Lolita (First Edition) by Vladimir Nabokov



2015-06-26 10:37:40

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). The first edition of this work was published in 1955 by Olympia Press, Paris. The first American edition was published in 1958 by Putnam, New York, and the first British edition in 1959 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Background

The novel came about as a result of Nabokov’s desire to experiment with the English language, to see if he could use word play and linguistic complexity in a language other than Russian. He also chose a deliberately difficult subject, according to him very remote from his own emotional life, to test his talent to breathe life into the subject.

The first publications of Lolita by Olympia, Paris, was full of errors and received no substantial reviews until Graham Greene praised it and provoked a response from many who took offence at its subject matter, calling it pornographic. It was subsequently banned in the UK and copies of the first edition seized by the Home Office. Its 1959 publication by Weidenfeld and Nicolson caused a scandal, and cost Nicolson a political career. The American publication of 1958 was a huge success.

The novel remains controversial to this day, particularly in the light of greater awareness of the damage of sexual abuse of children. Lolita is, however, considered among the best English language novels of the 20th century.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The protagonist Humbert Humbert possesses an obsessive passion for young girls, whom he terms ‘nymphets’. He meets the twelve year old Dolores Haze, or Lolita, and becomes infatuated with her. He marries her mother to be near her. Her mother discovered his secret passion by reading his diary, and plans to reveal him, but gets hit by a car and killed. Humbert takes charge of Lolita, and attempts to molest her, but she surprises him by the fact of being sexually experienced. They begin an affair, driving around America for a year. They then settle down and Lolita goes to school, while Humbert grows incredibly jealous and forbids her from seeing boys. Lolita runs away with another older man. Two years later Humbert receives a letter from a 17 year old Lolita who is married and pregnant. He goes to her and gives her money, asks her to leave her husband for him, and she refuses. Humbert finds and shoots the man who took Lolita away two years earlier, who intended to make her star in a porn film. He is then arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road, and then dies after writing this memoir, to be published after his and Lolita’s deaths.

The erotic motifs in the novel are what make it so controversial, as well as the protagonist’s attempt to present himself as sympathetically as possible. He is an exceedingly unreliable narrator, due to this desire to present himself in the best light, and so his account cannot be entirely trusted.


Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian writer who delighted in experimenting with language, both Russian and English.

See main article: Vladimir Nabokov rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

While the first edition (1955, Olympia Press, Paris) is very valuable, surprisingly the first American edition (Putnam, 1958) and the first British edition (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959) are also very sought-after. The controversy surrounding the novel’s publication is interesting to collectors, and the true first edition was littered with inaccuracies and typographic errors.

Lolita first editions are much more valuable when signed or inscribed by the author. Lepidoptery enthusiast Nabokov often added little drawings of butterflies to his inscriptions, which make them all the more personal and collectible.

For example, Christie’s sold:
Lolita first edition (1955, Olympia, Paris) with butterfly inscription to Graham Greene for $273,500 in October 2002.
Lolita first American edition (1958, Putnam, New York) with butterfly inscription for $163,500 in October 2002
Lolita first British edition (1959, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London) with butterfly inscription again to Graham Greene, for $119,500 in October 2002.

Copies are also worth more when they retain their original bindings: green paper wraps in the case of the 1955 Paris edition, and dust – jackets in the case of the American and British first editions.

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