Tuesday, October 10, 2023

And the Publishing Taboos Once Were...

The news right now is worse than usual, but I heard something yesterday that really made me laugh. It has nothing to do with what is going on in the world now, I should add. Anyhow, I was listening to the most recent episode of the podcast You Must Remember This. For this one, podcast host Karina Longworth, as part of her series on certain types of films from the 1990s called "Erotic 90s," was talking about the 1997 film version of Lolita. This is the adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel that is directed by Adrian Lyne. Jeremy Irons is Humbert Humbert, Dominique Swain is Lolita. 

As part of the background she provides in describing the film and how it came to be made and released, Longworth references an essay Nabokov wrote about his novel Lolita a year after the book was published. He had had a difficult time finding an American publisher for the book, as is well documented. And in the essay, he talks about how some publishers he submitted the novel to, he is certain, did not read the book through to the end. Nabokov writes that the refusal of many publishers to buy the book was not based on his treatment of the book's theme (an obviously taboo theme), but on the theme itself. He then goes on to mention what to him at that time were the primary other no-no themes to the country's publishers. He says, "there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are these: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106."

Things regarding taboos about race and athiesm have changed in the fifty-five-plus years since Nabokov wrote this, but I couldn't not laugh and nod my head when I heard it. It's apropos of nothing happening at the current moment, but whatever. Once again, a writer from somewhere else had just nailed something about American culture (at that time) that's hard to refute.  That it was said with a certain elegance, detail, and drollness -- well I wouldn't expect anything different from this particular writer from St. Petersburg.

No comments: