Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024500, Mon, 19 Aug 2013 00:00:04 -0400

Lolita still remains controversial ...


55 years later, Lolita still remains controversial
Kamini Mehta, TNN | Aug 19, 2013, 02.36 AM IST

CHANDIGARH: Fifty-five years ago on August 18, 1958, history was created in the world of literature when the most famous and controversial book Lolita by Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov was published in the United States. While some considered the book a genius's masterpiece, others pushed it to the category of 'pornography', making it an instant bestseller in the 20th century.

The book was first published in 1955, though it failed to attract readers until a prominent London editor described the book as 'sheer pornography'. However, much hype was created when the French and British governments banned the book in 1956 because of its scandalous subject matter, where a middle-aged man gets into sexual relationships with his step-daughter, who is 12 years old. Till 1958, it remained off the shelves in the two countries. Thereafter, it was finally published in 1958 in the US by GP Putnam's Sons.

Going back to memory lane, ToI gets some city residents and writers to relive the times when the book was published, and the reactions they had after they read the novel. According to Rana Nayar, Professor, English Department, Panjab University: "If the Russian government hadn't imposed a ban on Lolita, it wouldn't have been this famous the world over. I feel this book got much of its publicity because of the ban imposed on it by the British and French governments. By doing that, the governments sat in judgment. A writer has all the right to pick up any subject matter, and a book has all the right to reach the shelves, so that readers can read it and form their own opinions."

Vivek Atrey, an author, still considers Lolita as 'erotic', even when there are many other writers working on the same lines, with much more vivid descriptions. "Lolita is a novel that was far ahead of its time, and it would have created an uproar even if it was published today. But it is a writer's prerogative to choose a subject and create a masterpiece."

On the other hand, city-based author Neel Kamal Puri had heard a lot about the book when she was growing up, but was asked not to read it. "Lolita was the most controversial book of those times, and the controversy did not fade away even many years later. It prevailed even when we were growing up. I remember I was in school in the 1970s, and we were told not to read this book because of its subject matter. That is the reason I have not read it till now. However, the times have changed, and anyone can pick it up and read it now," she said.

Author Nirupama Dutt was certainly scandalized by the book's content, though she considers it to be the harsh reality. "I read Lolita in the 1990s when I was very young, so I was scandalized because of the subject. Back then when I read the book, it was still controversial. Lolita is a metaphor, but whatever has been described in the novel is reality, as these things happen even today. So, it will always be controversial to read the truth. Today, Lolita is a reference point in English literature."

City resident Anmol Chavi Gupta started reading the book after hearing about it from friends. "It sounded very exciting, and the subject matter too was quite different. So, I picked it up a while ago. While reading the book, I was amazed by the author's writing style. It was very dramatic. It is a classic, and it was banned just because it was written in the wrong age. Maybe, that generation was unable to accept such a controversial book."

Soumya Singh, another city resident and a book lover, left the book in between as she felt it was disturbing. "I read about the book online while I was searching for some controversial books around the world. The subject matter of Lolita was too explicit for the 1950s, and so I picked it up. But after a while, I left it as it gets disturbing when Humbert starts exploiting Lolita. Though of course, I feel every reader has his/her own point of view and taste of books. Therefore, banning books is no solution."

Even as many literary people have not read it so far, there is no author or book lover in the city who is not aware about Lolita and the controversy surrounding it. A partial credit for this goes to the films that were made based on the novel.

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