Fine Lines Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art Stephen H Blackwell, Kurt Johnson

Publication date:
02 May 2016
Yale University Press
336 pages: 254 x 203 x 27mm
75 color + 94 b-w illus.
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The first comprehensive, interdisciplinary accounting of Nabokov’s scientific work, its significance in his artistry, and his contribution to evolutionary theory

This landmark book is the first full appraisal of Vladimir Nabokov’s long-neglected contributions as a scientist. Although his literary achievements are renowned, until recently his scientific discoveries were ignored or dismissed by many. Nabokov created well over 1,000 technical illustrations of the anatomical structures of butterflies, seeking to understand the evolutionary diversity of small butterflies called Blues. But only lately have scientists confirmed his meticulous research and vindicated his surprising hypotheses.
This volume reproduces 154 of Nabokov’s drawings, few of which have ever been seen in public, and presents essays by ten leading scientists and Nabokov specialists. The contributors underscore the significance of Nabokov’s drawings as scientific documents, evaluate his visionary contributions to evolutionary biology and systematics, and offer insights into his unique artistic perception and creativity.

Stephen H. Blackwell is professor of Russian, University of Tennessee. He is the author of The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov’s Art and the Worlds of Science. He lives in Knoxville, TN. Kurt Johnson is author or coauthor of more than 200 journal articles on Lepidoptera and coauthor of Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

“[This] book is a lovely object. . . . Even for the non-specialist, it’s impossible to thumb through Fine Lines without catching an infectious sense of punctiliousness married to passion. . . . Nabokov’s creatures are a blissful, winged confluence of earth and air, appetite and beauty.”—Brad Leithauser, Washington Post

Fine Lines . . . reproduces a hundred and fifty-four of [Nabokov’s] illustrations, some for the first time. . . . [and] the commentary is so fully intertwined with the work that, by the end, it’s impossible to imagine one without the other. The writer and the lepidopterist really do turn out to be the same person, engaged in a single, if multifaceted, project of knowledge and description.”—Elif Batuman, New Yorker

Fine Lines . . . showcases Nabokov’s illustrations of butterflies alongside essays exploring their relation to his literature and life. Done on index cards—the same medium he used to write his novels—the black-and-white and color drawings are exacting, elegant, and alluring.”—Steff Yotka, Vogue

“One of the first works to thoroughly investigate his butterfly studies and scientific illustrations . . . Fine Lines argues for more balance between science and art in considering Nabokov’s legacy.”—Allison Meier, Hyperallergic

“This detailed and gorgeous volume of Nabokov’s scientific achievements inspires both artistic and aesthetic appreciation for readers, historians, and scientists alike.”—Publishers Weekly

Fine Lines offers a wealth of new insights into Nabokov’s scientific activity and its connections with his art. It unveils – amazingly – a whole new body of his work. It’s a beautiful book that any butterfly-loving Nabokovian will be itching to have and to hold.”—Nigel Andrew, Literary Review

Winner of The Brian Boyd Prize, the best book of 2016 - 2018 by someone who has previously published a book predominantly on Nabokov, sponsored by the International Vladimir Nabokov Society.

“This collection explains to the layman just why Nabokov’s scientific work was so successful and important. The drawings are absolutely stunning—even to someone without a scientific background they are arresting. Lepidopterists will surely want to own it, but more importantly, this will be a treasure for Nabokov fans.”—Eric Naiman, author of Nabokov, Perversely

“This is a very valuable contribution to understanding one of the great novelists of the Twentieth Century. It is a superb example of how a creative mind can combine art and science in ways that make them both greater than they would have otherwise been. A landmark book.”—Thomas E. Lovejoy, George Mason University

“What makes this volume special is not so much its attempt to merge Nabokov’s philosophy and science, but its ability to include all the relevant authors on the subject of Nabokov's dual nature.”—Nina Khrushcheva, author of Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics

Fine Lines presents a welcome and rare insight into Nabokov’s obsessive attention to detail so prominent in his writing. The rich collection of his illustrations, reveal an unintended artistry born out of meticulous observation.”—Rob Kesseler, co-author of Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers

“The wonderful drawings and remarkable essays in this book allow us to trace Nabokov's steps in many ways and on many pages. The result is a long close-up of an ideal form of curiosity.”—Michael Wood, Princeton University