Butterflies were Vladimir Nabokov’s transcending passion in life — just standing among them, he said, was ecstasy and timelessness. He caught the bug as a child, and it infected him until the day he died. Nabokov metamorphosized from amateur collector into real scientist in his six years as the de facto butterfly curator at Harvard. He spent blissful 14-hour days there staring into his microscope, counting rows of wing scales, examining the structure of genitalia.
His research on American Blues — revamping their classification and re-thinking their evolution — has withstood the scientific test of time. Nabokov’s love of intricacy and his delight in discovery of the “beyond” joined his science to his art; he infused his fiction with lepidoptery, from butterfly expeditions to comic phallic caterpillars to elliptical references – like Lolita’s nickname “dolly”, which means chrysalis in Greek. Nabokov’s butterflies are this hour on the Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)
Kurt Johnson, co-author with Steve Coates, of “Nabokov’s Blues” and one of the lepidopterists who has taken up Nabokov’s work
and Brian Boyd, author of a two-volume biography of Nabokov and editor of “Nabokov’s Butterflies.”