Monday, 9 May 2016

Vladimir Nabokov's Butterfly Drawings

"My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting"
Vladimir Nabokov

Some interesting butterfly drawings by renowned author Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). He had a lifelong passion for lepidoptery, which was as important to him as his writing. As well as going out and hunting butterflies, Nabokov enjoyed drawing them and using these drawings to adorn copies of various editions of his own books which he would inscribe to his beloved wife Vera, and other family members. 

Vera treasured these drawings more than other gifts and would look forward to receiving new butterfly drawings on personal anniversaries. It is said that Nabokov's love for Vera was so deep that it transcended words and the little butterfly drawings were the perfect expression where mere words could not suffice. Words and language, (strangely enough for a writer), just got in the way.

None of the drawings are of real or actual specimens, they are not scientifically correct but are the result of Nabokov's whimsy and imagination. None of the names given to his illustrated butterflies are correct either, but reference the books that he drew them on, or are plays on Vera's name using a combination of English and Russian for example: "Paradisia Radugaleta" and "Verinia Verae". 


Nabokov fled Paris with his wife and son in 1940, and settled in New York. Here he worked for the Museum of Natural History classifying butterflies, and was also paid for his entomological drawings. During his holidays he would go butterfly hunting in the Rocky Mountains, and it was on these trips that he wrote Lolita, the novel for which he gained fame and notoriety.


Nabokov moved back to Europe during the early 1960s and was able to give up teaching, and devote his time solely to writing and pursuing his passion for butterfly hunting in the Alps because of the sales and film rights to Lolita and Pale Fire

In his autobiography "Speak Memory", Nabokov writes, "From the age of seven everything I felt a connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion. If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender...I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerbockers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts".