Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly net
“Literature and butterflies,” Nabokov famously said, “are the two sweetest passions known to man.” It’s well known that Nabokov was an avid lepidopterist who would take his net out to the countryside to snag the insects to add to his collection. In fact, just last year, some of his professional ideas about butterfly evolution, long scoffed at as the ideas of an amateur by scientists, were vindicated. Now that’s what we call a man of many talents.
James Joyce’s eyepatch
Because of his declining eyesight and his multiple procedures, Joyce wore a black patch over his left eye in the later years of his life. Though some thought it an affectation, it was a sincere effort to preserve what little vision he had left in that eye. Either way, though, we think it looks pretty good on him.
William Faulkner’s pipe
Faulkner was rather fond of his pipe, and reportedly, would accept no Christmas gifts from his family except pipe cleaners. His family would oblige by hanging little bundles of different types and colors on the branches of the tree. If he got any other present, he would just put it in his office, unopened. Maybe he thought his pipe would get jealous?
William S. Burroughs’s gun(s)
Of course, Burroughs wasn’t the only author who doubled as a firearms enthusiast (Hemingway, anyone?), but they do seem to figure in an abnormal amount of photographs of and stories about him. Plus, there’s always that whole macabre William Tell episode to consider. Of gun control, he once famously said, “After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”
Oscar Wilde’s flower in the lapel
Ever the dandy, Wilde loved to wear a colorful bloom in his lapel, and famously favored green carnations especially, an affectation that turned the strangely colored flower into a symbol for homosexuality in the early 20th century. Of the boutonniere, he once said, “A really perfect buttonhole flower is the only thing to unite art with nature.”
Edith Wharton’s pair of puppies
Edith Wharton kept a variety of toy dogs in her life, mostly Pekingese, and liked to have her photograph taken with them, sitting on her lap or shoulders or on their own little pedestals. In Hermoine Lee’s biography of Wharton, she writes, “Her pet dogs were an integral part of [her] life… She felt intensely, even uncannily, close to them, and grieved when they died… In old age she often spoke about her almost mystical sense of communication with her dogs, and she judged her new friends partly by whether they shared this enthusiasm.”
George Sand’s riding gear
Sand caused a stir when she began to wear men’s clothing out in public, but for her it was as much an expression of comfort during her adventuring as it was her individuality and freedom. As she wrote in her autobiography, “As far as I was concerned, I found my new costume far more pleasant for running than my embroidered petticoats, torn buts of which remained caught on the underbrush as I passed. I had become thin and agile… It also must not be forgotten that at that time the unpleated skirts were so narrow that a woman was literally in a sheath and could not decently cross a stream without leaving a shoe behind.”
Marianne Moore’s tricorn hat
Though there have been many theories about the meaning of modernist poet’s Minuteman-like garb — a fashion affectation, a strange nod to George Washington, a symbol of a “republican tradition embodying beliefs in civic virtue, vigilance against tyranny, pluralism, and self-restraint,” we think she said it best herself:”I like the shape — it conceals the defects of the head.” As if she had any!
David Foster Wallace’s bandanna
Wallace’s signature bandanna came in many colors, but no matter which incarnation graced his disheveled head, it served to make him seem a literary renegade and a man of the people all at once. Not that he saw it that way. As he told David Lipsky, “I started wearing bandannas in Tucson because it was a hundred degrees all the time. When it’s really hot, I would perspire so much that I would drip on the page. Actually, I started wearing it that year, and then it became a big help in Yaddo in ’87 because I would drip into the typewriter, and I was worried that I would get a shock. And then I discovered that I felt better with them on. And then I dated a woman who…said there were these various chakras, and one of the big ones was what she called the spout hole, at the very top of your cranium. And in a lot of cultures, it was considered better to keep your head covered. And then I began thinking about the phrase, Keeping your head together, you know? …. It’s a security blanket for me. . . . It makes me…feel kind of creepy that people view it as an affectation or trademark or something. It’s more just a foible, it’s the recognition of a weakness, which is that I’m just kind of worried my head’s going to explode.”
Tom Wolfe’s crisp white suits
We know that Wolfe’s trademark three-piece suits are a little bit more than just accessories, but since they’re so distinctive, we had to include them. After all, in this day and age, a waistcoat is an anachronistic accessory on most people. Though many immersive journalists try to dress to fit into the world of their subjects, Wolfe has thrown that idea over. As he told NPR, “I have discovered that for me, it is much more effective to arrive in any situation as a man from Mars than to try and fit in. When I first started out in journalism, I used to try and fit in. … I tried to fit into the scene. … I was depriving myself of the ability of some very obvious questions if I fit in. … After that, I gave it up. I would turn up always in a suit and just be the village information gatherer.”