Watch Vladimir Nabokov Admire Foreign 'Lolita' Covers ...
Watch Vladimir Nabokov Admire Foreign 'Lolita' Covers
By Hillary Weston , August 21, 2013
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock.” And thus begins a novel that has sustained the world’s attention far past its initial bite. Prior to being published in December of 1955, Vladimir Nabokov’s now iconic novel faced a wealth of criticism and detest, one particularly great 1953 manuscript review saying: "It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation. [...] I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
But now almost sixty years later, the classic work has been translated into a multitude of languages with hundreds of various covers, evocative of the story’s illicitly lovelorn tale. In speaking to Lolita and the reactions and interpretations he’d heard thus far,Nabokov said:
Some of the reactions were very amusing: one reader suggested that the firm might consider publication if I turned my Lolita into a twelve-year-old lad and had him seduced by Humbert, a farmer, in a barn, amidst gaunt and arid surroundings, all this set forth in short, strong, “realistic” sentences. (“He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess. I guess God acts crazy.” Etc.) Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists), an otherwise intelligent reader who flipped through the first part described Lolita as “Old Europe debauching young America,” while another flipper saw it as “Young America debauching old Europe.” Publisher X, whose advisers got so bored with Humbert that they never got beyond page 188 [where Lo suggests the second road trip —R.G.], had the naïveté to write me that Part Two was too long. Publisher Y, on the other hand, regretted that there were no good people in the book. Publisher Z said if he printed Lolita, he and I would go to jail.
No writer in a free country should be expected to bother about the exact demarcation between the sensuous and the sensual; this is preposterous; I can only admire but cannot emulate the accuracy of judgment of those who pose the fair young mammals photographed in magazines where the general neckline is just low enough to provoke a past master’s chuckle and just high enough not to make a postmaster frown. I presume there exist readers who find titillating the display of mural words in those hopelessly banal and enormous novels which are typed out by the thumbs of tense mediocrities and called “powerful” and “stark” by the reviewing hack. There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.
And after perusing various covers for the book, I came across this brief but wonderful clip of Nabokov commenting and chuckling about the various foreign editions of his work, especially liking a sparse Dutch cover . Take a look below.
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