Today while talking with a friend, I learned a very interesting fact about Vladimir Nabokov. I mentioned that I was reading Lolita and was then surprised to hear that my friend has a fairly extensive knowledge of the author. Apparently, Nabokov suffered (I don’t think suffered is quite the right word, because the disease doesn’t sound too unpleasant or terrible, but it works) from synesthesia. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to an automatic, involuntary stimulation of another sensory pathway. There are numerous types of synesthesia, but all subsets have an instinctual association of two senses. For example, numbers, letters, and even music are often perceived as a particular color. Days of the week, months, or years may be associated with specific personalities. Any of the senses may become personified. Or when a person who has synesthesia thinks of groups of numbers, they may see the numbers in grouped patterns. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed and after doing a little research on the topic, I think it’s fascinating and somehow seems fitting that Nabokov was diagnosed with this disorder.
After learning about Nabokov’s synesthesia I started looking for examples in Lolita. This could be reading way too far into the condition, but on almost every page Nabokov does mention color and physical sensation. Of course, any good writer is going to incorporate all of his sensory perceptions into his or her work; however, Nabokov does do it very frequently. At the beginning of chapter fourteen Nabokov writes, “The afternoon drifted on and on, in ripe silence, and the sappy tall trees seemed to be in the know; and desire, even stronger than before, began to afflict me again.” Nabokov uses a lot of personification in his writing. Just in the following chapter, he writes, “As we sat in the darkness of the veranda (a rude wind had put out her red candles)…” Again, personification and color are utilized. I realize that probably the vast majority of Nabokov’s writing is not affected by his diagnoses; however, after reading some of his work, a good case could be made for justifying the affect that synesthesia had on his writing style.