Archive for August, 2009

lolita my love

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

“It was perfectly all right for me to imagine a twelve-year-old Lolita. She only existed in my head. But to make a real twelve-year-old girl play such a part would be sinful and immoral, and I will never consent to it.”

lolitamyloveWell, of course Nabokov did consent to it, once for $150,000 and 15% of the producer’s profits for the movie rights (not to mention his fee for the screenplay) and then again for the musical, for which he waived script approval (and probably any serious interest in the project as well).

It’s still startling to me that in 1971 John Barry and Alan Jay Lerner contributed words and music to a musical of Lolita, called Lolita My Love. Not surprisingly, it was savaged by the critics and closed before its scheduled Broadway opening after only nine performances in Philadelphia and Boston. In 1981 Edward Albee took his chances with a non-musical stage adaptation that was even more disastrously received. It’s not hard to wonder why. 

In 2007 a funny letter appeared in the New York Times in response to an article on novels being made into musicals:

To the Editor:

I am sorry that Henry Alford (”Books on Broadway,” Jan. 14), was not able to see ”Lolita, My Love” when it opened in Philadelphia in 1971 (or when it closed in Boston shortly thereafter). The sight and sound of the incomparable Dorothy Loudon belting out ”Sur les Quais de Ramsdale, Vermont” made an unforgettable memory for me. Curiously, audiences had pretty much the reaction that Max Bialystock hoped for with ”Springtime for Hitler.”

Carol Clapp
West Hartford, Conn.

Carol Clapp! That song is at the bottom of this post. Judge for yourself:


But even more obscure is the 1994 world premiere in Stockholm of Rodion Shchedrin’s three-hour opera of Lolita (in Swedish) conducted by none other than the great Mstislav Rostropovich and attended by Nabokov’s son and translator Dmitri. Incidentally Shchedrin was married to prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya for whom he created several ballets, including Anna Karenina and The Little Humpbacked Horse. The opera was well received, and Act II is still occasionally performed.  The image below is like no opera I’ve ever seen!

 opera lolita






hebrew translation of lolita

Friday, August 28th, 2009

hebrew lolitaPerusing this publisher’s website, it’s apparent that book cover design is not their strong suit. That being said, I am fascinated by this cover of the Hebrew translation of Lolita. The skeletal image of Lolita looks like it was hijacked from an Egon Schiele drawing or worse. Is this Lolita as anorexia sufferer or concentration camp prisoner? It’s a haunting image to be sure and, given what the poor girl was subjected to, perhaps entirely appropriate. Many covers choose to concentrate on Lolita’s innocence and even physical attractiveness, but this is the embodiment of her torment, a naked, skin and bone, practically bald Lolita, with unseeing eyes like a mask from a Greek tragedy, stripped bare in every way. That would have been enough. The Andy Warhol Coke bottles, now that’s just ridiculous.

brian cox plays humbert humbert on stage

Friday, August 28th, 2009

brian cox“To play Humbert Humbert, the narcissistic self-styled “nympholept”, demands a brooding presence and a rich distinctive voice, and it is brooding, dark-voiced Brian Cox who will sit alone in Humbert’s prison cell on the Lyttelton stage, in Richard Nelson’s adaptation of Lolita.”

“When Nelson sent his adaptation, Cox hesitated and took advice; then realised that a one-man presentation would be truer to the book, which is essentially an apologia pro vita sua, than the films. “The voice of Humbert is embodied — his head, his mien — telling his story in his prison notebook, when he’s about to have his fatal heart attack.” (As Humbert writes: “My gloomy good looks should be kept in the mind’s eye if my story is to be properly understood.”) “It’s not about Lolita as a flesh and blood entity. It’s Lolita as a memory, and a cathartic experience because it’s a tragedy.”

lolita title sequence

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

lolita cropRevisiting the title sequence to Lolita: extraordinary. This solitary glimpse prefectly communicates everything in the film. Clever, eerie, strangely lurid, beautiful.

greater than equal to

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

scrapped lolitaIn addition to mentioning our competition, the blog Greater Than Equal To came up with a series of compelling links relating to Lolita covers. Check it out below to see a clip of Nabokov himself commenting on several of them, as well as a link to an interview with Vintage Books art director and cover designer John Gall in which he discusses his clever and controversial Lolita cover that never made it into print, at least not with its controversy intact.

“After retrenching I came up with one of my favorite covers of all time. A very simple variation on a standard Lolita theme yet with a very subversive twist. I was surprised how well it went over, but after a day or so everyone started to get a little queasy looking at it (myself included). So the twist was taken out and we have what the New York Post said was the “raciest cover yet” for Lolita. If they only knew.”

barbara bloom (b.1951)

Monday, August 24th, 2009

As I mentioned below, Barbara Bloom, an artist keenly interested in Nabokov, redesigned all of the author’s book covers in 1999. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find her design for Lolita, but here are six other titles. nabokov_book_covers

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.






overlook illustrated lives: vladimir nabokov

Friday, August 21st, 2009

nabokov2It’s amazing what one can find online for next to nothing. Today I received in the mail a charming little book on Nabokov that I purchased used through Amazon for one cent (!) plus $3.99 shipping. Published by The Overlook Press, and part of a series called Overlook Illustrated Lives that includes titles on Beckett, Proust, Kafka, among others, this volume was written by Jane Grayson, Lecturer in Russian at University College London. Inside are a ten dozen photos and illustrations in addition to what appears to be a tidy biographical overview that includes a chronology and bibliography, all in 150 pages. Best of all are many photos I’ve never seen before, and three I find especially interesting. One is of Nabokov reclining under a tree one sunny day in 1944 with two female students from his Russian language class at Wellesley.  Another shows Vladimir and Vera with Dorothy Leuthold, one of Nabokov’s future pupils at Stanford who drove them from New York to California, posed against some drab pre-war sedan. Nabokov appears bizarrely Tom Joad-like, tall and lanky, with a floppy straw hat and swimming in baggy trousers and ill fitting shirt. He holds in the crook of his right arm a butterfly net. The last image is of Nabokov’s grave outside Montreux, a horizontal headstone of black granite floating above a low granite plinth. It’s quite lovely.