publishing lolita

LolitaTim Groenland at the Dublin Review of Books:

Lolita’s form and plot – a long confessional monologue by Humbert Humbert, a killer, abductor and rapist (the accuracy of this last term is still argued over by critics) describing his crimes in detail – made it not only risqué but, as the reader above noted, potentially ruinous to anyone involved in its production. Nabokov seems to have been well aware of this, and to have expected little in the way of commercial success from the novel. He knew that The New Yorker, which had published extracts from several of his works (and to which he was obliged to show it first) would never touch it, and he was not only prepared to accept a relatively low royalty rate for any edition but even hoped to publish the book anonymously (an idea he gave up when advised that it was unlikely to work). Boyd describes how, when leaving Cornell for his 1954 summer holidays, he locked the typescripts in a box, hid the key in another locked box, and then locked the office itself. All of the major publishers and several friends who initially viewed it kept their distance: Simon and Schuster’s editors described the book as “sheer pornography” while even sympathetic friends at New Directions felt that it was too big a gamble. Nabokov was soon searching abroad for a publisher, and the book ended up in the hands of the Olympia Press.

more here.