Banned Books in Australia A Special Collections-Art in the Library Exhibition

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (banned 1958–1965)

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita sparked widespread controversy with its portrayal of a man’s passion for a 12-year-old girl. After rejection by five US publishers, including one who described it as ‘pure pornography’, the book eventually appeared with Olympia Press, a Paris firm specialising in books that had fallen foul of the US and British censors.

Not until 1958, three years after its publication, did Lolita come to the attention of Australia’s Literature Censorship Board. The censors unanimously decided to ban the novel. It was ‘unhealthy’, one wrote and ‘the fact that it is published by Olympia Press increases rather than lessens any doubts one might have about the writer’s intentions’.

The ban was only lifted in 1965 and even then the Victorian government imposed a ban of its own. It was a lucrative decision for Sydney booksellers, who capitalised on the publicity to send copies south by mail.

top of page