For a period of eighty days, beginning on 14th October 1964, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov kept a diary devoted exclusively to his dreams. Drawing inspiration from J.W. Dunne’s influential 1927 work, An Experiment with Time, Nabokov embarked on this introspective journey as both an insomniac and a skeptic, probing the malleability of time and the possibility of its reversal within the subconscious—a theory Dunne had named “serialism.” The result: sixty-four entries that offer a unique window into the psyche of one of history’s most enigmatic authors.
The Diary Entry
Nov. 7, 1964
End of dream: my mother is upset about something and everything my father says makes it worse. He gives me a bound volume of the Illustration or Graphic. I turn the pages, sitting with legs crossed. My mother on the verge of tears quietly leaves the room (we seem to be abroad in a hotel or a villa, my parents are young but I am a grown man). My father follows her. I hear his voice going on and on in the next room. “Ne descendez pas si vous êtes indispose, et tous seront contents”1 (an impossible scene in the real past) I feel dreadfully embarrassed and cannot decide whether to concentrate on the magazine (where there is a chess diagram on the rightside page) so as not to hear what is being said, or shut the heavy volume and go away. He also says something about her wishing only that a street be named after him.
Nabokov’s dream diary was published in 2018 by Princeton University Press with the title, Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov. More often than not, the recounting of other people’s dreams can, ironically, send me to sleep; however, in the case of this particular book, I was fascinated.
- More on J.W. Dunne’s book, An Experiment With Time
- The first chapter of Nabokov’s Insomniac Dreams can be read online
- ‘The forgotten theory of dreams that inspired Vladimir Nabokov’ (New Republic)
- “If you are unwell, then don’t come down, it will make everybody happy.” ↩︎
Diary entry excerpted from Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov. Compiled, edited and with commentaries by Gennady Barabtarlo. Used with permission of Princeton University Press. Copyright © 2018 by the Estate of Dmitri Nabokov.