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1950s / Lolita Controversy
Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita deals with a middle-aged writer's sexual infatuation with a 12-year-old girl. Due to its shocking and risque subject matter, Nabokov was unable to find an American publisher for Lolita after finishing his manuscript in 1953. After four refusals, he finally resorted to Olympia Press in Paris in September 1955. (The photo below shows a copy of a first edition.) Although the first printing of 5,000 copies sold out quickly, there were no substantial reviews. However, at the end of 1955, Graham Greene, in an interview with the Times of London, called Lolita one of the best novels of 1955. This statement provoked a response from London's Sunday Express, whose editor called it 'the filthiest book I have ever read' and 'sheer unrestrained pornography.' British Customs officers were then instructed by a panicked Home Office to seize all copies entering the United Kingdom. In December 1956, the French followed suit and the Minister of the Interior banned Lolita. (The ban lasted for two years.) Its eventual British publication by Weidenfeld and Nicolson caused a scandal that contributed to the end of the political career of one of the publishers, Nigel Nicolson. In contrast, American officials were initially nervous, but the first American edition was issued without problems by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1958, and was a bestseller--the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in the first three weeks of publication. Today Lolita is widely considered to be one of the finest novels of the 20th century. In 1998, it was named the fourth greatest English language novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library.