The Insomniac’s Dream Diary: Part Three


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 third installment, Nabokov tries to console a girl, with sympathy that is “genuine” but “not free from desire,” and contemplates Dobuzhinsky’s autobiography. 

Nov. 13, 1964 6.30 am                                                                                                            31.

Poignant bitter-sweet dream permeated with tenderness and hopelessness. Short girl, rather dumpy, slatternly dressed, bare-necked, face very attractive but not flawlessly pretty, broadish jaws, flattish nose, wonderful complexion, smooth, warmly colored skin, pale-blue eyes, bedraggled fair hair. Am trying in vain to console her: she has been badly hurt by faithless heartless young husband, a shadowy gay-dog figure in the background. I am doing my best to make her understand how dreadfully sorry I am for her, but she is completely wrapped up <new card> in her taciturn grief, is absolutely impenetrable no matter how I strain to “reach her,” «пробиться к ней»,[1] as I tell her in Russian—but all in vain, she looks up at me with apprehensive hunted gaze, ready to stiffen, bothered, resenting my sympathy which is quite genuine but not free from desire. (The young man is—a very obscure feeling—related to me—perhaps Dm.?!) 

Oct. 14, 1964 cont.[2]                                                                                                                   

Later, a “museum” dream, ending in my picking up an autobiographical work by Dobuzhinsky the painter,[3] but here writing about butterfly-collecting. (He had been my teacher of drawing and I had seen him many years later in New York and Vermont). I cannot find the index, but then realize the volume consists of two books bound together and the index comes after the first.

[1]. Get through to her.

[2]. This is a continuation of the record of the same day. By a curious mistake, VN puts, instead of Nov. 14, the date on which he started his experiment. He continues to write the erroneous “Oct.” for the next two days.

[3]. Mstislav Dobuzhinski (1875–1957), a famous Russian artist. This is another note that seems to be done for the benefit of an outside reader.


Excerpted from Insomniac 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.