How George Weidenfeld defied the sceptics

From The Telegraph:

Lolita_1444575a The landmark book in the firm’s early life was Nabokov’s Lolita, which had been published originally in Paris. Graham Greene called it one of the three best books of 1955; the Sunday Express condemned it as “sheer unrestrained pornography”. Which was it? Pornography or a literary masterpiece? Nicolson, by then a Tory MP, was shocked by it, but proposed the printing of a few sample copies. One was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, daring him, as it were, to prosecute.

If the authorities had chosen to sue the book as obscene, as other publishers feared, Weidenfeld & Nicolson would have been bankrupted, but word reached Weidenfeld in a telephone call at the Ritz, where the firm was toasting the book’s publication, that the Conservative government would not prosecute. Lolita was the firm’s first bestseller, selling more than 200,000 copies in hardback. Fiction, however, was not the mainspring of the firm’s output, although when George Orwell’s widow Sonia joined the staff she attracted two leading American authors, Saul Bellow and Mary McCarthy. In a rich period in the early Seventies, Edna O’Brien arrived (and is still published by the firm) and in successive years there were two Booker winners: John Berger’s G and J G Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur.

More here.