Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015589, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 12:31:39 -0400

THOUGHTS & QUERIES: Pale Fire Chronology
[EDNOTE. R S Gwynn sends the following intriguing observations for the List's consideration. :) SES]

I've been looking at Jerry Friedman's PF chronology from a few years ago.
This is an admirable (not "admiral") job of sleuth work, but it doesn't
deal very much with speculations about the final events in the novel and
when they may have taken place. I wonder if anyone has thought about these
strange anomalies. Brian Boyd and others seem to support VN's own
statement in SO that October 19, 1959, is the date on which Kinbote commits
suicide. This would seemingly indicate the following sequence of
composition for the parts of PF:

Poem (completed on July 21, 1959, also the day of Shade's death)

Commentary (written after July 29, when CK leaves NW for Cedarn; date of
completion unknown, but he has already sent the ms. off to Frank, received
galleys, corrected and sent them back, and received a response from Frank
that they have arrived). It seems that the manuscript he sent off
contained the poem and, at the least, his commentary.

Index (would obviously have to be completed after completion of the
commentary (since it refers almost exclusively to the commentary; probably
completed before galleys arrive since it doesn't refer to pages in the
galleys but to lines in the poems and the corresponding notes; but may have
been completed afterwards).

Thus, sometime in the late summer/early autumn of 1959: galleys of Poem,
Commentary, and (possibly) Index are read by professional proofreader,
returned to CK and corrected, then returned to publisher. Question: did CK
receive a second set of proofs, page proofs, sometime shortly before
October 19?)

Foreword (completed and signed on October 19, 1959, after which CK
supposedly commits suicide)

BUT, certain problems emerge:

1) The Index refers several times to the Foreword, indicating it must have
been completed after the Foreword. Obviously no one but CK could or would
have written the Index.

2) In the Foreword, Kinbote speaks of his publisher, old Frank, in hopes of
their "initial relationship . . . remaining a permanent fixture,"
indicating that he has publishing plans beyond the completion of the
Foreword and present book.

3) CK also mentions that the corrected galleys of the manuscript (poem,
commentary, and index?) have been returned to the publisher, and that Frank
has since "asked me to mention in my Preface---and this I willingly do--
that I alone am responsible for any mistakes in my commentary."--which
would indicate that Frank has seen the commentary and requested an
introductory section to the book. That his "Preface" (why does he call it
this, with a capital letter?) remains uncorrected (by himself and/or
the "professional proofreader") may be indicated by the strange
sentence: "Insert before a professional." on p. 18 and other weirdnesses
that a proofreader would catch.

4) The Foreword three times mentions the noise near CK's motel: "a very
loud amusement park" (13); "and damn that music" (15); and "that carousel
inside and outside my head" (28). This is contradicted by CK's note in the
Commentary (C. 609-614, 235): "At first I was greatly bothered by the blare
of diabolical radio music from what I thought was some kind of amusement
park across the road--it turned out to be camping tourists . . . ." This
would indicate a note written after the completion of the Foreword, since
the Foreword retains mention of the mistaken source of the noise.

5) CK also mentions that he is "trying to coordinate these notes" in the
same entry. Does this possibly mean that VN felt he might have got a
little bit over his head in trying to keep all (or at least most) of his
juggled balls in the air at the same time? A Herculean effort, though it's
entirely possible that one or two anomalies escaped him (the book also
contains a few typos that the author later mentioned--"catskins," for

One other thing I noticed on this umpteenth reading: Just as Kinbote claims
his birthday is the same as Shade's and Gradus's, he also claims that his
mother died on July 21. I'm sure other readers have remarked this
coincidence, though.

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