NABOKV-L post 0002635, Wed, 17 Dec 1997 09:43:37 -0800

Re: Pale Fire: who invented whom (fwd)
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <>
Subject: Re: Pale Fire: who invented whom

Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 10:43:10 -0500
From: Mary Bellino <>

I too agree with Charles and with Phyllis Roth (now a dean at my alma
mater -- hi, Phyllis!). It seems to me, although I haven't reviewed the
literature lately, that the Shadeans cannot account for Botkin. My own
working hypothesis of Pale Fire is a three-world theory in which the
world of Botkin, though fairly well hidden, can be at least partially
recovered. Consider the note slipped into "Kinbote's" pocket: "You have
h.......s real bad, chum." The point is that Kinbote has hallucinations;
Botkin merely halitosis. What else can we say about Botkin? No doubt he
does teach at Wordsmith; he has a beard, bad breath, and rather awful
clothes (those lilac slacks!); he imagines himself the possessor of
great sexual powers. Consider too the case of Gerald Emerald/Izumrodov.
It's almost as unlikely that Emerald made a pass at Kinbote (or that
Kinbote would reject such a pass if made) as it is that he's a Zemblan
secret agent. In the world of Botkin, Emerald (if indeed that is his
real name) is simply an instructor who doesn't like him; in the world of
Kinbote he is a rejected victim of Kinbote's irresistable sexual appeal;
in the world of King Charles he is a traitor. In the Index he does not
exist at all, but that is another matter.
I could go on to list more examples of Botkinian traces (for example, I
don't believe he is a member of the same department as Kinbote), but I
would rather re-open the question of whether, in the world of the book,
Zembla is supposed to be a real place or entirely a figment of
Kinbote/Botkin's imagination. (I've discussed this in a previous
posting, but it didn't get many takers.) Now if Kinbote is Botkin he is
not from Zembla at all; he is an "American scholar of Russian descent."
Hence it is quite possible that the whole Zemblan pageant --its
geography, history, royal family etc -- is simply Botkin's fantasy. But
there are several points of intersection between "reality" (even when
fictionalized by Botkin) and the existence of a "real" Zembla. For
example, there is the encyclopedia volume that is supposed to contain a
picture of the young King Charles. If these Zemblan traces really exist,
then Kinbote's fantasy is, like one of Eystein's paintings, a mix of le
vrai et le vraisemblable. If they do not, what do we make of these
"intersections"? How closely can we examine the fabric of reality and
fantasy in Pale Fire before it starts to unravel, or to kindle and burn
beneath the magnifying glass we've applied to it, even under this pale
December sun?
I'm sure Phyllis Roth will confirm that you can always count on a
Skidmore grad for a fancy prose style....

Mary Bellino