The Lolita Project Promises “No Girls”

Published:  August 28, 2013
Bonnie Abbott
The Lolita Project Promises “No Girls”

“I want pure colours, melting clouds, accurately drawn details, a sunburst above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts, after rain. And no girls.”

Vladimir Nabokov was consistently concerned with controlling his public image and reputation. Above, he writes to his publisher with his requests for the cover of his then unreleased title, Lolita. It must have displeased such a man that his book was later rejected by many as pornography, and for the Lolita character to become something of a seductress — a prevailing image of a girl with the red heart-shaped sunglasses and lollipop upon the poster for Stanley Kubric’s film adaptation, an image from which many book covers later borrowed their material. “Who would be capable of creating a romantic, delicately drawn, non-Freudian and non-juvenile picture for Lolita,” Nabakov wrote, ”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.”

This quote is the starting point of a project by John Bertram and Yuri Leving, culminating in a new publication, Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design. With a collection of essays by book designers, artists and Nabokov scholars, the book’s centrepiece is the Lolita Book Cover Project, for which Bertram, usually an architect in Los Angeles, commissioned 80 designers to create new covers for the book, including Paula Scher, Jessica Hische, Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand, Sam Weber and Peter Mendelsund.

Since Lolita’s first publication there have been over 180 covers designed for the book, but it is questionable how many have been able to adequately (or beautifully? Sadly? Distressingly?) communicate the psychologically complex story. The book appears to set up a similar question.

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.”

Jennifer Heuer and Ben Wiseman

Michael Bierut and Sam Weber

Jamie Keenan and Xavi Garcia

Jason Polan and Andy Pressman

Images courtesy Print Books
Available through Amazon.


One Response

  1. It always fascinates me the varying interpretations different artists will have for the same task. Definitely love the book cover on the top left. My fave. x

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