By Lily Rothman
August 18, 2015

By the time Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was published in the United States on this day, Aug. 18, in 1958, the book wasn’t exactly new. As TIME reported in a long review of the work upon its American release, Nabokov had come to the U.S. during World War II with “intellectual luggage [that] included fragments of a book that later, published in Paris in 1955, became a must item of the contraband spice trade in which Henry Miller’s Tropics have bulked large.”

But the fact that it had been read, dissected and debated didn’t stop it from making a splash. That much was clear from the review:

Lolita, the critic concluded, wasn’t merely a book worthy of publication despite its subject matter—it was a work of literature with something to teach the world.

Nabokov himself, TIME added, had only a “writer’s interest in nymphets.” It was a different part of the Lolita plot that he had a real personal interest in: the journey from motel to motel. “I love motels,” he told the magazine. “I would like to have a chain of motels—made of marble. I would put one every ten minutes along the highway, and I would travel from one to another with my butterfly net.”

Read the full review here, in the TIME Vault: To the End of Night

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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