Nabokov’s Nasty Tricks

Of the hundred or so titles recently reissued as Popular Penguins, the most taboo and thus the most notorious is arguably Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. It was controversial from the moment Nabokov first tried to commit it to print. Although he completed the novel in 1953, publishers refused to go near something so deliberately provocative until a Parisian press ordered a small run in 1955; and yet, even then, another three years passed before it was at last made available in Nabokov’s adopted homeland of America. It is true, of course, that the controversy subsided with the passage of time — but it has not disappeared entirely, as I learned earlier this year when I picked up Lolita in the Popular Penguins edition and felt the sting of its notoriety first-hand.

My short essay on the disparity between popular perceptions of Lolita and its aesthetic complexities appears in the latest issue of Philament.

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