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Telegram Announcing prohibition of the novel 'Lolita' | by Archives New Zealand
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Telegram Announcing prohibition of the novel 'Lolita'

On 6 December 1953 Russian author Vladimir Nabokov completed his novel "Lolita", five years after starting it. The novel 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.


"Lolita" was banned in New Zealand by the Minister of Customs in 1959, against the advice of his own literature committee, which recommended the sale of the book be permitted, provided booksellers exercised discretion. The Minister of Customs, Mr Boord, at first offered no reason for his decision to ban the novel, providing only a curt telegram (shown above). It was only until he was pressed that he claimed the novel would breach the Indecent Publications Act if it were allowed in New Zealand.


Following the ban, the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties imported the novel into New Zealand in order to challenge this ban through the Supreme Court. Unusually, the Government agreed to cover the legal costs involved with the case. The appeal lost in the Supreme Court on the basis that the book placed excessive accent on matters of sex. The Supreme Court decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal but the ban was upheld by a majority decision. It was not until 1964 that the classification on Lolita in New Zealand was lifted, following a submission to the Indecent Publications Tribunal. Today, Lolita is a considered a classic of modern literature, and sits alongside other famously banned novels, such as J.D. Salinger's The Cather in the Rye, and Joyce's Ulysses.


This telegram comes from a file regarding tariffs on prohibited literature, created by the New Zealand Customs Office.


Archives Reference: ACIF 16554 W1786 Box 169 24/43/320


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Taken on August 15, 2013