Publishing Lolita

Cover of first edition of 'Lolita', via WikipediaIf Lady Chatterly’s Lover isn’t obscene, how about Lolita? Yesterday’s Times has a fascinating story about Peter Carter-Ruck‘s advice to George Weidenfeld in advance of the UK publication of Vladimir Nabokov‘s novel (with some added links):

Lolita: how a lawyer’s cunning plan paid off for Vladimir Nabokov

With all the brouhaha over Carter-Ruck allegedly stifling free speech it is intriguing to note that it was the very founder of the firm who struck a blow for freedom of expression 60 years ago. …

In 1727 Edmund Curll was convicted for the common law offence of disturbing the King’s peace over the publication of the erotic book Venus in the Cloister … The precedent for obscenity was set.

Weidenfeld turned to the most famous libel lawyer of his generation, the late Peter Carter-Ruck, … [who] advised that the book was a fair business risk for publication, subject to the amendment of four sentences. Nabokov categorically rejected this advice. …

In the event, Carter-Ruck devised a scheme of remarkable cunning. … He advised that the Government should be informed, by letter, of the intention to distribute the book in this country. A small number of copies of the book were printed, and the letter was sent, but at a critical point — during the period that Parliament was dissolved before the general election. … Carter-Ruck gambled that in the period of inactivity after Parliament’s dissolution, on September 18, 1959, no action would be taken by the Home Secretary over Lolita. Thus the way would be clear for the book’s widespread distribution.