Nabakov’s butterflies

Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabakov’s Scientific Art is published this month by Yale UP – written by SH Blackwell & K Johnson.

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Best known as a novelist, Nabakov was also a curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. The  new biography features 154 of his drawings of ‘blues’ from the group Polyommatini.

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In Nabokov’s best-known novel, Lolita, the town Leppingville is his corruption of lepping (American for chasing butterflies) and Elphinstone is named after the subgenus Elphinstonia. Both in his novels and his entomology Nabokov gave great attention to such detail. He enjoyed the beauty of scientific accuracy and precision.


In this scene from the film of that book, Humbert plays chess with Lolita’s mother as Lolita kisses Humbert goodnight. His line in the scene is “I take your Queen” suggestive of his designs on her daughter. Chess is a recurring motif in the novels of Nabokov and a favorite pastime of director Stanley Kubrick.