NABOKV-L post 0020513, Wed, 11 Aug 2010 09:55:46 -0600

Re: from Ron Rosenbaum re VN's own words about the <Pale Fire>
On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 5:58 PM, R S Gwynn <> wrote:

> In a message dated 8/10/2010 2:52:14 PM Central Daylight Time,
> nabokv-l@UTK.EDU writes:
> Concerning Nabokov's own words on Pale Fire, I think it is important to
> consider the fact he made
> (at least) three statements on his intentions:
> 1. Mentioning 'the day on which Kinbote committed suicide (and he certainly
> did after putting the
> last touches to his edition to the poem)' to Alfred Appel Jr. in Wisconsin
> Studies in Contemporary
> Literature (1967)
> As well as the two other statements discussed previously:
> 2. ‘I wonder if any reader will notice... that the nasty commentator is not
> an ex-king and not even
> Dr. Kinbote, but Prof. Vseslav Botkin, a Russian and a madman’ from his
> diary in 1962
> 3. The insertion, and subsequent deletion, of poetry attributed to John
> Shade in Nabokov's draft of
> his revised Speak, Memory, which has used as evidence for the Shadean
> school of interpretation,
> from a similar time period.
> These statements contradict each other, if Kinbote indeed is real enough to
> be 'the nasty
> commentator' and commit suicide, John Shade could not have constructed him,
> which would be
> the logical conclusion if Shade has constructed the index, as indiciated by
> the Nabokov's insertion
> to Speak, Memory. Thus, we are left with two main options as to the meaning
> of this shift in
> interpretation (interpretation, I would stress, is the key word here. There
> is no correct 'solution' to
> the novel, as it is not an empirical problem but a work of art, only
> interpretations).
But in "The Vane Sisters", a work of art, there's a problem that needs to be
solved. I think just about any reader would say that an interpretation that
takes that solution into account is better than one by someone who doesn't
realize it's there. And when Nabokov realized that few people would find
the solution, he decided to give it away.

> Firstly, Nabokov may have had a Boydian change of mind about the
> intricacies of Pale Fire, and
> decided to join the emerging Shadeans. I believe the dates do not match up
> for this, which leads
> me to a second conclusion: Nabokov had intended for the novel to be re-read
> and scanned for
> clues (hence the hypertextual format of the text), and probably had a few
> psuedo-solutions for
> the reader to find (most likely that Kinbote was Botkin), but then the
> novel showed hidden depths
> that Nabokov had not considered, which led to these contradictory
> statements.
> I'm afraid I can't believe that Kinbote's being Botkin was a
pseudo-solution, since Nabokov endorsed it. He may well have intended the
reader to go on from there--I think he did--but not to the conclusion that
Kinbote isn't Botkin.

> The fact that Pale Fire veered out of Nabokov's control is not undesirable,
> however, as it has
> allowed the novel to remain exciting and relevant to this day, with new
> theories being developed
> regularly, even if one will inevitably disagree with at least half of them.
Let me compare chess problems: their esthetic value isn't exhausted when
they're solved. Here's an introduction to how the other "phases of play",
in addition to the solution, are of thematic interest.

I believe this is what Nabokov meant by the "dazzling thematic patterns" of
the Anglo-American school of chess problems (in *Speak, Memory*). I must
admit he doesn't say much about this that I know of in describing his own
problems, though he does mention the value of the number and variety of
"tries" (false solutions), but I think we should consider the possibility
that knowing the "solution" to a story doesn't make it less exciting or
relevant, but instead can be the "key" to understanding its richness.

> Thus, I would advise with taking Nabokov's words on 'solutions' to Pale
> Fire with a pinch of salt,
> since the novel has arguably developed into a more organic novel, than the
> sterile artifact it would
> have become if Nabokov's statements would have become canon.
> Best,
> Simon Rowberry
> Nabokov was capable of making mistakes, like any other writer. Some
> possibilities relating to your three points.
> 1. VN said that Kinbote committed suicide after completing the
> Foreword. But the Index (which is clearly the work of CK) refers to events
> in the Foreword and seems to have been completed last.

In particular, Nabokov said Kinbote left the Zembla entry incomplete. I
suspect his comment about the Foreword was indeed a mistake (though you
could probably say he finished the Foreword, had one entry left in the
Index, and committed suicide before finishing that entry).

2. This has caused lots of problems, but I find none here. VN's textual
> clues (both in the Commentary and Index) point us toward V. Botkin.


> 3. Is it possible that VN planned an Index (with similarly intriguing
> "clues") for the revised edition of *S,M* but didn't follow through?
> Could he have put on the persona of Shade to say this in his diary? Or
> could the (posthumously speaking, in VN's impersonation) Shade have been
> referring to "my" in the sense that, after all, the so-called publication of
> *Pale Fire* was supposed to be an edition of the poem (with Foreword,
> Commentary, and Index) by JS, with CK serving as editor. Let's suppose say
> that Eliot had allowed a scholarly edition on *Four Quartets*, with the
> same kind of scholarly "apparatus" as *Pale Fire*, to be published, and
> then had referred to a section of that work as "my" Index. That is, the
> index to *my* poem. The deletion of this by VN may have been a belated
> acknowledgment that he'd made an error.
One of the fun parts of the list, and other Internet discussions, is that
what's "obvious" to me doesn't even occur to other people, and what they see
doesn't even occur to me.

When I read about that verse by "Shade", I thought Nabokov was just
whimsically attributing it to his invented poet. After all, he was in the
habit of writing English poetry for Shade. Later he realized that the poem
wasn't in character for Shade. He wouldn't have needed to draw the reader's
attention to any index he'd created (for his book on Pope?), and as you say,
wouldn't have put a wind *ex Ponto* in his writing (with apologies to those
who think Shade's mother was Russian). So he dropped the attribution. He
might even have known Andrew Field was coming up with the Shadean
interpretation of *Pale Fire *(published the year after the revised *Speak,
Memory,* I believe) and wanted to avoid a false clue.

Jerry Friedman

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