On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita is published in the U.S.
The novel, about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl, had been rejected by four publishers before G.P. Putnam’s Sons accepted it. The novel became a bestseller that allowed Nabokov to retire from his career as college professor.
Nabokov wrote the book in English and later translated it into is native language, Russian.
A quick summary: Humbert Humbert (yes, that’s the name) is a professor in his late 30s who becomes enamored enough by a 15 year old girl that he marries her mother to be close to her. They have sex, he becomes possessive, they drive across the country, she flees him, marries another man and later begs Humbert for money, which he gives to her.
There is, of course, much more, but you get the gist from this.
The book has perennially appeared on Top 100 lists of all sorts, included “Most Banned Books”. Movies, plays, operas and even a one-man show have been made from the book, although few of them resemble the text.
In an interview with Life magazine in 1963, Nabokov was asked which of his writings had most pleased him. He answered:
I would say that of all my books Lolita has left me with the most pleasurable afterglow—perhaps because it is the purest of all, the most abstract and carefully contrived. I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don’t seem to name their daughters Lolita any more. I have heard of young female poodles being given that name since 1956, but of no human beings.
The first line of the book: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”
While not a “feel good” novel, it is worth a read.