Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

A scene from the 1997 film adaptation of Nabokov's novel with Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert and Dominique Swain as his juvenile love interest, Lolita. Published by Gale Cengage

Lolita's interesting publishing history begins after Nabokov finished the novel in 1954 and submitted it to four American publishers, all of whom rejected it due to its shocking themes. Refusing to make any revisions to the manuscript, Nabokov sent it to Olympia Press in France a company known for publishing pornography. After publication, however, France banned the "obscene" book, which cemented its popularity with underground readers. When tourists brought the book into America and Britain, U.S. Customs agents grudgingly allowed it in, but British officials convinced France to confiscate any remaining copies. In response to these censorship efforts, novelist Graham Greene in a London Times article, declared it to be one of the ten best books of 1955. The controversy surrounding Lolita brought it international attention. As a result, the bans were rescinded and in 1958 this now-notorious novel was published in the United States by G. P. Putnam & Sons. It immediately soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for over a year.

The controversial novel earned mixed reviews after its publication in America. Many critics found it to be immoral, including a writer for Kirkus Reviews, who called for the book to be banned, insisting, "That a book like this could be written—published here—sold, presumably over the counters, leaves one questioning the ethical and moral standards.... Any librarian surely will question this...

(The entire section is 626 words.)