here’s a question: if vladimir nabokov’s “lolita” is truly the psychological portrait of a messed up dude and not the girl – let alone a sexualized little girl, as all of the sexualization happens inside humbert humbert’s head – then why do all the covers focus on a girl, and usually a sexy aspect of a girl, usually quite young, and none of them feature a portrait of humbert humbert?
here are nabokov’s original instructions for the book cover:
I want pure colors, melting clouds, accurately drawn details, a sunburst above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts, after rain. And no girls. … Who would be capable of creating a romantic, delicately drawn, non-Freudian and non-juvenile, picture for LOLITA (a dissolving remoteness, a soft American landscape, a nostalgic highway—that sort of thing)? There is one subject which I am emphatically opposed to: any kind of representation of a little girl.
and yet, the representations of the sexy little girl abound.
i became driven by curiousity. why did this happen? why is this happening?
i am not alone – there’s a book about this, with several essays and artists’ conceptions about the politics and problems of representation surrounding the covers of “lolita.” this new yorker article gives a summary of the book and its ideas, and interviews one of the editors:
Many of the covers guilty of misrepresenting Lolita as a teen seductress feature images from Hollywood movie adaptations of the book— Kubrick’s 1962 version, starring Sue Lyon, and Adrian Lyne’s 1997 one. Are those films primarily to blame for the sexualization of Lolita?
As is argued in several of the book’s essays, the promotional image of Sue Lyon in the heart-shaped sunglasses, taken by photographer Bert Stern, is easily the most significant culprit in this regard, much more so than the Kubrick film itself (significantly, neither the sunglasses nor the lollipop ever appears in the film), or the later film by Adrian Lyne. Once this image became associated with “Lolita”—and it’s important to remember that, in the film, Lolita is sixteen years old, not twelve—it really didn’t matter that it was a terribly inaccurate portrait. It became the image of Lolita, and it was ubiquitous. There are other factors that have contributed to the incorrect reading, from the book’s initial publication in Olympia Press’s Traveller’s Series (essentially, a collection of dirty books), to Kubrick’s startlingly unfaithful adaptation. At the heart of all of this seems to be the desire to make the sexual aspect of the novel more palatable.
here’s a couple of kubrick inspired covers:
which very well could have, after tremendous sales, have influenced the following covers:
…straying so far from the intention of nabokov that the phenomenon begins to look more like the symptom of something larger, something sicker.
after a lot of researching covers, it was here, in this sampling of concept covers for the book about the lolita covers, that i found an image that best represents the story to me:
[art by linn olofsdotter – and again, this is not an official cover]
but why aren’t all the covers like that? even the ones published by “legitimate” publishing companies, with full academic credentials, with no intended connection to the film; surely they must have read nabokov’s instructions for the cover. and yet, look at the top row of lolita covers: all legitimate publishing companies, not prone to smut. and yet.
my conclusion is that the lolita complex existed before “lolita” (and of course it did) – a patriarchal society is essentially operating with the same delusions of humbert humbert. nabokov did not produce the sexy girl covers of lolita, and kubrick had only the smallest hand in it. it was what people desired, requested and bought. the image of the sexy girl sells; intrigues; gets the hands on the books.
as elizabeth janeway said in her review in the new york review of books: “Humbert is every man who is driven by desire, wanting his Lolita so badly that it never occurs to him to consider her as a human being, or as anything but a dream-figment made flesh.”
isn’t that our media as a whole? our culture as a whole?
the whole lot of them/us – seeing the world through humbert-tinted glasses, seeing all others as Other and Object, as solipsistic dream-reality. as i scroll through the “lolita” covers i wonder: where’s the humanity in our humanity?
This post is everything!!!!
ici l’article mentionner dans ce texte : ▻http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/designing-lolita