Nabokov’s Butterfly Effect

Butterfly illustrations by Meyer via WikiCommons

Butterfly illustrations by Meyer via WikiCommons

Vladimir Nabokov’s legions of fans know how infuriating their idol can be. Infuriatingly contrarian, infuriatingly secretive and, of course, infuriatingly talented.

Literature’s most famous synesthete was also a noted entomologist. Throughout his life, Nabokov’s passion for lepidoptera was second only to his writing - “My pleasures,” he wrote, “are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting.” Lolita is said to have been structured as a butterfly hunt. A number of butterflies and moths were named in his honour, as is the genus Nabokova.

During his butterfly hunts in America’s southwest, Nabokov formulated theories on how a family of butterflies called the Polyommatus blues arrived on the continent. Though his ideas were largely ignored by professional lepidopterists during his lifetime, The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London last week reported that - infuriatingly - Nabokov’s postulations were, as usual, perfect.

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