Judging A Book By Its Cover: Lolita

Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to, but we all do it: judge a book by its cover. For classic works, covers become a way to ignite the audience’s interest in a title they’re accustomed to seeing on dry “Good Books” lists. It becomes especially difficult to balance a novel’s reputation with its content when that book is actually quite salacious- like, say Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which intimately portrays the mind of pedophiliac Humbert. (And which, coincidentally, I’m currently reading for my American Literature class).

In August, architect and blogger John Bertram lashed out against the innumerable Lolita covers that dilute the depth of the work for superficially sensational covers. From his blog Venus Febriculosa: “Nabokov’s work is masterful in its clarity and overflows with powerful and finely-wrought imagery and yet so few of the covers attempt to capture any of this richness, and many of them are merely absurd, or banal or a laughable combination of both.” Bertram challenged artists to create a new cover for Lolita that showcases the book’s complex subject matter instead of resorting to “a panoply of expected lollipops.” The covers were recently posted on Bertram’s flickr page. Here are some of my favorites:

Cover By Egor Krasnoperov

I love how abstract this is- innocent at first glance but totally creepy upon further reflection. An envelope with a seal to be broken? Shudder. Evocative of both Humbert’s view of Lolita, and Humbert’s own twisted mind. Is this really an envelope we want to open?

Cover by Chelsea DeSantis

One of few that visualizes Humbert instead of Lolita. I like that he just looks like a normal guy, except for the stark LOLITA splashed across his heart. A more sympathetic portrayal.

Cover By Ed Lain

I like that this one does not style Lolita either as a miniature seductress or a completely innocent child. This Lolita is a pretty normal girl, which makes the story more alarmingly realistic. I also like the subtle obsession in the title typeface, as if Humbert were the one who created this image.

Cover By Justin Chen

This is one of the more subtle covers, which I like. In the book, Humbert is careful to point out that he doesn’t lust after all preadolescent girls, just those he calls “nymphets” – girls with a certain quality that he translates as sexual. This cover showcases the nymphet in a sea of regular girls. Childish without being cloyingly sweet.

See all the covers here.

Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10

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