NABOKV-L post 0023035, Sun, 8 Jul 2012 14:59:41 -0600

Subject
Long reply to Brian Tomba and Mike Marcus Re: Pale Fire's "Harfar
Baron of Shalksbore
Date
Body
Brian Tomba writes:

>"Reveal yourself – whose memoirs/refer to you in passing? Look what
numbers/of lowly, worthless souls have left their trace,/what countless
names Brantome has for the asking!/
Reveal yourself, god of iambic thunder,/ you hundred-mouthed, unthinkably
great bard!" Stephen Blackwell's judgment that "It...seems plausible that
Nabokov's poem was deliberately adopting a temporary perspective--has a
fictitious lyrical *I*...rather than a 'sincere' or autobiographical voice"
is contradicted by the poem's heartfelt tone. This is is no fictional *"I"* but
Nabokov himself.

I can't agree with that at all. One of the main purposes of a fictional *
"I"* is to be able to adopt a heartfelt tone. Thus the young Nabokov wrote
"passionate" love poetry about things he had never experienced. Much
later, he said that poems (and chess problems and all worthwhile art) are
characterized by "splendid insincerity".

In this case, we know that the admiration of the Bard's poetry is sincere.
The demand for revelation, on the other hand, is contradicted in the next
lines. I don't think we know anything about whether the
anti-Stratfordianism is sincere.

Mike Marcus writes:
>Pale Fire: the first five pages of the Foreword
>
>
>CK’s Foreword is rather interesting for those of us intrigued by the
> Shakespeare connection. As a Nabokov novice I suppose it is
> presumptuous to offer suggestions, but I would be curious to learn
> whether all my observations have been noted previously.

Unfortunately I can't answer that.

> 1. The index cards have fourteen lines
(light blue lines), the classic sonnet length;

A nice resonance with Shakespeare and the European poetry tradition.

> 2. “tidy, remarkably clear hand” -- in
contrast to the notoriously crabbed handwriting of the six Shakespeare
signatures;

> 3. “not one doubtful reading” --
Shakespearean texts have been a bibliographical nightmare;

If we accept both agreement and opposites as allusions, I think we open too
much up.

> 4. “a
great poet’s work was interrupted by death” -- a point exclusively for
Oxfordians, whose seminal work Nabokov must have read. The author, J.
T. Looney made that point, contrasting Vere with Shakespeare of
Stratford who seemingly retired at the height of his powers. (Please
note that I’m not trying to score Oxfordian points here. Nabokov is
reproducing Oxfordian arguments under Shade’s umbrella. Whether Nabokov
believed them or not is immaterial in this context).

Or, perhaps, he was reproducing the Oxfordian picture without getting
involved in the arguments. Or he just decided to write a book starting
with a poet whose work is interrupted by death.

> 5. Ben
Jonson’s ‘Every Man in His Humour contains the following phrases, where
he contrasts an “old hackney pace” with a “fine easy amble”. Of trying
to walk alongside Shade, Kinbote complains about the difficulty of
adapting the “swing of a long-limbed gait” to “the disheveled old
poet’s jerky shuffle”. Although time precludes a full exposition, an
English version of the name Hamlet was Ambleth, and Jonson’s “fine easy
amble” alludes to this. A few lines before Kinbote’s lament, he talks
of a “sunset ramble”, and a few lines after, the “solid and ample” text
that should have been. Both “ramble” and “ample” allude to the word
‘Hamlet’.

I see that the Jonson character was talking about an actor's performance.
However, I think that if you accept references this indirect, you can
prove than anything is connected with anything else. With Kinbotean
egoism, I'm reminded of my posts on the apparent connections of /Pale Fire/
to /The Lord of the Rings/ and /The Cream of the Jest/, though I doubt
either connection was in Nabokov's mind.

> 6. Introducing
his claim for a 1000 line poem, Kinbote says “Nay” -- an archaic word
that plants us firmly in early modern times, not 1959.

There's another "nay", spoken by Shade in the "encyclopedia" scene, which
reminds me more of Dr. Johnson.

By the way, I believe Swedish and Danish have a word "nej" that sounds much
like "nay" and means the same thing, so this could also be one of the many
Scandinavian allusions. Unless I'm mistaken about Swedish and Danish.

> 7. Ben Jonson wrote that he wished that
Shakespeare had blotted (deleted) 1000 lines.

I like that one.

> 8. Explaining
how he came to edit ‘Pale Fire’, Kinbote reproduces a classic Oxfordian
argument concerning ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’, that Vere’s widow disposed
of them for a fee, and they were edited (not benignly) by another.
Here, Kinbote takes the role of Mr W.H., in the Oxfordian dispensation
one William Hall, a procurer of manuscripts of occasionally doubtful
origin, who passed them on to the printer Thomas Thorpe (incidentally,
is there not a Mr T. T. in Ada? A conflation of T.T. of the sonnets,
and Mr W.H.).

Well, there has to be a way for Kinbote to get Shade's manuscript.
However, this seems to me to be one of the most likely allusions to the
Oxfordian picture.

> 9. In
Thorpe’s dedication, he appears to call Mr W.H. the “onelie begetter”.
Kinbote uses the phrase “only begetter”. Why Nabokov made this clue so
transparent is a mystery to me.

Clue to what? It's an open reference to the sonnets and to Kinbote's
belief about his influence on the poem "Pale Fire", and in any Stratfordian
or non-Stratfordian picture, the "onelie begetter" is significant. It may
be /less/ significant to Kinbote in the Oxfordian reading you describe,
since Kinbote is presumably interested in the youth of the sonnets for the
same reason he likes /In Memoriam/ and Houseman, but in the Oxfordian view
there's no love between the author and the only begetter.

> 10. There is a second reference to a
“tremulous signature”, this time Sybil’s. Yet she is a young woman, or
at least not old.

Overtly, I take it to be tremulous because she signed the contract
"Immediately after my dear friend's death".

> 11. The “old fox” in the publishing business,
Frank, is Sir Francis
Walsingham, known nowadays as Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, but also a
prolific propagandist for the Tudor cause. According to the 1911
Britannica, he was “in the position of permanentunder-secretary of the
combined home and foreign departments”. Hence permanent fixture”. He
created the traveling theatrical troupe known
as the “Queen’s Men”.

This seems rather tenuous to me, as Walsingham wasn't anything like
Shakespeare's publisher.

> 12. Final point for
the time being: Sybil pinged off a wire to Kinbote,
asking him to “accept Prof. H. (!) and Prof. C. (!!) as co-editors of
her husband’s poems”. According to wikipedia, speaking of the
production of Shakespeare’s First Folio, we read that “Heminges
and Condell acted as ostensible co-editors”. Ostensible because as
actors they would have been unqualified for the task. Kinbote’s
skepticism on that very count is emphasized by his ironically promoting
them to professorial status: Prof. Heminges (!) and Prof. Condell (!!).

I like this one too, with H. and C. as incompetent editors. However, are
you suggesting that Kinbote invented the professors based on Heminge and
Condell? Not that I would mind.

Jerry Friedman

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