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Pinned and Mounted: Literary Butterfly Collectors That Will Make Your Skin Crawl

Sarah Jane Abbott is an assistant editor for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.  She grew up having NANCY DREW books read to her by her father, and is now an avid reader of mystery, thriller, and horror, along with everything from literary fiction to poetry to personal essays.  She graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in English and a concentration in creative writing.  Sarah Jane is an advocate of quasi-destructive book love—her best-loved volumes are highlighted, scribbled in, dog-eared, and wavy from being dropped in the bath tub.  

Having been an avid reader of mystery, suspense, and horror for many years, I recently noticed a strange trend: there are an awful lot of murderous, sadistic, downright creepy lepidopterists in literature!  What is it about butterfly collecting that attracts so many literary villains?  Or does  the collecting itself drive these characters mad?  Either way, you’ll love reading about these sick and twisted literary lepidopterists.


The Collector
by John Fowles

The Collector is a tale of obsessive love--the story of a lonely clerk who is consumed by his butterfly collection and becomes equally obsessed with a young art student. The novel follows his quest to add her to his "collection" as his ultimate prize. Hailed as the first modern psychological thriller, The Collector is the internationally bestselling novel that catapulted John Fowles into the front rank of contemporary novelists.

The Collector
John Fowles

The Collector is a tale of obsessive love--the story of a lonely clerk who is consumed by his butterfly collection and becomes equally obsessed with a young art student. The novel follows his quest to add her to his "collection" as his ultimate prize. Hailed as the first modern psychological thriller, The Collector is the internationally bestselling novel that catapulted John Fowles into the front rank of contemporary novelists.

MENTIONED IN:

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Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians. Judge Holden, a supremely violent and perverted man who rides with the Glanton gang, is an avid naturalist and, of course, butterfly collector.

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians. Judge Holden, a supremely violent and perverted man who rides with the Glanton gang, is an avid naturalist and, of course, butterfly collector.

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The Butterfly Cabinet
by Bernie McGill

When former nanny Maddie McGlade receives a letter from the last of her charges, she realizes the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for more than seventy years: the truth behind the death of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old daughter of the wealthy household where Maddie was employed as a young woman. Based on chilling events that actually took place in the north of Ireland in 1892, this is a dark, emotionally complex novel that explores the dark side of turn-of-the century aristocracy. Charlotte's mother, Harriet Osmond, is violent, abusive, and (what else?) an avid lepidopterist.

The Butterfly Cabinet
Bernie McGill

When former nanny Maddie McGlade receives a letter from the last of her charges, she realizes the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for more than seventy years: the truth behind the death of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old daughter of the wealthy household where Maddie was employed as a young woman. Based on chilling events that actually took place in the north of Ireland in 1892, this is a dark, emotionally complex novel that explores the dark side of turn-of-the century aristocracy. Charlotte's mother, Harriet Osmond, is violent, abusive, and (what else?) an avid lepidopterist.

MENTIONED IN:

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By Suzanne Donahue | March 21, 2014

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The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the wild Devon moorland with the footprints of a giant hound nearby, the blame is placed on a family curse-and it is up to Holmes and Watson to solve the mystery of the legend. Jack Stapleton, a shady character who may or may not have something to do with the hound and the deaths, is a butterfly collector and even chases after a specimen of the elusive butterfly Cyclopedes in one scene.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the wild Devon moorland with the footprints of a giant hound nearby, the blame is placed on a family curse-and it is up to Holmes and Watson to solve the mystery of the legend. Jack Stapleton, a shady character who may or may not have something to do with the hound and the deaths, is a butterfly collector and even chases after a specimen of the elusive butterfly Cyclopedes in one scene.

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Speak, Memory
by Vladimir Nabokov

Speak, Memory is an elegant and rich evocation of Nabokov's life and times, even as it offers incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and The Defense The autobiography also details Nabokov's lifelong love of lepidoptera. The butterfly genus Nabokovia was named after him in honor of this work, as were a number of butterfly and moth species. While not creepy himself, Nabokov's mind did give birth to the perennially creepy pedophilic Humbert Humbert...

Speak, Memory
Vladimir Nabokov

Speak, Memory is an elegant and rich evocation of Nabokov's life and times, even as it offers incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and The Defense The autobiography also details Nabokov's lifelong love of lepidoptera. The butterfly genus Nabokovia was named after him in honor of this work, as were a number of butterfly and moth species. While not creepy himself, Nabokov's mind did give birth to the perennially creepy pedophilic Humbert Humbert...

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Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

To understand the machinations of serial killer "Buffalo Bill," FBI trainee Clarice Starling is assigned the task of interviewing criminally insane Dr. Hannibal Lecter for insight. A former psychiatrist with unusual tastes and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind, Dr. Lecter is formidable twisted mind that Clarice must decode to solve to the case.

Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris

To understand the machinations of serial killer "Buffalo Bill," FBI trainee Clarice Starling is assigned the task of interviewing criminally insane Dr. Hannibal Lecter for insight. A former psychiatrist with unusual tastes and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind, Dr. Lecter is formidable twisted mind that Clarice must decode to solve to the case.

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By Sarah Jane Abbott | June 24, 2014

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