NABOKV-L post 0005318, Sun, 9 Jul 2000 22:26:11 -0700

Re: Reflections in the Glass (fwd)
From: Brian Boyd <>

Dear List,

Thanks to Arthur Glass for his suggestive comments (July 9) on the Popean
nymph in "Pale Fire." I should point out that I was not the first to draw
attention to this (no doubt, in fact, like the "pale his uneffectual fire"
from Hamlet, noted independently by a number of readers). As I indicate in my
book, the Popean allusion had already been discussed by Lisa Zunshine in her
paper at the Cornell Nabokov Conference on 10 September, 1998 (forthcoming in
the conference proceedings volume), where she makes a good case for attending
more to Nabokov's eighteenth-century sources, despite his overt disparagement
of that "most inartistic of centuries." As I recall, she did not however make
Arthur Glass's observation that Pope's Nymphs are specifically spirits of the
water, which in view of Hazel's death and the whole "Inconnue de la
Seine"-Rusalka-Hazel-Lucette pattern ably treated by Don Johnson is indeed

> Now, Hazel Shade is, in this life at any rate, anything but a beautiful
Belinda. But her death is by water, which makes for a potential connection
of her with the element of Pope's Nymphs. And of course no reader of VN can
hear the word 'nymph' without thinking of butterflies. But doesn't that
image from 'Pale Fire' of a nymph pirouetting under white petals suggest the
hovering of a butterfly?

Yes, indeed! Wonderfully evocative, especially of course of the "Toothwort
White" that "haunted our woods in May" (l. 316), an appropriately "vernal"
time of year (it flies only in April and May). Nabokov's Wood Nymph, also
implied, I argue (in pp. 238-41 of my book) in this "nymph . . . in a wood"
(ll. 413-15), is a pale brown (see the plates in Nabokov's Butterflies).

> Is it possible that in watching this saccharine, vulgar TV commercial, the
Shades are receiving a portentous sign from their poor daughter who is about
to undergo a marvelous metamorphosis?

Not quite: Hazel, after all, is not dead at this point. (And what would her
sign consist of? Even had she just died, her shade could hardly have
rearranged the network's program for the evening.) On the other hand, as I
suggest, Hazel somehow seems to have inspired much in the poem, although she
is of course not possible for Shade's knowing Pope so well, or for the
network's programming precisely this advertisment: that, of course, is the
work of the ultimate player in this game of worlds. Shade consciously draws on
Pope and Belinda's vanity before her mirror, in heartbreaking contrast to
uncomely Hazel at the very moment she is spurned for the last time; but I have
proposed (chs 10-11) that Shade is also UNconsciously triggered to this,
partly by Kinbote's account of Fleur de Fyler, who is so hauntingly beautiful
before "a triptych of bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror" after the
death of Queen Blenda, yet despite the radiance of her image "breaking into
individual nymphs . . . . and then the wistful mermaid from an old tale, and
then nothing," is still spurned by crown prince Charles; and that Kinbote's
picture of Fleur de Fyler herself, and of Zembla itself, that land of
reflections, is in turn inspired by Hazel (who of course in life had been a
devotee of "mirror words") after her "marvelous metamorphosis." But I'm
starting to repeat myself.

I have also enjoyed Arthur Glass's, Christopher Berg's and Jennifer Parson's
comments on the Gordon note (n. 408), about which there is much, much more to
say, as I discovered to my great chagrin soon after correcting the final
proofs of the Pale Fire book. When I get time, I will write up these new
findings, unless the very movement of my hand to type this note prompts others
to beat me to the draw.

Brian Boyd