NABOKV-L post 0024167, Mon, 6 May 2013 16:56:15 +0000

Subject
THOUGHTS: Alladaye's Darker Shades
Date
Body
From Matt Roth:

Since many in the United States and elsewhere may not have access yet to Rene Alladaye's new book, The Darker Shades of Pale Fire, I thought I would give a brief review.

Alladaye's book functions as a review of the composition, publication, and reception of Pale Fire, while also advancing a new take on the internal authorship question. The first seven chapters are dedicated to examining the nature of the novel, different approaches to reading it, and, most extensively, a review and critique of the different theories of internal authorship. This is followed by a chapter largely based on Alladaye's essay that appeared in the Nabokov Online Journal, in which he argues that Holbein's painting "The Ambassadors" is intended by Nabokov as a central reference in the novel. The final chapters put forth a new internal authorship theory, focusing not on either Shade or Kinbote, but on Sybil and Hazel.

What I Liked: The first seven chapters serve as a useful, accessible, and fairly comprehensive review of the novel's composition and reception. It's a serviceable primer for those who have just come to the novel and might be intimidated by the ever-growing body of criticism that has built up around PF. Curious readers will no doubt be led to check out for themselves, for example, Boyd's PFMAD after encountering it here first. Alladaye's method of critique largely amounts to presenting the thesis for each internal authorship theory, then pointing out claims that seem either dubious or, at least, more uncertain than they have been presented. Moving ahead, Alladaye's Holbein thesis provides a good example of how PF enriches and educates the diligent reader, prompting him or her to deeply investigate cultural and historical references outside the bounds of the book. While I may not be convinced that the Holbein reference was intended by VN, I was heartened by this rich example of the how, once one's eyes have been Nabokolized, Pale Fire shows up everywhere.

What I Didn't Like as Much:


1. There were some errors and inaccuracies that could have been avoided. In the section on Mary McCarthy's review, he says that Hazel committed suicide at age seventeen (she was twenty-three) and repeats McCarthy's mistake by saying that Kinbote/Botkin teaches in the Russian Department. A little later, after noting the Zembla-New Wye connections related to Goldsworth's daughters, Misha Gordon, and Gerald Emerald, he says that "contrary to Kinbote's claims, it is not the poem which has been influenced by the Zemblan tale, but the opposite" (62). But none of the above examples come from John Shade's poem; rather, they are drawn from everyday life in New Wye.

2. Both the Holbein chapter and the Sybil/Hazel theory seem to me at least as speculative (probably more) than the theories that the author has criticized as being too speculative. Alladaye criticizes Boyd's theory that Hazel becomes the Vanessa on the grounds that Boyd's solution is the logical answer to a question that the text itself does not prompt ("Nothing in the text appears to logically prompt us to ask exactly the question Boyd is asking"). This is arguable, of course, but I found myself feeling incredulous when I arrived at the author's Sybil/Hazel theory, which appears to me to abound with speculative leaps that are far less grounded than any of Boyd's proposals. An example: after citing the first four lines of the poem, Alladaye prompts us to "imagine that the 'I' on lines 1 and 3 do not refer to Shade-or not exclusively to him-but, in the contrapuntal (hence polyphonic) structure of the poem, to Sybil as well. Sybil (the swallow) would then be the shadow of the waxwing (John Shade) slain by the false azure in the windowpane" (164). But nothing that I could see would prompt us to "imagine" such a scenario. I might just as well perform the same experiment with Dr. Sutton as the "I." After all, he is a combination of two men (Shade! Kinbote!) and keeps popping up in odd places all over both the poem and commentary. In short, I actually don't mind Alladaye's playing with the text and coming up with his scenario, but I don't think it's quite sporting to apply standards to the critique of others and then ignore those same standards when working out one's own theory.

One more thing: While I was not completely convinced by the Holbein/PF connection, I want to point out a detail that Alladaye missed, which may greatly strengthen his case. In Chapter 9, Alladaye notes that Holbein signed "The Ambassadors" using his Latin name, Ioannes Holbein Pingebat. Alladaye sees this IHP as a rescrambled I.P.H., the institute Shade discusses in his poem. This seems like a near miss to me. But Alladaye seems unaware that there is a better case to be made than the one he has presented here. If we look at K's note to line 502 (IPH) were read: "Good taste and the law of libel prevent me from disclosing the real name of the respectable institute of higher philosophy at which our poet pokes a good deal of fanciful fun in this canto. Its terminal initials, HP, provide its students with the abbreviation Hi-Phi . . ." The joke here is that Kinbote has, paraliptically, mentioned the real name of the institute while claiming to protect it. The real name is the Institute of Higher Philosophy (thus Hi-Phi). So the institute's real initials are indeed IHP, exactly aligning with the signature on the painting. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if I ALREADY thought VN intended to refer to this painting, this would probably help seal the deal.

So, in the end, though I think it's a kind of uneven work, I enjoyed it and would recommend it, not so much as a reliable reading of the novel but as an example of the kind of generative play that the novel inspires.

Respectfully,
Matt Roth


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