Nabokov: His Stories, His Butterflies (纳博科夫: 他的小说, 他的蝴蝶)
I bought a big book "The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov" with certain apprehensions that his stories might not measure up to his novels such as "Lolita," "Pnin," or "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight." Having read all the 65 stories contained in the volume, I found my fear utterly unfounded, for Nabokov was a superb short-story writer. Two of his very best stories are "Spring in Fialta" and "Signs and Symbols." I was glad I read them, I was most indebted to them, I was proud of the English language because of them.
One of Nabokov's stories is called "Details of a Sunset"; the details are caught in the light of his words and won't get dimmed with the approaching night. Similarly, the details of a butterfly, as shown on the front cover of the collected stories, are observed by him and preserved in his permanent prose. His great, lifelong passion for lepidoptery (鳞翅类学, 涉及鳞翅目的昆虫学分支) is traced by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates in their book grandly titled "Nabokov's Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius."
In his autobiography "Speak, Memory," Nabokov writes: "I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception." A blunt statement like this he was unafraid of making. Many practical-minded persons have been disturbed by his nonutilitarian delights since they believe that the delights which are not politically useful may have grave consequences. No wonder his work had been banned in the Soviet Union, for the authorities did not want their people to share his delights and become happier and more intelligent.
Here I wish to make a blunt statement of my own. Though Nabokov was an ardent butterfly collector, his high fame now rests on the literature he created rather than on the creature he located.
Had Lenin never arrived at the Finland Station, Nabokov would have stayed in Russia and composed sentimental poetry and assumed the position of a multimillionaire, and hardly anyone would have ever heard of him. In this sense, the Russian revolution, however brutal and disastrous, has done something good by giving the world a Nabokov the literary artist. On the contrary, the Chinese revolution has failed to produce a literary figure whose feats can even remotely match his.
Will Nabokov endure? We must defer to time, the supreme judge, for the decision. A human being cannot know the answer because time admits no one to the school of its legal thought, and also because time is the strangest thinker of all. Yet I hope very much that Nabokov will live as long as there are butterflies and sunsets and the urge to read and write.