❮ Poetry & Prose ❮ Books / People
“Lolita” is the 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov. This book, this is a controversial/sensitive one. But basically, you know this, I’m sure. And, you’ll see below I list the range of books, be they risqué or otherwise. The novel is famed for its controversial subject: the protagonist — a middle-aged literature professor — is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl. The novel was originally written in English and first published in Paris in 1955 by Olympia Press.  “Lolita” quickly attained a classic status and many now consider it one of the greatest works of 20th century literature.
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 Olympia Press was a Paris-based publisher, launched in 1953 by Maurice Girodias as a rebranded version of the Obelisk Press he inherited from his father, one: Jack Kahane. It published a mix of erotic fiction and avant-garde literary fiction. Olympia Press was the first publisher willing to print William S. Burroughs’s avant-garde, sexually explicit “Naked Lunch”, which soon became famous. Other notable ‘firsts’ included J. P. Donleavy’s “The Ginger Man”; Samuel Beckett’s French trilogy “Molloy, Malone Dies,” and “The Unnamable”; Henry Miller’s trilogy “The Rosy Crucifixion,” consisting of Sexus, Nexus and Plexus; “A Tale of Satisfied Desire” by Georges Bataille; the “Story of O” by Pauline Réage; Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s “Candy”; Alex Austin’s “The Blue Guitar” and a critical book on Scientology by Robert Kaufman. However it is now most famous for having been the first to publish “Lolita.” On the issue of censorship, back in the 1950s and early 1960s banned books did not enjoy any legal protection or proper copyright, because a book confiscated by authorities could not be deposited at the British Library or Library of Congress. The law made no distinction between works written solely as pornography and those with more serious literary intentions. Thus France was the ideal place to publish such books but the issues of ownership and copyright was rather opaque.
As William E. Jones (2019) writes, Maurice Girodias (1919–1990) inherited Obelisk Press from his father, Jack Kahane (1887–1939). Kahane, an Englishman and a writer, had founded Obelisk to publish risque books, his own and those by other authors. He took advantage of a loophole in French law that allowed English language books published in France to escape censorship. (They could, however, be confiscated by customs officials upon importation into the United States and United Kingdom.) In the early 20th c., obscenity law in the English speaking world applied not only to images but to the written word, and almost any book, even James Joyce’s Ulysses, could be considered pornography.
In his younger years Maurice would do illustrations for Obelisk titles but when Jack Kahane soon after the start of WWII, he inherreted the whol busines. He changed his surname from his Jewish father’s to his Catholic mother’s (Girodias) and refrained from publishing any risque books whilst German forces were occupying France. After the Liberation, he revived Obelisk Press’s more engaging books to sell books to the American soldiers still hanging out in Europe after the close of WWII. Yet it wasn’t long before Girodias lost Obelisk in a takeover by French publishing conglomerate Hachette. Not to be deterred, in 1953, he Olympia Press, named after:It has been said that, “Girodias was a bit of a scoundrel, taking advantage of the ambiguous copyright status of some books to publish pirate editions at considerable profit.” For instance, he often found himself in court, sometimes to defend himself on charges of obscenity and at other times, to settle lawsuits brought by disgruntled authors seeking royalty payments.” Girodias tended not to pay his writers, if he could avoid it, not to document his work, or even live up to his contracts. He was involved in litigation concerning e.g., “Lolita,” and the “Story of O,”. In the case of O, he won — setting a great deal of copyright precedents in so doing — regarding Lolita, he lost. We should note however, that Girodias, by publishing such books, saw himself as a part of the great French cultural legacy.
Regarding erotica, Olympia Press published the Traveller’s Companion series, a line of English language books with plain green covers looking more or less like respectable French publications. They were put on sale in places close to where British tourists would be congregating to return back home (train stations and ports). Copies of Traveller’s Companion books were also smuggled into the UK by a runner named Patrick Kearney. The story goes that he sold them in a plain brown wrapper for wads of cash to a character in dark glasses named Sammy, who saw then facilitated the clandestine circulation of these books across London and beyond — think the dodgy wheeler-dealer: Arthur Daley.
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