Archive for the ‘Lolita’ Category

lolita carpet, 1999

Monday, August 24th, 2009

bloomAmerican artist Barbara Bloom (b. 1951) , often mentioned in the same breath as Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, has a bit of a Nabokov obsession. For instance, she has redesigned the covers of each of Nabokov’s works and is known to collect Nabokov’s personal copies of his own works. In 1999 she recreated the two-volume Olympia Press Lolita (complete with the author’s handwritten annotations) as a set of rugs. Not  being much of an art scholar, I am not sure of the meaning behind this, but it is definitely intriguing! Thanks to Jean-Pierre for the heads up!

a propos our Lolita Cover Contest

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

W&NOrion Books’ imprint Weidenfeld & Nicolson has commissioned new cover artwork from Minneapolis-based advertising agency Fallon for limited editions of nine works of fiction to celebrate their sixty years of publishing, among them

“…Lolita featuring a cherry die-cut and an endpaper by Louisa Scarlet Gray. Cherries ripening on the tree have come to be associated with feminine chastity and, when plucked, the loss of innocence or virtue. The bright end-papers featuring drawings of dolls further plays on this duality and that of child versus adult.”

 It’s a curious cover. I’m not so sure about those cherries nor, for that matter, the endpapers. Cherries, really? To me it seems almost shockingly kneejerk. The endapers are curious as well. Other books in the series seem not to have fared much better, relying as they all do on a single cut out image through which a small portion endpaper shows.  


lolita cover, 1977

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

lolita Thanks to Patty for sending this Berkeley Medallion Edition from 1977 that is missing from Dieter Zimmer’s online gallery Covering Lolita. By the way, I have already received several submissions for the Lolita Cover Contest and they are quite interesting! When the contest ends and the winner has been selected I am going to post a gallery of all the entries.






nabokov and kubrick

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

August 18, 1958 was Lolita‘s US publication date. Less than a month later, Kubrick purchased the movie rights for $150,000 plus 15% of the producer’s profits. That represented a huge sum for Nabokov, given the fact that at the time his compensation at Cornell University was $11,000 per year (it had recently been raised from $9,000). In addition, Nabokov was paid $40,000 for writing the screenplay for Lolita with an additional $35,000 to be paid if it were a solo screenplay in addition to travel and living expenses (All of this, of course, made Nabokov a rich man to which he famously responded by retiring from teaching and moving to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life). In fact, Kubrick used very little of Nabokov’s screenplay (which was ultimately published in 1974), although Nabokov labored over it for most of 1960, supplying Kubrick with extensive revisions.

Nabokov’s commented that “only ragged odds and ends of my script had been used” and the relationship between the film and his novel was “a lovely misty view seen through mosquito netting” and “a scenic drive as perceived by the horizontal passenger of an ambulance.”

From Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years by Brian Boyd:

“…with Sue Lyon looking seventeen and Humbert’s passion for nymphets entirely omitted, the film lost all the horror and tension of the novel. Under the eye-catching photos of Sue Lyon and the lollipop had appeared the question: “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” Critics answered: “They didn’t.”…Years later Kubrick himself confessed: “Had I realized how severe the [censorship] limitations were going to be, I probably wouldn’t have made the film.” He also named the film his only manifest failure, and explained it by the fact that the book was simply too good to adapt for the screen.”

Over at The Kubrick Site there are two fascinating essays, which have me rethinking my ambivalence towards the film.

Emendations to Annotated Editions of Lolita, Leland de la Durantaye

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

In The Nabokovian Number 58  Spring 2007 Leland de la Durantaye further illuminates the text by commenting on a dozen and a half  notes in Alfred Appel, Jr.’s indispensable The Annotated Lolita. I found this quite interesting:

43. “Monday. Delectatio morosa. I spend my doleful days in dumps and dolors.” Appel offers the following note to this passage: “Latin; morose pleasure, a monastic term” (AL, 357; note 43/2). Delectatio morosa is indeed Latin and is indeed a monastic term, but does not mean morose pleasure. The term is part of the technical vocabulary of Christian doctrine. Delectatio morosa is pleasure taken in sinful thinking wihout desiring it, and is thus classified alongside of gaudium, dwelling with complacency on sins already committed, and desiderium, the desire for what is sinful, as “internal sins” in Catholic orthodoxy (since Aquinas). That Humbert’s sin is at this point only “internal” is not irrelevant to the story he tells.

