Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026373, Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:07:03 -0300

Lolita and book cover redesigns of the book ( Huffington post)

7 Stunning 'Lolita' Book Cover Redesigns

"I want pure colors, melting clouds, accurately drawn details, a sunburst
above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts..."

<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/madeleine-crum> Maddie Crum Books and
Culture Writer, The Huffington Post Posted: 08/18/2015 10:19 AM EDT

The following is an excerpt from
<http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/1440329869> Lolita - The Story of a Cover
Girl: Vladimir Nabokov's Novel in Art and Design, edited by John Bertram and
Yuri Leving. In it, 80 graphic designers reimagine the iconic cover of
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. There are also multiple essays by Nabokov
scholars on the difficulty of visually representing the themes of the

Fifty-eight years after Lolita was first published, Vladimir Nabokov's most
famous novel remains firmly in the public consciousness, but more often for
its misunderstood subject than for its masterful and dazzling prose. The
character of Lolita, in her innumerable pop-cultural refractions (Stanley
Kubrick's film adaptation is primary among them, but there are also a failed
1971 musical; a 1992 Russian-language opera; a second film, from 1997; a
1999 'retelling' from Lolita's point of view; and a recent one-man show),
has come to signify something very different from what Nabokov presumably
intended. Though she has acquired this misleading advance guard, the novel
itself remains as potent as ever. At turns sad and hilarious, deeply
disturbing and insanely clever, Lolita is an immensely rich reading
experience. Still, if there ever were a book whose covers have so reliably
gotten it wrong, it isLolita. This book explores why this is so.

Lolita-The Story of a Cover Girl has its genesis in "Covering Lolita,"
Dieter E. Zimmer's online gallery of close to 200 covers, spanning nearly
six decades of the novel's international publishing history. Though it is
intriguing to see them arrayed together, and amusing to follow the choices
made by the designers, illustrators, and publishers, it is apparent how few
of them ultimately succeeded at communicating the depth and complexity of
the novel. Overflowing with powerful, finely wrought imagery, Lolita also
strikes with darkness and brutality. Ellen Pifer, editor of Vladimir
Nabokov's Lolita: A Casebook (Oxford University Press, 2003), describes it
starkly as "a threnody for the destruction of a child's life." It is
difficult to think of another book whose cover design has been as fraught
with peril.

There are several factors that make Lolita such an instructive case for
investigating the art of cover design. First, dozens of existing covers are
available for study. Furthermore, Nabokov was not only interested generally
in the covers of his books but, in particular, voiced strong opinions about
how Lolita's cover should and shouldn't appear. (Although as Zimmer notes in
his essay, included in this collection, Nabokov's opinions evolved over
time.) Nabokov wrote with great care and specificity, believing that what
may appear to be textual minutiae are often crucial to a full understanding
and appreciation. The publisher that chooses for its cover of Lolita a girl
with long blond hair or a woman of 21 may not care about such matters. After
all, "fidelity to the novel's narrative has not been high on the list of
publishers' concerns." This is one reason why misunderstandings and
misinterpretations of Lolita still persist. It's easy to see why a
prospective reader, even at this late date, would assume that the titular
character is the precocious seductress that her name has popularly and
unfortunately come to signify.

Duncan White writes that "Lolita has been repeatedly misread on the cover of
Lolita, and frequently in a way to make her seem a more palatable subject of
sexual desire." Kubrick's 1962 film, with its maddeningly indelible image of
Lolita (played by the actress Sue Lyon), is arguably the primary source of
this interpretation. Ellen Pifer calls it "a blatant misrepresentation of
Nabokov's novel, its characters and themes. Not only does it betray the
nature of the child featured in its pages; it disregards the way that the
narrator, Humbert Humbert, comes to terms with his role in ruining her
life." But however misleading it was, the movie-and Adrian Lyne's 1997 film
adaption-influence our understanding of the novel to this day, especially
since their images have been used unsparingly for decades to promote the

Is a cover responsible for fairly representing the book? Taking it a step
further, can a cover even be said to have a responsibility to a fictional
character, particularly one who has been abused and victimized as Lolita
has? When might a cover incorporate images that are not supported by the
text, and what problems could arise with such an approach?

These questions are complicated because what we know of Lolita comes from
Humbert, the epitome of the unreliable narrator, charming and devious in the
masterful subterfuge that is his "confession." Many have noted that Humbert,
preferring the idealization of his obsession, is largely oblivious to
Lolita's qualities as an autonomous human being-and, since she is a child,
these are qualities that are still being formed. We, in turn, dependent on
Humbert's words, ultimately learn little about Lolita. Perhaps the alternate
title-"Confession of a White Widowed Male"-mentioned in the fictional John
Ray, Jr.'s, foreword should have been the title of the book. Or perhaps
there is no woman in the text at all. One sophisticated response would be to
create a cipher instead of depicting a girl, which is what Hilary Drummond
has done-a synaesthetic translation of cover text into color, based on the
chromatic alphabet that Nabokov described in Speak, Memory and the colors
that Jean Holabird assigned them inVladimir Nabokov: Alphabet in Color
(Berkeley: Gingko Press, 2005). In Drummond's design, the colors (placed
against a flesh-tone background) spell out "Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov."


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