Vladimir Nabokov Marvels Over Different “Lolita” Book Covers

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).

Short­ly after Loli­ta’s pub­li­ca­tion, Nabokov dis­cussed his nov­el on the CBC pro­gram “Close Up”: see part one and part two.

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.

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Comments (4)
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  • Anonymous says:

    Mr. Rasch­er –

    I reached your blog entry on Nabokov’s Loli­ta cov­ers via a tweet by Pub­lish­er­sWeek­ly in the U.S. Frankly I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er that you’re Ger­man: your Eng­lish is absolute­ly native. My con­grat­u­la­tions on your skills in a lan­guage I assume is not your first.

    – Dick Hartzell

    • Thank you for your kind words. As you can see from my short biog­ra­phy, I teach Eng­lish. I also lived in Eng­land for a year.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, I read your short biog­ra­phy. And I’m not sur­prised to learn you lived in Eng­land for a year.

        But liv­ing *any­where* for a year (or ten) does­n’t guar­an­tee the kind of mas­tery of a for­eign lan­guage you show in your blog. In this age of glob­al com­merce we’ve all read prod­uct instruc­tions that appear in 2 or 3 or 4 or more lan­guages and, in doing so, spot­ted a sole­cism or awk­ward turn of phrase that exposed the “for­eign­ness” — and occa­sion­al­ly the clue­less­ness — of a cor­po­rate trans­la­tor. (You may know that Nabokov him­self rel­ished spot­ting what he called “howlers” in trans­la­tions of works he’d read in their orig­i­nal lan­guage.)

        You may also know that Mark Twain wrote about his tra­vails try­ing to learn Ger­man:


        I admire any­one who dis­plays your kind of obses­sive ded­i­ca­tion with mas­ter­ing what to many seem the pet­ty details of anoth­er tongue. Those pet­ty details sep­a­rate native capa­bil­i­ties from mere flu­en­cy.

  • Imogen Straub says:

    The arti­cles on this site, and par­tic­u­lar­ly this one, are uncom­mon­ly orga­nized, well researched and astute. You do a great ser­vice to the craft of writ­ing in the mod­ern world and par­tic­u­lar­ly that of dig­i­tal con­tent. Keep up the phe­nom­e­nal work!

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