Here’s a sign of the times, and a worry. What with Michael Jackson, that American film-maker (supply names ad lib) and all the other people who think little boys are there to be fucked and fondled (and girls as well), coupled with the rise of populism, people like The Donald, and the trend for dismissing anything you don’t like as Fake News, truth, art, et cetera, are on shaky grounds indeed. Today I read that Lolita is now in the firing line, which is horrifying.
If you haven’t read it, hard luck. I picked up on it when I was seventeen or so, and decided it was a howling masterpiece. I’ve never changed my mind. It tells the story of a paedophile called Humbert Humbert, who falls in love/lust with a girl of twelve. As you’d expect from Nabokov the prose is nothing short of wonderful, and his characterisation is complex and disturbing. For the ‘hero’, the story is a tragedy. For Lolita – well, it’s hard to say. Which I think is the point.
It’s a deeply serious novel, about a deeply serious subject. And titillating, I do assure you, it is not. Fast forward to today. Here’s a digest of today’s piece in the Bookseller.
‘Jonathan Cape’s Dan Franklin has said he wouldn’t be able to publish Lolita – about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl – were he to be offered it today, because of the #MeToo phenomenon and changing attitudes among a younger generation.
‘Quoted by Rachel Johnson in a Spectator article, Franklin told the publication: “You can organise outrage at the drop of a hat. If Lolita was offered to me today, I’d never be able to get it past the acquisition team — a committee of 30-year-olds, who’d say, ‘If you publish this book we will all resign.’
‘Johnson’s piece references trigger warnings in universities for material with sensitive content and the use of morality clauses in publishing contracts, describing publishing as having “a massive attack of wokeness”.
‘Also quoted is literary agent Natasha Fairweather of Rogers, Coleridge and White, who commented: “The real story is about what is happening in the world of young adult publishing, where the mood is becoming so militant that you are no longer allowed to write from the perspective of anyone other than yourself. Amelie Wen Zhao withdrew her book from publication with a Twitter post that read like a Stalin-era apology.”
‘Zhao asked her publisher, Random House’s Delacorte imprint in the US, to delay publication of her YA debut following criticism online of a slave auction scene.
Meanwhile Curtis Brown chair Jonathan Lloyd was quoted on the furore surrounding writer Dan Mallory, the author of thriller The Woman in the Window (HarperCollins), accused in a very lengthy New Yorker article of fabricating his past and lying about having cancer. Lloyd told the Spectator: “We all knew he had fantasies. Does the fact that he might be a bipolar fabulist detract from his abilities to write a novel? Not in the least.”‘
So that appears to be it. Never mind the quality, feel the width. How would Voltaire have got on, do you think? Or DH Lawrence? Or practically every serious writer there’s ever been? The business, surely, is to examine, to reveal, to investigate – to show human beings and their foibles – however vile. Upset the reader, if you must – because you MUST.
I’m using this last sentence as a joke, honestly: ‘It’s political correctness gone mad.’