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Lolita. Paris, 1955

In 1953, having nearly completed this "enormous, mysterious, heartbreaking novel" after "five years of monstrous misgivings and diabolical labors," Nabokov declared that it "has had no precedent in literature." He embarked on the quest for an American publisher, telling each of five houses - Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar Straus, and Doubleday - to use the utmost discretion in allowing the manuscript to leave their desks. No one would publish it. The Partisan Review agreed to print a portion of it, but only on the condition that Nabokov sign the work. Fearing that he'd be identified with his protagonist, he decided that "its subject is such that V., as a college teacher, cannot very well publish it under his real name."

Then Madame Doussia Ergaz, Nabokov's de facto agent in Paris since the early 1930s, suggested Maurice Girodias and his Olympia Press. Years later, Nabokov would vehemently claim to have been unaware of the salacious, pseudonymously published "obscene novelettes" that were Girodias's bread and butter. On July 18, 1955, he wrote to his new publisher: "You and I know that Lolita is a serious book with a serious purpose. I hope the public will accept it as such. A succčs de scandale would distress me." Despite this hope, Lolita received no public attention until after it was banned in France under pressure from the British Home Office, along with many other Olympia Press titles. When Graham Greene included it in a year-end list of the three best novels of 1955, a public debate ensued between Greene in the London Times and John Gordon in the Sunday Express. Greene helped to shepherd the first English edition into print, writing to Nabokov that "in England one may go to prison, but there couldn't be a better cause!"

Though copies of the Girodias edition were making it into the United States, Nabokov still wished for - and deserved - an American edition. Jason Epstein hoped to convince Doubleday president Douglas Black to take the novel by playing upon Black's desire to refight the court battle he had recently lost over Edmund Wilson's The Memoirs of Hecate County. In an attempt to gain ground, Epstein arranged for an excerpt (about a third of the novel) to appear in Doubleday's June 1957 Anchor Review, with critical praise from Partisan Review editor F. W. Dupee. The Anchor volume featured Nabokov's specially written explanation of the genesis of the novel and his defense of it on the grounds of "aesthetic bliss": "On a Book Entitled Lolita." Throughout the summer and into the fall, Nabokov endured delays and denials by Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, and even Putnam's. He settled on the small independent publisher Ivan Obolensky, but when his offer, too, fell through, Putnam's made good on an earlier proposal, and went into production.

On publication day, Putnam's president Walter Minton sent a congratulatory telegram:


By the end of the day, 2,600 orders had been received.

The items listed below pertain to Nabokov's life and career and are the contents of the exhibition at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, on view from April 23 through August 21, 1999. This checklist, primarily of items from the Library's Nabokov Archive, is included here to provide a sense of the rich holdings in this special collection.

Vladimir Nabokov
"Edgar Martin. Basic Body Measurement of school age children, U. S. Department of Health, 1953"
Holograph notes used in the composition of Lolita, 1955-56?
Berg Collection

United States Department of the Interior
Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole National Monument, Wyoming, Rev. ed.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948
Berg Collection

Heart-shaped sunglasses, the gift of Irving Lazar to Vladimir Nabokov, 1966
Lent by Dmitri Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov
Paris: Olympia Press, 1955
Lent by Bill Goldstein

Vladimir Nabokov
Holograph notes to the French translation of Lolita by Eric Kahane, ca. 1957
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Holograph notebooks of Vladimir Nabokov's translation of the novel into Russian, ca. 1966; the translation of the introduction is in the hand of Véra Nabokov
Berg Collection

Véra and Vladimir Nabokov, butterfly hunting, Six Mile Creek, near Ithaca, New York, 1958
Photograph by Carl Mydans
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Lolita: A Screenplay"
Typescript with Nabokov's holograph corrections, additions, and deletions, [1960]
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Lolita and Mr. Girodias"
Tearsheet from Evergreen Review, February 1967
Nabokov's copy, with his holograph notation
Berg Collection

Véra Nabokov
Quote from "Volodya"
Holograph note, Los Angeles, Mandeville Canyon, dated 13 March 1960
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov, London, 1959
Photograph by Colin Sherburne
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
["Speak On, Memory"]
Holograph notes on index cards, ca. 1969
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Pocket diary
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
["Speak On, Memory"]
Holograph notes on index cards, ca. 1969
Berg Collection


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1. Игра в подвиг
2. Набоков о Набокове
3. Пульсирующая "Лолита"
4. Набоков Владимир Владимирович. Афоризмы и цитаты 3
5. "Лолита", обреченная на скандал
6. Набоков и мораль
7. Владимир Набоков: Джеймс Джойс "Улисс" (1922) 1-1
8. Набоков Владимир Владимирович. Афоризмы и цитаты 2
9. Писатель Владимир Владимирович Набоков
10. Смерть неизбежна. Владимир Набоков. Подвиг
1. Анализ рассказа “Облако, Озеро, башня”
2. Анализ рассказа В.В.Набокова «Круг»
3. А. Блок в художественном мире В. Набокова
4. Пульсирующая "Лолита"
5. Владимир Набоков: Джеймс Джойс "Улисс" (1922) 1-1
6. Литература о Владимире Набокове на русском языке
7. "Лолита", обреченная на скандал
8. Смерть неизбежна. Владимир Набоков. Подвиг
9. Америка в романе В. Набокова «Лолита»
10. Владимир Набоков и Иван Пнин