NABOKV-L post 0020465, Thu, 5 Aug 2010 20:26:46 -0600

Subject
Re: from Ron Rosenbaum re "Pale Fire" & EDNote
Date
Body
>
> On Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 7:04 PM, John Morris <morris.jr@comcast.net> wrote:
>
In response to Ron Rosenbaum's question, "Does anyone else believe Hazel
> Shade's ghost somehow dictated 'Pale Fire'?":
>
> Of course not, and Brian Boyd never made such a silly claim. If you'll
> reread his "Nabokov's 'Pale Fire'," you'll see that he makes an ingenious
> case, well supported by textual evidence, that Hazel Shade's shade
> influences Kinbote's commentary in a number of complex and significant
> areas.
>

And that Kinbote had told Shade at least some of what becomes the Zemblan
parts of his commentary, which influenced the poem.

Perhaps the best way to put it is to employ Boyd's phrase (on p. 168) --
> Hazel "helps Kinbote dream" his dream of Zembla.
>
> There is never any suggestion that Hazel has dictated anything. Boyd's
> argument, page after page, is always for influence and pattern-making, never
> ghostwriting. Do I believe in this interpretation? I certainly do. Anyone
> who doubts it needs to counter Boyd's textual points, case by case; he is
> not offering a hunch, but rather a sustained argument.
>
...

Okay. Boyd makes two main arguments. The first is that Kinbote's
supposedly homosexual fantasy of Zembla spends much less time on
homosexuality (concise hints that he indulged in it in great quantity) than
on "women spurned": the allegedly comic episodes of Fleur de Fyler and Garh,
and the sentimental, guilt-ridden, occasionally comic episode of Disa.
Hazel was fatally spurned, and she had resemblances to another woman
mentioned in Zembla, Iris Acht. I do find it strange that Kinbote, a
paragon of self-centeredness and misogyny, says he resembles Hazel or has
time for compassion for Disa.

However, there are other explanations even from Boyd's stance that most of
what happens outside Zembla is "real". What are Kinbote's similarities to
Hazel? Beside a tendency to reverse words, both have been rejected by boys
and men--Kinbote by the gardener, who won't or can't have sex with him; and
more ambiguously by Bob, who may or may not have had sex with him and maybe
purposely got himself kicked out of Kinbote's house. And Hazel feels sure
most males aren't sexually interested in her, while Kinbote knows most males
aren't sexually interested in him. Also, spending so much time with the
poem and admiring Shade so much could give him sympathy for Hazel.

Although as Boyd says, we don't see Kinbote rejecting any women, we know he
would, and it isn't surprising that he gives himself the opportunity to do
so in his fantasies. But there are hints that he has done so. The simplest
reading of the problematic passage about turning up "on another campus as an
old, happy, healthy, heterosexual Russian..." is that it's a portrait of his
real identity, Botkin. If Botkin became homosexual when he went crazy, he
may in so doing have rejected his wife or lady friend. Or if he didn't have
one, he certainly would have rejected the possibility. A possible hint is
that the only non-homoerotic poems he mentions liking are Frosts' "Stopping
by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and Edsel Ford's "The Image of Desire", both of
which are about fulfilling one's responsibilities despite temptation. Maybe
the passages about Disa in "reality" are based on his continued rejection of
his wife or female lover; those about his dreams of her, on the buried
Botkin's feelings about abandoning his responsibility to and love for her.
I can't claim this interpretation is certain, but I think it's as well
justified as Boyd's theory that Hazel in the afterlife is influencing him.

Boyd's other argument is based on "uncanny coincidences between poem and
commentary". His many examples include Shade's waxwing (related to the
fictional bird named after his father) that crashed into a window and King
Charles's father who crashed his plane into "the scaffolding of a huge
hotel". He notes that Charles Nicol and Pekka Tammi suggested that these
are the result of the poem's influence on Kinbote as he writes his
commentary, but rejects this possibility since Kinbote recounted his Zemblan
delusions to Shade in the two months *before* Shade wrote his poem.
Instead, he suggests Kinbote inspired Shade; for instance, Kinbote's story
of his father's death would have reminded Shade of those waxwings, which
give him the most widely quoted part of his poem. This is how Hazel
indirectly inspired the poem--though I don't see that Boyd says she knew
about the waxwings and prompted Kinbote to include something suggestive of
them in Zembla.

The flaw is that Boyd tacitly assumes that Kinbote's Zemblan stories have
remained constant, even to details, from when he tells them to Shade in May
and June till he writes his commentary in August, September, and October.
We know, though, that Kinbote can change his story in far less time than
that. He changes Gordon Krummholz's article of clothing four times as he
imagines Gordon talking with Gradus. Maybe more relevantly, he tells us
Disa's hair is "coal-black" and "ebony", but then says Shade's description
of Sybil, with "dark brown hair", is "a plain unretouched likeness" of
Disa. Before our eyes, he's changed his Zemblan fantasy to make it resemble
the poem. It's as if Nabokov were warning us not to base our interpretation
on his reliability about Zembla.

One exception is *Timon of Athens*. Kinbote's mentions of it (the Zemblan
edition he takes with him when he escapes, Phryne and Timandra as names of
the youths he dreams of betraying Disa with, and the re-Englished passage)
can't arise from its being the source of the title "Pale Fire", since he
doesn't know it's the source (unless he's joking with us). However, he
seems to have a copy of the play in translation as the material for his
re-Englishing, and this, not Hazel, may be the reason for the other two
mentions. It may even have led him to mention it to Shade in a story of
Zembla or elsewhere.

Of course, Kinbote is one of the most unreliable narrators in literature,
and I'd hardly count on his ever having said anything about Zembla to Shade
or anyone.

Finally, Boyd argues that survival after death, namely Hazel's and Shade's,
makes sense of the book. I agree (against those who think it would ruin
part of the humor). But we already have evidence for it in the
will-o-the-wisp's message, and I agree with Boyd that the red admiral at the
end is a hint in the same direction. And that's plenty.

Jerry Friedman

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