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History of censorship - 1960

Lolita is banned

Lolita (1955) is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov. The book is famous for its style and infamous for its subject: the main character, middle-aged Humbert Humbert, becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12 year old girl named Dolores Haze.

Nabokov's Lolita has become one of the better known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name 'Lolita' has become a word to describe a sexually precocious young girl. The novel was adapted to film in 1962 and again in 1997.

Lolita was banned by New Zealand Customs in 1959, against the advice of their own literature committee. The New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties then imported it into New Zealand in order to challenge this ban through the Supreme Court. Unusually, the Government agreed to pay the legal costs involved with this case. The appeal lost in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the book 'placed undue emphasis on matters of sex'. The Supreme Court decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal and the ban was upheld by majority decision.

In 1964, Lolita was submitted to the Indecent Publications Tribunal and classified as unrestricted. Another edition of it, The Annotated Lolita, was submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1998. This was also classified as unrestricted.

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Lolita book cover, 1959 design
Lolita book cover, 1959 design