Reignier, Léopold. History, Geography and ‘Reality’ in Nabokov’s Invented Worlds: The Process of Specialization. 2021

Bibliographic title
History, Geography and ‘Reality’ in Nabokov’s Invented Worlds
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal
Periodical issue
v. 15
Publication year

According to Leopold Reigner’s (University of Rouen) “History, geography and ‘reality’ in Nabokov’s invented worlds: the process of specialization,” Nabokov’s vision of reality and its place in literature can be a perplexing question. This is certainly not surprising considering the author’s work carries with it a retinue of reality-bending themes such as mirrors, doppelgangers, parallel worlds mixing invented historical events and geographic locations with real ones. However, the most challenging concept to pinion might be Nabokov’s understanding of reality itself. Indeed, how should we reconcile Nabokov’s denial of the possibility to objectively perceive reality and represent it in literature with his steadfast artistic commitment to scientific accuracy and his effusive use of geographic and historical bearings taken from reality? While Nabokov praises some impossibilities on the thematic level which he believes only infringe upon an “average reality” with which the ideal writer should not be concerned, he is wont to harsh rebukes whenever he comes across an inaccurate detail in a work of fiction. This apparent contradiction is explained by Nabokov’s tentative definition of reality as an aspirational goal for the writer rather than a compact entity to be revealed. This implies a hierarchy of perceptions and utterly excludes a relativist or solipsist belief in the equal validity of all perceptions or the non-existence of absolute truth, although such truth cannot be completely uncovered because “you can never know everything about one thing”. To Nabokov, getting closer to reality is an artistic goal distinct from other literary endeavors such as realism, which only seek to represent an “average reality”. The ideal writer’s attempt to follow into nature’s artistic footsteps does not entail beating a path away from the reality of nature but towards it, with as much specialization as possible.