NABOKV-L post 0007111, Sun, 17 Nov 2002 20:52:17 -0800

Fw: nuns and lovers in Pale Fire
nuns and lovers in Pale Fire
----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Sunday, November 17, 2002 8:14 PM
Subject: nuns and lovers in Pale Fire

> Without wishing to twist your argument round on itself, could it also be
> Kinbote breaking into Shade's writing and making a mistake? That the
> roommate is a nun might remember Kinbote's unhealthy obsession with
> religious discussion...
> Nick.

Dear Nick,

Thanks for the support, but this is definitely Shade speaking in his own voice. That's why it strikes me as a prevarication.

Interestingly the nun appears in Kinbote's commentary (note to line 894: the king), but Kinbote is quoting Shade, so it, too, is in Shade's voice:

The King may be dead or he may be as much alive as you and Kinbote, but let us respect facts. I have it from him [pointing to me] that the widely circulated stuff about the nun is a vulgar pro-Extremist fabrication. The Extremists and their friends invented a lot of nonsense to conceal their discomfiture...."

Shade goes on to say that the Extremists claimed that the King escaped from Zembla disguised as a nun. But look at the quote as I have truncated it. If I am correct that there is no King and no Zembla, "the widely circulated stuff about the nun" does not refer to the King's supposed escape at all, and the discomfiture is Shade's.

Perhaps what was being circulated was (as Kinbote claims in his note to line 579: the other) the gossip linking "his [Shade's] name with that of one of his students (see Foreword)." Kinbote later in the same note tells us that the Shades dined with him on three occassions and on each of these occassions he invited students, "the third time, that girl in the black leotard, with that long white face and eyelids painted a ghoulish green...."

And in the Foreword to which we are referred we find the following reference to that student:

"Come, come," said Professor Hurley, "do you mean, John, you really don't have a mental or visceral picture of that stunning blonde in the black leotard who haunts Lit. 202?"

This banter takes place on February 16, 1959 and the blonde is still very much alive. But she turns up in Shade's poem as the second wife, pre-deceased, of a widower at IPH:

And [the second wife] also blond,
But with a touch of tawny in the shade,
Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone balustrade,
The other sits and raises a moist gaze
Toward the blue impenetrable haze.
How to begin? Which first to kiss? What toy
To give the babe? Does that small solemn boy
Know of the head-on crash which on a wild
March night killed both the mother and the child?
And she, the second love, with instep bare
In ballerina black ....

This is her third, and last appearance. But Shade imagines the moments before the crash when he describes what he and Sybil watch on TV while waiting for Hazel to return from her date:

And then there was a kind of travelog:
A host narrator took us through the fog
Of a March night where headlights from afar
Approached and grew like a dilating star...."

I apologize for being so long and repeating evidence that I have brought up before, but I hope that you will be able to see that this student of Shade's makes too many appearances in Pale Fire to be without some significance.

I think that the babe whose cry Aunt Maud lived to hear, was the babe who died in a car crash with his mother, the blond student in a black leotard; and that this babe was Maud's grandniece as much as Hazel was. Shade recognizes his lover's roommate, and misleads the reader into thinking the roommate is Hazel's (very successfully it appears).