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Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's serio-comic portrait of small-town America, is published in 1955 in France by the Olympia Press. It has been rejected by four American publishers who are terrified of its subject: the lustful obsession of a middle-aged man for his 12-year-old stepdaughter. British novelist Graham Greene's praise of Lolita as "greatest book of the year" thrusts the work into the limelight, and it is banned, first in Great Britain and then in France, where it stays off the shelves for two years.

In 1958, Putnam's publishes Lolita in America, and its notoriety ensures its an instant success, selling more than 100,000 copies in its first three weeks. Lolita is both vilified and lauded, called a brilliantly written work of comic genius by some and vile pornography by others. In spite of its ornate prose and punning style, it holds at number one on the best seller list for six months and stays on the list for a year.

In the coming decades, Lolita's style and its precise portrayal of the banality of postwar America accords it the status of a masterpiece. The book is taught in college, analyzed in academic dissertations, and featured in critical appreciations by such novelists as Martin Amis and Amy Tan. In 1998, a board of distinguished writers convened by Random House's Modern Library series selects the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Lolita is number four.

Lolita was not published in the United States for nearly 10 years after it was written because of its subject, a pedophile's lust for a 12-year-old girl. Read excerpts?

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