Few novels conjure up the type of vivid imagery associated with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Even today, the name alone suggests a teenage seductress in red heart-shaped sunglasses licking a lollipop, but the image of Lolita that has prevailed in pop culture could not be further away from the truth of the 1955 novel.
In order to reclaim the original intent of Nabokov’s book, several designers were commissioned to create a new book cover for the timeless literary classic. But instead of depicting Lolita as a sexualized nymph as she was depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film, the designers have been challenged to create a cover that embodies the novel’s titular character more truthfully as a sexually-abused 12-year-old girl.
These redesigned Lolita covers have been collected in an art book, Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design, edited by John Bertram and Yuri Leving. The new Lolita covers are free from outdated takes on sexuality, but also from the business of book publishing.
Lolita was controversial enough that oftentimes publishers shied away from depicting the troubling subject matter in lurid detail or in a way that was too provocative. We’ve heard that one of the covers featuring a vertical image of Lolita’s lips was asked to be turned horizontally because the vertical lips gave the impression that they were labia.
“I was interested to see what well-known designers might come up with when freed from editors, publishers and art directors and the constraints implicit in the marketing and selling of books,” Bertram told Flavorwire.
Below are a few of our favorite redesigned Lolita covers.