NABOKV-L post 0022312, Sun, 15 Jan 2012 10:16:19 -0500

The Devil in Skazka & the English Linguist in Pale Fire
I've been reading the foreword to Eric Naiman's Nabokov, Perversely. Its available for free via Google Books. Like Twiggs I find it, well at least the foreword, to be quite illuminating.

He begins by describing VN's first short story, published in 1926 and called Skazka. It's about a young man who makes a pact with the devil. He can obtain all the beauties that he can choose in a day provided that the number of females chosen for his harem sums to an odd number. As is common in this kind of allegory the protagonist has been tricked, and the promise of a night of debauchery goes unfulfilled. He is left defeated, belittled, and ashamed.

The thing that I'd like to point out is the similar role played by the Devil in Skazka and that of the English Linguist in my interpretation of the poem Pale Fire. The similarity that I perceive is the granting of a deeply held wish by a supernatural agent which comes with a twist that the protagonist, and the reader, don't expect.

Indeed in Skazka this is the very thrust of the story.The protagonist is undone by the ironic twist, and the promise and the desire go unfulfilled.

In Pale Fire the result and circumstances are a little different. The plot structure and device is hidden by Shade's misleading the reader about what the supernatural grant-giver has actually said and what it means. Shade interprets the English Linguist's Je nourris les pauvre cigales as being a macornic joke because he has seen him feeding seagulls, and the fact that the English word seagulls suggests of the French word for cicada, cigales.

As I've written before, Shade's misdirection results in the reader not paying proper attention to the actual meaning of what the English Linguist has spoken; namely that he nourishes, or provides for, the poor cicadas; and that this phrase, alluding to Lafountaine's short poem, La Cigale et la Fourmi, should be interpreted to mean that the English Linguist is granting Shade's wish for immortality. In the poem the cicada, an in-providential singer, is presumably left to starve. The English Linguist, however, provides for such wayward artists.

But, as in Skazka, the grant comes with a twist: Shade's own daughter will come to serve as the vehicle for his immortal ascension.

Obviously I see the similarities between the two pieces as supportive of my interpretation of Pale Fire and the role of the English Linguist therein.

By itself this observation may not be all that convincing; nevertheless I felt it worth noting.


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