Book Cover Design Perpetuates The Myth of Lolita

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“Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Fifty-eight years after Lolita was first published, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous novel remains firmly in the public consciousness, but more often for its misunderstood subject than for its masterful and dazzling prose. The character of Lolita, in her innumerable pop-cultural refractions (Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book is primary among them, but there are also a failed 1971 musical; a 1992 Russian-language opera; a second film, from 1997; a 1999 ‘retelling’ from Lolita’s point of view; and a recent one-man show), has come to signify something very different from what Nabokov presumably intended. But although she has acquired this misleading advance guard, the novel itself remains as potent as ever. At turns sad and hilarious, deeply disturbing and insanely clever, Lolita is an immensely rich reading experience. Still, if there ever were a book whose covers have so reliably gotten it wrong, it is Lolita. This book explores why this is so — Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl.


How is it that a novel about a 12 year-old’s rape by her stepfather still evokes questions and interpretations about the author’s intent more than half a century after Lolita’s publication.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is a difficult read, but what might be most disturbing is how challenging it is to step away. Nabokov’s famously “unreliable narrator” is the antagonist, “the maniac” that strips Dolores of her childhood and for a while, her name, referring to her as his “Lolita.”

British writer, Martin Amis, suggested Lolita is a metaphor for tyranny, something that Nabokov would have endured personally in his native Russia under Stalin, and a concept easily believed after reading the book.

Although Lolita has earned a top spot on many lists as one of the best novels of the 20th Century, the interpretation of it, and most notably its cover design remains, for many scholars, much too simplistic.

Authors John Bertram and Yuri Leving offer an interesting analysis book cover design and and its influence then and now in Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl. The New York Times reviews this insightful book this Sunday.



I want pure colors,” Nabokov wrote, “accurately drawn details, a sunburst above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts, after rain. And no girls.” He didn’t get his way. In addition to an astute history of the cover designs for later editions, based on Dieter E. Zimmer’s online gallery, this book presents new possibilities by contemporary designers. – The New York Times Sunday Book Review“The sexualized vision of Lolita perpetuated by popular culture has very little to do with the text of Nabokov’s novel, in which Lolita is not a teen-aged seductress but a sexually abused twelve-year-old girl. Lolita–The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design challenges this prevailing misrepresentation with essays by book designers, artists, and Nabokov scholars, and a preface by Mary Gaitskill that considers the problem of capturing Nabokov’s psychologically complex story in a single image. The book’s centerpiece is the Lolita Book Cover Project, for which the co-editor John Bertram, an architect based in Los Angeles, commissioned designers to create new covers for the book.” —The New Yorker

“Gorgeous” — BuzzFeed“The book presents the most exhaustive and dimensional topography of Lolita’s cultural landscape examined through the lens of design and visual communication…. Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl is a rare gem at the intersection of lust for literature and lust for design.” — Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

The covers still appear to have a preoccupation with girliness, featuring many shades of pink, whereas this is a story very much about a peculiar, neurotic, (and predatory) man. In this way, Sam Weber’s cover featuring a portrait of Humbert is a pleasant surprise, if then a little perturbing. In all, however, Nabakov’s dislike of the idea of any girls on the cover seems to have been respected. “Once Lolita herself is eliminated from the cover,” explained Bertram, “it’s natural to focus on words themselves, which Nabokov truly savoured.” — Desktop Magazine

“Stunning” —The Huffington Post

Lolita Book

LOLITAThe Story of a Cover Girlby John Bertram & Yuri LevingYour Price $18.00 (40% off)