Graham Greene and the Lolita Controversy

We talked for an hour, and yet we still barely scratched the surface of Graham Greene’s incredible life. Here’s one we didn’t get to: his role in bringing Lolita to the literary world’s attention – and inadvertently triggering the ban (which probably helped sales in the long run). Maria Popova has more:

When Lolita was first published in Europe in September of 1955, its first printing of 5,000 copies flew off the shelves, but the book remained largely under the radar of the literary establishment. It wasn’t until December of that year that Graham Greene catapulted it into public attention by declaring it one of the year’s three best books in a piece for London’s Sunday Times. And because rivaling publications thrive on provocation and at the heart of all cultural controversy is a powerfully charged battery of approval and disapproval, the editor of London’s Sunday Express went vocally against Greene, calling the novel “sheer unrestrained pornography” and “the filthiest book I have ever read.” The controversy stirred frantic alarm at the UK Home Office, which instructed customs agents to begin confiscating all copies of the book entering the United Kingdom.

Listen to our hour of conversation about Graham Greene’s life and works or check out the other installments in the History of Literature podcast.

One thought on “Graham Greene and the Lolita Controversy

  1. Well, it was the year’s best book! And eventually, the publicity worked out. I remember as a teenager, I was looking for something prurient to read after “Of Human Bondage” (my teacher and I could not figure out why that wasn’t assigned for summer reading instead of some horrible book of Dickens every summer,) “Portnoy’s Complaint (I never read another thing by Roth,) and then “Lolita.” The gateway to Nabokov, whom I continued reading. “Lolita” is not a gateway for some, nor are either film, but it is for some, as it was for me. I’ve read many novels by Nabokov, and I have appreciated most. Plus, he was an amazing lepidopterist, as we’ve recently found out.


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