In this short excerpt from a TV program called “USA: The Novel,” Vladimir Nabokov comments on different foreign editions of his novel Lolita. The individual covers he discusses are listed here; the full program is available here, and it contains some memorable quotes by the author (from chapter 1: “Mr Nabokov, would you tell us why it is that you detest Dr. Freud?” – “I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don’t have the dreams that he discusses in his books, I don’t see umbrellas in my dreams or balloons.”).
Finding a publisher for Lolita proved to be rather difficult for Nabokov. A December 1953 review of the manuscript said: “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.” (Get more information at Stanford’s “The Book Haven“) Lolita was first published in 1955 (original cover here) and has since been translated into many languages with a wide variety of cover designs (find a good collection at this site).
Bonus: Little known detail – Nabokov held the post of curator of lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. He collected many butterflies and developed a theory of butterfly migration which disputed all previous theories and wasn’t taken seriously by biologists then. Only recently did genetic studies vindicate his once bold theory. Some of Nabokov’s beautiful drawings of the butterflies he studied can be enjoyed courtesy of Flavorwire.
You can find this video housed in our collection of 235 Cultural Icons.
By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.