New book rethinks Lolita cover designs

16 August 2013

Ever since 1955 when Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was first published in a green jacket, the question of what the cover should look like has troubled designers. How do you capture such a psychologically complex book in a single design? Now, Yuri Leving, the founding editor of the Nabokov Online Journal, and John Bertram, an architect and blogger, have published a book with designs created by 80 graphic designers and illustrators offering their own take on the cover. In addition, Nabokov scholars and design critics provide commentary on more than half a century of Lolita book jackets.

In an excerpt of a letter published in Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl, out this month, Nabokov writes: “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.” Yet since it was first published, numerous Lolita covers have featured variations on the image of a young, semi-nude temptress with come hither eyes. According to book designer John Gall, whose work is published in the new book, many came to expect a nymphet on the cover after Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation in 1962.

For a full list of cover designs spanning more than half a century, visit Covering Lolita.