Full text here:

Lolita book cover contest

Monday, August 10th, 2009

After perusing Dieter Zimmer’s exhaustive online exhibit, Covering Lolita (see sidebar),  I am disappointed, as interesting as the various depictions of Lolita are, by how very few correspond thematically to the novel. Nabokov’s work is masterful in its clarity and overflows with powerful and finely-wrought imagery and yet so few of the covers attempt to capture any of this richness, and many of them are merely absurd, or banal or a laughable combination of both. There are, as is to be expected, the Balthus and Balthus-like images, not to mention other examples of fine art maidens drafted to portray poor Lolita, and there is of course a panoply of expected lolipops, Sue Lyon -and to a lesser extent Dominique Swain – photos,  body parts (lips, legs, breasts), short white socks, saddle shoes, Mary Janes, short skirts, an endless parade of hairstyles, and the too-old Lolitas and the too-young Lolitas. Then there are the butterflies, and the images of the author, and an entire universe of typefaces.  

So Venus febriculosa is holding a Lolita book cover competition. The winning entry will receive $350. Deadline is October 2. Rules (pdf):

Lolita Book Cover Contest Rules

Style is Matter, The Moral Art of Vladimir Nabokov, Leland de la Durantaye, Part 2

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

So, how shall we read Lolita and what may we learn in the reading? Leland de la Durantaye’s elegant theses revolve primarily around these questions. In particular, I respond to the clarity of the following passage, which reduces the novel to something conceptually more incisive than “Humbert Humbert, narrator of ‘Lolita‘, is a sadist, narcissist and sexual deviant”, (from the title of Martin Amis’ 1992 review of Lolita in The Independent):

“Entranced by his senses and pursuing his image of Lolita as if she were an inspiring image of art, Humbert fails to see that “there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a place gate.” These “dim and adorable regions” are forbidden to him because of the intensity and the single-mindedness with which he occludes them, with which he concentrates on “another Lolita,” an “image” created in his sensual haze that his desperation and desire lead him to call “more real” than the little girl in his charge. In this, Nabokov has Humbert fail to observe the line that divides art from life – that same line that Nabokov’s compatriot Khodasevich identified decades before Lolita as lying at the heart of the burgeoning writer’s aesthetics.

In works early and late – and nowhere more spectacularly than Lolita – Nabokov asked how the artist was to live in the world, how to balance fierce independence of vision with the necessity of seeing the world from the standpoint of others. This is a question of judgment: the question of how to balance the aesthetic with the ethical, the disinterested remove of aesthetic judgment with the interested proximity of moral judgment.”

Maurice Girodias, Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Maurice Girodias, founder of the Olympia Press, was the first to publish Lolita. In September 1965 the Evergreen Review (Evergreen #37)  published an article by Girodias entitled Lolita, Nabokov and I, which was Girodias’ accounting of the events surrounding the publication of Nabokov’s novel. What followed was a exchange, in Evergreen #45 and #47 between the always clever Nabokov and Girodias (Links below).


“I had not been in Europe since 1940, was not interested in pornographic books, and thus knew nothing about the obscene novelettes which Mr. Girodias was hiring hacks to confect with his assistance, as he relates elsewhere. I have pondered the painful question whether I would have agreed so cheerfully to his publishing Lolita had I been aware in May, 1955, of what formed the supple backbone of his production. Alas, I probably would, though less cheerfully.”

But I must also point out to him that he was not the right person to undertake the thing; he lacked the means to launch Lolita properly – a book that differed so utterly in vocabulary, structure, and purpose (or rather absence of purpose) from his other much simpler commercial ventures, such as Debby’s Bidet or Tender Thighs.”



“Then – not everyone has the privilege of acceding during one’s lifetime to Nabokov’s inverted Pantheon! Nabokov’s victims have always been anonymous, at best pseudonymous: am I really the first of the great man’s fantasies of hate to be identified with a live person?

Am I really – could I really be! – that delirious, evil character, that chameleonic tormentor? Draped in “an aura of negligence, evasiveness, procrastination and falsity,” did I conspire to capture my helpless, struggling Nabokov in “a tissue of haggling manoeuvres and abstruse prevarications“? Did I haunt him in dark recesses “with the sneer of a hoodlum following an innocent passerby“? As a “flexible memoirist” (animated with “undulatory motions“), was I guilty of those countless “insolent and vulgar remarks,” those “idiotic insinuations” peppered with “nasty and silly passages” and freely disgorging “discrepancies typical of apocrypha,” not to mention the mere “guileful inexactitudes“? (Unless otherwise occupied in concocting “obscene novelettes” in the company of snivelling hacks – couched, that goes without saying, “in intolerably bad English”?) How far can one go? Could that remarkable person be me? Would those darkest “depths of my personality” be the cause of Nabokov’s “obligation to endure the elusiveness, the procrastination (sic…), the dodges, the duplicity, and the utter irresponsibility of the man“?”

Vladimir Nabokov discusses “Lolita” part 2 of 2

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Vladimir Nabokov discusses “Lolita” part 1 of 2

Saturday, August 8th, 2009