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Did the Author of “Lolita” Have a Career Outside of Literature?

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of "Lolita," led a multifaceted life beyond his literary fame. He was a renowned lepidopterist, studying butterflies with a passion that paralleled his writing. His scientific contributions are still recognized today. How did his entomological expertise influence his literary works? Dive into the fascinating intersection of Nabokov's dual careers with us.

Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian-American writer best known for the controversial 1955 novel Lolita, once said that he could not "separate the aesthetic pleasure of seeing a butterfly and the scientific pleasure of knowing what it is.”

Although renowned for his writing, the novelist who gave the world the tormented lover Humbert Humbert had a secret love of his own: Lepidoptera. A Harvard zoology fellow, Nabokov devoted much of his time to the study of butterflies; in particular, he was fascinated by butterflies of the genus Polyommatus, commonly known as "blues." When asked in 1967 what he would have done if writing had not worked out, Nabokov replied that he would have devoted himself entirely to the study of butterflies.

Nabokov's scientific hypotheses, which dealt with the butterflies' origins and migration to the Americas, were criticized at the time, but decades later, a team of Harvard researchers called them "uncannily correct."

Getting to know Nabokov:

  • Despite asking that it be destroyed, Nabokov's unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, was published in 2009, 32 years after the author's death.

  • Nabokov was born into an aristocratic Russian family that fled the country following the Bolshevik Revolution. Nabokov attended Cambridge University, then joined the rest of his family in Berlin, before ultimately moving to the United States.

  • Nabokov had synesthesia, which manifested in seeing colors when he looked at letters of the alphabet.

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    • In addition to his literary career, “Lolita” author Vladimir Nabokov was a Harvard zoology fellow and butterfly expert.
      In addition to his literary career, “Lolita” author Vladimir Nabokov was a Harvard zoology fellow and butterfly expert.