NABOKV-L post 0020496, Mon, 9 Aug 2010 16:01:01 -0600

Re: from Ron Rosenbaum re Pale Firings
On Sat, Aug 7, 2010 at 1:10 AM, <
> wrote:

> I don’t want to recapitulate my whole argument, but may I just ask about
> one detail in *Pale Fire* which seems typically pointed and which no one
> else seems to account for?

I don't want to pile on when you might also want to respond to Ron
Rosenbaum, but may I answer about some of these many details?

Now *Pippa Passes* is about a young woman, Pippa, who influences four people
> in major ways without their recognizing it.
I can't agree with all of that. Three of them directly respond to the words
of her song, indicating that they hear it, and there's no reason to think
the fourth doesn't recognize it. The situation is the other way around:
Pippa doesn't know she has influenced the other characters.

> And this note shows Hazel obsessed with what she takes to be the ghostly
> light in the Haunted Barn. When the Shades visit, the light does not oblige.
> But Nabokov goes out of his way, again, to have Kinbote visit Jane Provost
> and get from her a typescript recording Hazel’s jottings from the barn (all
> highly improbable “realistically,” a fact deftly obscured by this master
> teller of great fairy tales),

Sorry, how is this so improbable?

I'm convinced that the will-o-the-wisp's message is from Aunt Maud and
indicates that ghosts can communicate with humanity, or try to, and can see
something of the future. The latter ability is very helpful to your
argument, I think.

I also think it very likely that Hazel is the red admiral and the
mockingbird (and maybe the cardinal in "The Swing"). Or that she possesses
them, which probably works better for your argument. It seems a little too
much for a ghost to take the form of a roundel of light, and another ghost
to take the form of a butterfly, and for that second ghost to influence an
insane man. Possessing them could be a stronger version of influencing

> Now this same note also ends with a poem by Shade, “The Nature of
> Electricity,” where Shade playfully imagines ghosts as the forces behind
> electric lights: “And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole Town with innumerable
> lights,” and streetlight number 999, perhaps, “is an old friend of mine.”
> Shade writes a 999-line poem with a title drawn from Shakespeare’s phrase
> about the moon, our biggest night light, snatching her “pale fire” from the
> sun;

All of this may be inspired by the Haunted Barn.

> his home town has all the *trees* in Shakespeare along a famous avenue,

Only it doesn't. As I've mentioned before, the date palm, at least, can't
survive in New Wye. This may lead us in another direction (that is, it led
me in another direction).

and Kinbote, who does not know where “pale fire” comes from in Shakespeare,
> reports Charles II escaping by an underground passage with insistent
> underworld overtones that goes under Coriolanus Lane (“lane” being the last
> word of “Pale Fire”) and Timon Alley (*Timon of Athens *being the play in
> which the phrase “pale fire” occurs).

As I said in my previous post, I agree that Kinbote's references to
*Timon*(I'd forgotten "Timon Alley", and the "Timonian cave" in the
index) can't be
explained as the result of reading the poem, but I think they can by his
statement that one of the few books he has in Cedarn is a copy of the play
in "Zemblan" (n. 962). If Nabokov wants us to see the *Timon* references as
evidence of supernatural influence, Kinbote's copy is a very smelly red

Nabokov has exerted the full resources of his imagination to coordinate such
> things: the uninterpreted message from a ghostly light in the haunted barn;
> Shade’s writing a poem about ghostly lights, including Shakespeare and a
> ghost in streetlamp 999; the underworld and Shakespeare in Onhava and the
> Shakespearean trees in New Wye; and the *atalanta* that visits Shade after
> he finishes 999 and unknowingly ignores the message in the haunted barn as
> he walks across the lane to his death.
> Now why does Nabokov also link into this note on the Haunted Barn the
> allusion to Browning’s *Pippa Passes* and the doubled allusion there to
> inspiration (Browning getting his inspiration for the poem as he walks
> through Dulwich Forest, Pippa inspiring people who do not realize they have
> been inspired by her)?

Again I think that's backwards.

> Will it have nothing to do with the daughter whom Shade introduces into his
> poem by referring to “the phantom of my little daughter’s swing” and then by
> Sybil greeting “her ghost,” and who in this very note shows her own
> obsession with the ghostly, and actually records what we and the Nabokovs,
> but no mortal within the novel, can read as a prophetic ghostly message?

Maybe not. There's lots of inspiration in the book. If Pippa is supposed
to suggest Hazel, there are reversals going on, since Pippa accidentally
inspires people who are conscious of it, and in your reading Hazel purposely
inspires people though they don't know it. Also Pippa resembles the living
Hazel in being a virginal young woman, but not in being cheerful and
innocent. Other candidates for an ironic parallel to Hazel are Maud, who
tries to give a message to Shade but suceeds only in inspiring some of his
poetic imagery, and Kinbote, who tries to inspire Shade and in your view
suceeds, though not as he wants, but in most other views fails.

And if it does have to do with Hazel, it might refer to her role as red
admiral, which gets into Shade's poem and inspires Kinbote to some fine
writing, and to her role in reporting the will-o-the-wisp. It doesn't have
to mean that she exerts some kind of partial control over his delusions.

Kinbote, comically, although he imagines an Onhava with a Timon Alley, and a
> Charles the Beloved who carries a copy of *Timon Afinsken* through the
> underground-underworld passage to his escape, cannot recognize the source of
> the Shakespearean phrase “pale fire.” He also names for us, in the note
> (C.998) immediately following the extraordinary description of the *
> atalanta* flitting around Shade just moments before his death (C.993-995),
> the trees he recognizes in “the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by
> Shakespeare” (C.47-48). There are many kinds of trees in Shakespeare other
> than those Kinbote recognizes, but it is surely interesting that in this
> particular location he provides the evidence that he does not recognize the
> *hazel* that features in *The Taming of the Shrew*.

I don't know why I never looked that up.

It's especially strange since Kinbote says he has a list of the inscriptions
on the trees in that avenue (n. 172--presumably the whole cloth that he
invents the avenue from), so the word "hazel" could be right in front of

> (And that just after the initial mention of “the famous avenue of all the
> trees mentioned by Shakespeare” in C.47-48 comes the phrase “the hint of a
> haze.”)

I can see this suggests that Nabokov wanted us to recognize that "hazel" is
left out. I don't see that it suggests that as Kinbote doesn't recognize
the source of "pale fire" in Shakespeare or the hazel tree in Shakespeare,
Shade must have thought of "pale fire" because of Hazel via Kinbote rather
than because of Aunt Maud via Hazel, or because of the ghost of Shakespeare,
who he says perhaps figuratively that he invoked, or on his own.

discovering new surprises as I write this, and leaving more I have just
> noticed for another time.

I'm looking forward to them.

Jerry Friedman

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: