Thursday, July 9, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Lolita

From its first publication, this 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov has been the target of censorship. In December of 1956, it was banned in France. Soon after, the ban was repealed, re-instated and finally permanently removed, after the publisher sued the French government.

In 1955, British Customs instituted a ban of its own, Argentina followed suit in 1959 and in 1960, New Zealand's government banned the novel under its Customs Act of 1913 calling the work "indecent". The book was again banned in 1974, in South Africa. That ban stayed in effect until 1982.

Lolita is told from the first person point of view of Humbert Humbert, a man who marries a woman in order to get to her pre-teen daughter, Dolores. After his wife's untimely death, Humbert completely takes over the girl's life. We see it all through his eyes: his voice is comic, witty, condescending and repulsive.

Anyone who has thoroughly read this novel cannot see it as an endorsement of pedophilia. It is about irony, dark impulses, tragedy and above all oppression. Humbert takes Lolita's childhood, her chances at friendship, her freedom and even her name (she is Dolores, not Lolita). "Nabokov himself described Humbert as "a vain and cruel wretch" and "a hateful person" (quoted in Levine, 1967)." He is not the "hero" of the story.

In the same way that Humbert takes Dolores and robs her of her identity, people take this novel and try to change what it is. Some take their literary interpretation too far, claiming that this is a romance novel, that somehow, what Humbert does is portrayed as legitimate.

But this novel is not a how-to manual for perverts. Simply, it is a mind-blowing, heart-wrenching work of mainstream, contemporary classic literature.

I highly recommend it.
Wikipedia "Lolita"
Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds
by Dawn Sova

1 comment:

Frank said...

This book is still being censored. A teacher's account on (a Yahoo site) was recently deleted after he discussed the book. A discussion about the deletion is at