Nigel Andrew

Lolita’s Lepidopterist

Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art


Yale University Press 318pp £30 order from our bookshop

Well, I have never in my life spent so long looking at genitalia. Let me clarify that: I’m talking about butterfly genitalia, as viewed through the microscope, drawn in large numbers by the considerable lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov and reproduced (mostly for the first time) in this magnificent book. Some 148 of Nabokov’s scientific drawings appear here, in black and white and in colour, and they form the central section and the chief glory of Fine Lines. They are drawn with exquisite precision, and many of them are strangely beautiful, seeming as much works of art as of scientific enquiry.

Nabokov’s passion for butterflies and love of collecting were lifelong and are well documented, both in his own writings (especially Speak, Memory and the posthumous ‘Father’s Butterflies’, an addendum to The Gift) and in recent studies such as Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle’s Nabokov’s Butterflies. His serious professional work as a lepidopterist peaked in the late 1940s, when he was de facto curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. That period, during which he nearly ruined his eyesight peering into microscopes, is the focus of Fine Lines. It was a time when there was much controversy over the vexed question of how to define a species. The biological world was divided into ‘splitters’ and ‘lumpers’, basically those who looked for differences between species and those who looked for similarities.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,