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.
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.
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.
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!