The Insomniac’s Dream Diary: Part Five


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 fifth installment, Nabokov wakes from an erotic dream to bloody sheets.

Dec. 13, 1964 8.30 am                                                                                                            50.

Skipped four nights

(Did not take down the banal dreams I had lately).

Intensely erotic dream. Blood on sheet.

End of dream: my sister O.,[1] strangely young and languorous. Then V. tells me I must not forget to go to the oculist. I find his street but cannot remember the house number. Am agonizingly searching in the telephone book but do not recall his name and, moreover, do not know how to dial the vague number I have in mind—something ending in 492. Then stand near a window, sighing, half-seeing view, brooding over the possible consequence of incest. 

This reminds the Nabokov reader—but not Nabokov—of a critical episode at the end of his 1941 novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, with its nightmarishly urgent steeple-chase in pursuit of the narrator’s half-brother: “I went to the telephone. < . . . > I thumbed the soft greasy book, looking for Dr Starov’s number < . . . > ah, there it was: Jasmin 61–93. < . . . > I performed some dreadful manipulations and forgot the number in the middle, and struggled again with the book, and re-dialed, and listened for a while to an ominous buzzing. < . . . > My nerves were on edge” (LOA, 153).


[1]. Olga Petkevich (1903–1978), née Nabokov.

[2]. Abano Terme, near Padua.


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.