I enjoy Turner Classic Movies, and today I perused the schedule to see if there were any upcoming hidden gems. I noticed Lolita–the 1962 version directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring James Mason as Humbert Humbert and Sue Lyon as Lolita. Nabokov wrote the screenplay for this version. I prefer the 1997 version, directed by Adrian Lyne which features a suitably tortured Jeremy Irons as Humbert.
The Turner Movie Classic guide describes the 1962 film as being based on Nabokov’s “racy classic.” This choice of the word “racy” continues the myth that surrounds the book–something you’d think people would be over by now. I’ve read Lolita but never considered it ‘racy’ or ‘filthy’ or anything along those lines. In 1955, John Gordon, the editor of the Sunday Express called Lolita: “The filthiest book I’ve ever read.” Of course, it probably didn’t help that Nabokov, who’d been rejected by several American publishers finally published Lolita in France through Olympia Press which published erotic and avant-garde books. British customs seized all the copies coming into the country, and then the French banned it in 1956. Meanwhile Graham Greene championed the novel, and a battle raged between Gordon and Greene which eventually spilled out to question the morals of the British publisher, George Weidenfeld. The rather game British publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicholson (Sackville-West’s son) held up publication in Britain pending a possible change in the then-current pornography law, but the scandal of Lolita helped bury Nicholson’s political career. The film poster says it all–the heart-shaped sunglasses and the rather suggestive bright red lollipop. The 1962 film poster is quite different from the much more subtle 1997 poster which depicts Humbert Humbert (Irons) standing off in the background with Lolita reading in the foreground–seemingly unaware of the attention.
Nabokov initially planned to call his novel The Kingdom by the Sea, but it became Lolita, and the very name entered the English language as a term to describe a sexually precocious young girl. Nabokov is best remembered for this novel, and I suppose Lolita probably brings Nabokov readers, but is the opposite also true? Do people NOT read Nabokov because of Lolita? Lolita was the first Nabokov novel I read. I’ve read a few others since (not enough), so I suppose you could say that Lolita brought me to Nabokov. I was curious, and then again it was one of those books I’d always meant to get around to reading but hadn’t. I was curious too about D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book that became the object of a famous obscenity trial. I didn’t enjoy reading about Mellors and his John Thomas, and to me Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a crap novel.
Anyway, this is a short post–just me thinking about Lolita. I’ve decided that I need to reread this novel again. 2010 will be a good year for it.