Lolita

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The oddest thing about the Nabokov lots in the Bonhams auction today in New York was that a copy of Grozd’ went for more than seven times its high estimate (estimate, $1200–1800; result $13,000 + 25% buyer’s premium). Two bidders got into a bidders’ war and someone paid an exorbitant price for a book not even in its original wrappers and with brown stains (water?) on some of the leaves. Grozd’, published in Berlin in 1923 by Grani, is certainly a rare and hard to find book from very early in Nabokov’s career. Bonhams’ estimate was a fair estimate. But such a book in such condition is not worth $16,250 in any real market. But then odd things happen at auctions.

Of the other lots, Gornyi put’, a very, very nice copy, sold for $3800 (before premium), $300 above the top estimate. Podvig, a bit banged up and inscribed in 1932, went for $6500 (est. $7000–9000); Podvig, plain and with repairs (est. $700–1000), got up to only $480 and didn’t sell; Stikhotvoreniia: 1929–1951, with extensive repairs of its cover (est. $500–700), climbed to $320 and then pooped out; an Olympia Press Lolita, a very worn first issue (est. $1200–1800), sold for $950; and, an Ada, inscribed and lepidopterized to close friend George Hessen (est. $15,000–25,000), made it to $14,000 and sold.

What conclusions can I draw from this? None. The market for these things is very small and runs on passions and perceptions. And all it needs is two bidders.

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Seven Nabokov items are among the 230 lots of “Russian Literature and Works on Paper” (Akhmatova, Belyi, Bulgakov, Mandelshtam, Mayakovsky, Olesha, Pasternak, and other writers, artists, and composers) that the British auction house Bonhams is offering on 5 December at its New York branch. Click here to see them.

They are, with a note about each item and its estimate:

  • Grozd‘, rebound, $1200-1800
  • Gornii put’, original wrappers, $2500-3500
  • Podvig, rebacked, inscribed, $7000-9000
  • Podvig, repaired, $700-1000
  • Stikhotvoreniia: 1929-1952, badly stained, $500-700
  • Lolita, issue a, worn, $1200-1800
  • Ada, inscribed & lepidopterized, $15,000-25,000

The estimates are a bit high considering the relatively tarnished conditions some of the books are in. The buyer’s premium is 25%.

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Exactly what is, to use the popular locution, the “first edition” of Lolita in Spanish? Or, more precisely, who issued the first Spanish translation, when was that, and in what form did it appear?

There are three candidates, each published in 1959:

  • An authorized translation by Enrique Tejedor, issued by Victoria Ocampo’s Sur in Buenos Aires.
  • An unauthorized issue by Diana in Montevideo.
  • An unauthorized issue by Azteca in Mexico, D.F. (Mexico City).

Let’s deal with the latter two first. I got those citations originally from Dieter E. Zimmer’s Vladimir Nabokov: Bibliographie des Gesamtwerks (Rowohlt, 1963, revised 1964). Andrew Field’s notoriously inaccurate and oddly organized Nabokov: A Bibliography (McGraw-Hill, 1973) also has them, probably picked up from Zimmer. I can find no other citations nor copies of the books in dealers’ hands or on libraries’ shelves. Until further evidence is turned up, I am here going to make the totally unsupported but logical assumption that the publishers, Diana and Azteca,  did not commission their translations but simply stole Tejedor’s when they saw that a quick and easy peso could be turned by publishing the very hot novel themselves. That is, they pirated the translation.

Lolita, Sur, 1959
Lolita, Sur, 1959

I know nothing about Victoria Ocampo other than what Wikipedia tells me. The key information in the article is that “she was founder (1931) and publisher of the Argentine magazine Sur, the most important literary magazine of its time in Latin America.” Her roster of writers is very impressive (Borges, Sabato, Bioy Caesares, Cortázar, Ortega y Gasset, and so on). Her publishing Lolita, therefore, is not surprising.

Sur issued Lolita three times in wrappers in 1959, each with the same cover. The colophons of the books show they were printed on 24 April, 29 May, and 10 June. I know that the 29 May printing also had a paper-over-boards binding. So, when you see a dealer offering a Spanish “first edition” of Lolita, be sure to first check the colophon. It should read, “la presente edición | se terminó de imprimir | el día 24 de abril de 1959 | en Talleres Gráficos Torfano | castro barros 130, | buenos aires, | argentina”.

Lolita, Sur, 1961

Lolita, Sur, 1961

It was reissued in wrappers (different cover and slightly smaller format) in 1961 as number 18 in the series “Novelas”. That edition has the statement at the bottom of the front flap, “Prohibida su venta en el municipio de Buenos Aires.” Oddly, I have no evidence that Lolita was printed in Spanish between 1961 and its next issue in 1970 by the Mexican press Grijalbo.

So, in summary, this is what we’ve got for the first publications of Lolita in Spanish:

  • Printed 24 April 1959, published by Sur in Buenos Aires, in wrappers, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].
  • Printed 29 May 1959, published by Sur in Buenos Aires, in pictorial boards, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].
  • Printed 29 May 1959, published by Sur in Buenos Aires, in wrappers, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].
  • Printed 10 June 1959, published by Sur in Buenos Aires, in wrappers, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].
  • Issued in 1959, published by Diana in Montevideo, probably pirated, translator unknown but probably Tejedor [not examined].
  • Issued in 1959, published by Azteca in Mexico City, probably pirated, translator unknown but probably Tejedor [not examined].
  • Printed 17 May 1961, published by Sur, in series “Novelas”, number 18, in wrappers, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].
  • Unknown printing date, published by Sur, in series “Novelas”, number 18, unknown binding, possible “enc.” edition, translated by Enrique Tejedor [not examined].
  • Printed 30 March 1970, published by Grijalbo in Barcelona, in wrappers, translated by Enrique Tejedor [examined].

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A Moscow publishing house, Deich, issued a Russian Lolita in 2008 in a large format with a leather spine in a leather box, and with black-and-white illustrations, limited to 99 numbered copies, none hors commerce, ISBN 978-5-98691-042-0. Price: €1700. At the current exchange rate that’s more than $2250.

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Again with help from Andrey Nickolayenko and this time from Tatiana Ponomareva, director of the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, I’ve received further information about the Ukrainian Lolita. It was translated from the Russian by Peter Taraschuk and published in Kharkov by Folio in 2008 in a run of 1250 copies. It may not be an authorized edition. More is at gazeta.ua.

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With the kind and quick help of Andrey Nickolayenko and Tamriko Kvachadze, I’ve learned a bit more about my Georgian copy of Lolita (see my 18 March posting). It was translated from the Russian by Tamar Lomidze and published by Logos in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2002. It includes the three addenda that should be part of all Russian editions and translations from the Russian: VN’s original English afterword, his Russian postscript, and his Russian list of foreign terminology in the novel.

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A friend in Moscow tells me a Lolita in Ukrainian was published in 2008. Does anyone have details? In fact, has any other VN work been translated and published into Ukrainian? I know of none.

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Lolita, Georgian, 2002

Lolita, Georgian, 2002

The modern Georgian literary language 33-character alphabet is known as  “mxedruli”. I have a copy of Lolita translated into the language. It appears that it is copyrighted 2002 and the ISBN is 99928-924-1-2. I can figure nothing out about it beyond that. Does anyone know of other translations of VN into Georgian? Does anyone know Georgian so that I can send him/her a scan of the front matter for translation into English?

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