Nabokov as Psychologist: Routes for Exploration


Location: DeBartolo Hall, Room 209

Brian Boyd, Distinguished Professor of English, University of Auckland (New Zealand)

Nabokov once responded to Robbe-Grillet’s claims that his fiction eliminated psychology by calling them “preposterous. … the shifts of levels, the interpenetration of successive impressions and so forth belong, of course, to psychology—psychology at its best.” Reminded of this in another interview and asked “Are you a psychological novelist?” he answered: “All novelists of any worth are psychological novelists.”

Perhaps it is time to expand our sense of Nabokov and of the psychology of fiction by considering him as a passionate (and, of course, a playful) psychologist. To what extent does he replicate or anticipate findings in abnormal, clinical, personality, and social psychology in the psychology of perception, attention, emotion, memory, and imagination? What precursors in fictional psychology (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce) does he emulate or challenge? What can we learn from both the psychology implicit and explicit in the characters of his fiction and from the psychology implicit in his relation to his readers?