, poetic, autobiographical and essayistic work aimed at the general reader, there are nearly 700 references to Lepidoptera and lepidopterists, most in The Gift plus "Father's Butterflies" (166), Speak, Memory (119) and Ada (68). There are 406 more in the published letters.  Mary, The Defense and The Eye have the fewest. There is no novel without any.

In the catalogue sections, there are roughly 770 supposedly valid specific and subspecific names. Subtracting about 50 type-species, etc. listed just for purposes of clarification and not actually mentioned by Nabokov, the number of species Nabokov ever wrote about explicitly and implicitly should be around 720. About 56 per cent are Palearctic, mostly European, and about 38 percent North and South American. Nearly 40 per cent of the names have changed after Nabokov wrote about them, many of them several times. In the European fauna alone, the number is much higher (c. 70 per cent).

Not counting the technical papers, thirty-one species and subspecies were mentioned or alluded to by Nabokov five times or more, in this order: Plebejus idas (33), Papilio machaon (25), Plebejus melissa (23), Vanessa atalanta (19), Nymphalis antiopa (12), Pieris brassicae (12), Plebejus idas sublivens (11), Polygonia species (11), Pieris rapae (10), Vanessa cardui (10). 8 mentions: Cyllopsis pertepida dorothea, Danaus plexippus, Limenitis populi, Morpho species, Plebejus samuelis. 7: Callophrys avis, Driopa mnemosyne, Saturnia pyri, Plebejus argyrognomon. 6: Apatura iris, 'Lysandra cormion'. 5: Pieris mannii, Clossiana freija, Echinargus isola, Erebia flavofasciata, Gonepteryx rhamni, Iphiclides podalirius, Macroglossum stellatarum, Maniola jurtina, Papilio hospiton.

With particular affection, Nabokov wrote about Vanessa antiopa, Vanessa atalanta, Papilio machaon, 'Lysandra cormion', Microzegris pyrothoe, Erora laeta, Euphydryas anicia, Iolana iolas, Deilephila elpenor, Megathyminae species, Smerinthus ocellatus, Eupithecia excelsa, Plusia bractea, Staurophora celsia and Anarta cordigera.

The following butterflies and moths play pivotal roles in Nabokov's fiction: Attacus atlas ("Christmas"), Synanthedon uralensis ("The Aurelian"), Heodes virgaureae (The Eye), Esakiozephyrus bieti (The Gift), Smerinthus ocellatus (Bend Sinister), Plebejus melissa samuelis (Pnin), Polygonia interrogationis and Basilarchia arthemis (Admirable Anglewing), Vanessa atalanta (Pale Fire), Saturnia pyri (Invitation to a Beheading and Ada).

As an entomologist, Nabokov is the "author" of twelve valid genera, species and subspecies. His specialty were "blues" of the Plebejus and Polyommatus kind.

 

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