Controversial Authors (Part 3)

This is the third and likely final instalment of the Controversial Authors series. The following blog post is dedicated to two widely acclaimed literary figures whose work provoked controversy.

Vladimir Nabokov


(April 22nd 1899 – July 2nd 1977)

Notable works: The Defense, Lolita, Pale Fire, Speak Memory.

Born in Saint Petersburg, the son of a politician, Vladimir Nabokov was a renowned novelist, lepidopterologist (someone specialising in the study of moths) and chess composer (creates endgame studies/chess problems).  The author’s first nine novels were in Russian, but it was his later English prose which assured him a place in the pantheon of literary greats.

Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous work, is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth-century.  Accolades such as the book’s inclusion in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of the twentieth-century bear testimony to this.  Lolita is also amongst the most controversial books of all time due to its sensitive subject matter.

The story is about a man named Humbert Humbert, who falls in love with a twelve-year-old girl, Lolita, the daughter of his landlady.  Humbert Humbert goes on to marry the mother so he can stay close to Lolita.  When the mother dies in a car accident, the protagonist takes care of Lolita, in exchange for sexual favours.  Lolita eventually leaves him and marries someone else, infuriating Humbert Humbert to such an extent that he kills the man.

The book’s pedophilic theme resulted in Lolita being rejected by numerous American publishers when it was written in 1953.  Two years later the book was published by Olympia Press, a Paris based publisher.  To this day the book courts controversy.  The producer of a long-running one-man show in Saint Petersburg, in which Leonid Mozgovoy reads out passages from Lolita on-stage, was assaulted after being accused of being a pedophile.  A disturbing clip of the incident was posted on YouTube.

Salman Rushdie


(Born: June 19th 1947)

Notable works: Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses.

No list of controversial writers is complete without the inclusion of the Indian born British writer, Salman Rushdie.  Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize in 1981.  The author went on to achieve further success with his third novel Shame, published in 1983.  His fourth book, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, caused controversy from the outset.  The title of the book was deemed offensive by many Muslims as it refers to a number of allegedly pagan verses, temporarily included in the Qur’an and later removed.  Some pious Muslims were also displeased that the prophet Abraham was referred to as a ‘bastard’, in addition to various other insertions, too numerous to mention here.

Any hopes Rushdie may have harboured over the furore dying down were shattered when the Supreme Leader of Iran, The Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a Fatwa against the author in January 1989.  Rushdie was rushed into the protective custody of Special Branch as rioting, book burnings and fire-bombings raged through the Muslim world.  The left-wing bookshop Collets was burned down and a Dillons firebombed as the hatred spread west.  In August of 1989 Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh was martyred in a failed plot to blow up the author in Paddington, London.  In a separate incident Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death.

To this day the author receives death threats, including a Valentines Day card of sorts that he gets every February 14th, threatening to kill him; and no they are not from one of his four ex-wives.


Click here to read Part 2 of the series.



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  • Very interesting post. Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a great book about the dangers of over-interpretation. Haven’t read any Rushdie yet, not out of religious scruples, just never got round to it.

    • I look forward to reading Pale Fire at some point. Rushdie is an avid Tweeter. Did you see his Tweet limerick about Kim Kardashian’s divorce? It was very amusing. He is still waiting for Kardashian’s limericked retort.

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