Three entomologists, four in corduroy

Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly-collecting activities are well known, but not everyone knows that the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and the Franco-Belgian poet Henri Michaux were amateur entomologists.

Erik Satie, Henry David Thoreau, and George Sand were all known for wearing corduroy, but in Satie’s case it was called velours côtelé* and he was not blamed.  (No, “corduroy” isn’t the word in French, though the English word comes from French.) But Americans of that era regarded corduroy as Irish, and ladies were not supposed to wear corduroy or smoke cigars, so the other two did not get off so easily.

*And in Sand’s too,  but only Satie got away with it.

And also Thorstein Veblen:

[J. Laurence Laughlin, professor of economics at Cornell University] was sitting in his study in Ithaca when an anemic-looking person, wearing a coonskin cap and corduroy trousers, entered and in the mildest possible tone announced: ‘I am Thorstein Veblen.’

Note: Dorfman’s biography of Veblen is famously inaccurate, portraying Veblen’s behavior as far more bizarre and disreputable than it actually was.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 1:04 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If George Sand was wearing corduroy, it was also called velours côtelé. But are you sure about that? corduroy pants was what heavy duty workers (such as stonemasons) wore, not habitués of the night life with whom George was gadding about in Paris.

  2. I can look it up. It was in a legit source, and Sand’s wearing corduroy was mentioned in the context of her androgynous persona, along with wearing men’s pants, smoking a cigar, etc. The Satie source is Roger Shattuck, though I worked it out myself first from French-language sources.

    I know that Sand’s corduroy was called by the normal French name too, just like Satie’s, but I had to have my little joke. From what you say, it seems that all three were wearing laborer’s clothing for effect, a common affectation among counterculturists of every era.

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