Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


Patrick Brancaccio


Solipsism is defined as "an epistemological theory that the self knows only its present state and is the only existent thing, and that 'reality' is subjective." In the four novels discussed here, each narrator is a solipsist. That is, each presents a story tainted by his own intentions. In Despair, Hermann sets out to conince the reader of two things: that he has conceived of the perfect crime, and that Felix shared his exact likeness. In The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, henceforth abbreiated to RLSK, V. attempts to write the definitive biography of his half-brother, and in doing so hopes to attain the special status of "artist." Likewise Charles Kinbote, whose Pale Fire allegedly consists of in-depth commentary and analysis of the deceased John Shade's final poem. In Lolita, Humbert chronicles his affair with his nymphet, and contends that he confesses in order to "lie in the minds of later generations" (309). The reader is asked to evaluate, explicitly and implicitly, to what degree the narrators succeed. Explicitly, the reader is challenged by each narrator, who repeatedly insists on his own artistic merit. Implicitly, the reader is asked to make a moral judgment by Nabokov. Are the narrators poets or killers? Do they create art or destroy it? In order to decide for oneself, one must make clear the distinction between Nabokovian poet and killer. The poet strives for immortality through "the refuge of art" (Lolita, 309). Solipsism hinders the poet's success, because the solipsist sees only his own creation. The Nabokovian killer strives for the same immortality but takes refuge instead in his own stubborn solipsism.


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evaluation, artistic merit, subjectivity