Wednesday, 28 September 2022

'A rapture none but a naturalist can ever know...'

 'The death of the butterfly is the one draw back to an entymological [sic] career...'
So reflects Margaret Fountaine, the dauntless and altogether extraordinary Victorian butterfly collector, about whom I have written here before. She has only recently discovered the love of butterflies that has lain dormant in her till she is in her late twenties, and is indulging her newfound passion (for butterflies, that is, not her latest crush) in the countryside outside Florence. A short while before, she recalls, 'All of a sudden a large butterfly of the Vanessa tribe whirled high above my head. "A Red Admiral," I think to myself, but that was no Red Admiral, and with a rapture none but a naturalist can ever know I recognise no other than a Camberwell Beauty.' 
  I am finally reading Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady, Margaret Fountaine, edited by W.F. Cater from Miss Fountaine's extraordinarily candid diaries, and first published in 1980 after a very successful serialisation in the Sunday Times. It is a superb editing job, Cater reducing the voluminous diaries to something grippingly readable – a page-turner indeed – with his own elegant linking passages maintaining the flow, and Victorian-style chapter headings ( Astonishing forwardness; An unseemly letter – and a smuggled one; Impropriety penalised – tears of despair; Horrors of intemperance – the vanishing chorister; A bold resolution – cupidity and passion...')  drawing the reader into the next part of the story. I am greatly enjoying the ride.
  The awakening of Margaret Fountaine's dormant passion for butterflies occurred in the fittingly Nabokovian setting of a mountain valley in Switzerland, in the countryside near the village of Saint-Jean. Nabokov lived on the Swiss riviera from 1961 to his death in 1977 and spent much of his non-writing time blissfully chasing butterflies, especially his beloved Blues, in the mountain pastures.  

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