The Insomniac’s Dream Diary: Part Two


Dream Diaries

Copyright © Ellis Rosen

This week, we’ll be running a series of dreams from the forthcoming Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time. For nearly three months in 1964, Nabokov recorded his dreams upon waking, as a way of testing J. W. Dunne’s theory that dreams offered not only “fragments of past impressions,” but also “a proleptic view of an event to come.” In other words, that dreams were a sort of reverse déjà vu, a way of subconsciously working through not only the past but the future. 

In this second installment, Nabokov dreams about his childhood tantrums after rereading Speak, Memory.

18.     Oct. 31—8.00 am                                                                                                               

Among several dreams was a really stunning recollection of early childhood. I was again immersed in these dreadful tantrums, those storms of tears with which my mother had to cope when I was 4–5 years of age and we were abroad. The dream beautifully brought back the sensation of utter disaster when letting myself completely go I simultaneously realized that I was removing further and further, with every sob, and howl a reconciliation with my helpless, distraught mother. In to-night’s dream, I was <new card> already in such a tempest as I rushed from my and S.’s[1] bedroom in a hotel into the white corridor and endeavored to break into mother’s room. She would not let me in—cried out abruptly and jarringly that she was trying on something. I dashed into a water closet and next moment was oddly standing on the lid and hugging the whitewashed pipe that went upward to a basin-like affair in which I plunged my face (the dream rather eccentrically gave the measure <new card> of my height by means of this position which apparently had no other purpose or meaning). My mother with bright eyes and flushed face opened the door at the end of a kind of vestibule leading to the place where I sobbed. There I let myself go completely. Unfortunately at this moment my brother S. whom the English governess was dressing heard my sobbing and joined in. This double performance spoilt the matter and M.[2] instead of consoling me broke into tears herself.

Had been rereading (Oct. 29) the Russian version of Speak, Memory.[3]

[1]. Here the initial stands for Sergey Nabokov, VN’s younger brother (1900–1945). See p. 27, note 27.

[2]. Elena Nabokov, née Rukavishnikov, Nabokov’s mother (1876–1939).

[3]. In 1954 Nabokov revised and translated into Russian his autobiography (Speak, Memory, originally Conclusive Evidence, 1951) under the title Drugie berega (Other Shores).


Excerpted from Insomnia Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov. Compiled, edited, and with commentary by Gennady Barabtarlo. Copyright © 2018 by the Estate of Dmitri Nabokov. Compilation, preface, parts 1 and 5, notes, and other editorial material copyright © 2018 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.