Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002626, Tue, 16 Dec 1997 11:41:54 -0800

Pale Fire (fwd)
From: Patrick Nolan <pnolan@animalwelfare.com>
> I think
> Nabokov sat down and wrote the poem Pale fire, then he left it alone
> for a
> while. When he returned, I think he conceived of the nutty Dr.
> Kinbote and
> how an insane man would interpret a poem.

Well, VN told Alfred Appel (I think) that he had started by
creating a backdrop of "Zemblan lore," then conceived of the "whole
shape" of the work, and then wrote what he called the hardest part, the

> He then proceeded to allow
> Kinbote to completely use the poem in a self-serving manner and also
> to
> construct a commentary which had only a tenuous basis in reality but
> which
> was absurdly fantastic.

There is a shred of responsibility left in Kinbote, at least in
how he presents the poem (the notes are another story). Why would he
rant and rave in the notes about how far the poem was from what he
wanted it to be? Why didn't he just put in what he wanted the poem to
say, if he wasn't reluctantly acting with some degree of conscience
where its text is concerned? He seems to keep his absurd
speculations about the Zemblan theme informing the poem (but mostly
removed at Sibyl's insistence) to the commentary, and the tone in which
he does so is so whiny and petulant that it doesn't make sense to
suggest that he did - or could - tamper with the poem. Why is this?
About whether K and Shade were "really" friends: obviously it was
a lopsided relationship, but I don't think it was entirely one-sided.
There is evidence that Shade had taken walks with amusing bores before:
the German farmer, owner of the haunted barn, whose name I forget.
It's possible that Shade valued Kinbote for giving him a sort of
mental vacation from his poetic labors. I can imagine that: a great
genius befreinding a mediocrity to give himself "time off." Does this
seem plausible?
One must remember that Shade and Kinbote are equally fictional:
both are just figments of VN's imagination, and though considerable
trouble is taken to make one seem more truustworthy than the other, we
really have no more reason to believe Shade than we do to believe
Kinbote. I liked the suggestion that the supposedly mutually exclusive
realities - "sane" New Wye and "crazy" Zembla - are both true.

Patrick Nolan