Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

The Second Pass recently linked to this gallery of covers to different editions of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (as well as to this competition for people to give it their own design).

It’s certainly not a book that’s been universally well-served by designers. There are some covers that want to suggest Humbert Humbert’s lascivious gaze but, to avoid straying into the same morally reprehensible territory as Humbert himself, they do so with an image of a full-grown woman rather than a pre-pubescent girl. Others just have illustrations of fairly inept nymphets (there are some real grotesques in there). And there’s also some good design (as you’d hope in a collection of slightly more than 150 images).

Interestingly, tucked away in an old episode of a television programme called USA: The Novel, Nabokov himself flicks through some of these editions:

And here are the jackets of the books he picks up:

1959 Turkish edition of Lolita

1963 French edition of Lolita

1964 German edition of Lolita

1959 Italian edition of Lolita

1958 Dutch edition of Lolita

(It seems to be impossible to find the Nabokov video on the public television website from which it originally comes, but you can see the whole episode embedded at this blog. The different Lolitas appear in part 3, which also features Nabokov reveling in a list he has constructed of things he detests.)

Then there’s this cover of Lolita that never came to be, an abandoned draft John Gall shared in an old interview at Fwis:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, unused design by John Gall

It’s both absolutely nauseating and unbearably elegant, and as such is perhaps the perfect Lolita cover.

Sadly, they let the queasiness get to them and this is the final design they went with (and it still goes to the head of the class):

John Gall Lolita final cover