A couple of weeks ago, I wondered about the source of the story in "PF" 823-35, in which a piece of ice from an airplane plummets from the sky and strikes a farmer dead. I guessed that VN had read about the case of Edward Groff, of Bernville, PA, but I wondered what VN was up to in late July, 1957.
Checking VNAY, I found that "Pushkin kept Nabokov at his desk in Ithaca throughout the summer of 1957." But also this, regarding VN's surroundings and activities: "Cat-minding, window, waxwings, shagbark, swing, horseshoes--everything about the place was kindling for Pale Fire" (314). This confirms that in the summer of 1957 VN was at work gathering bits and pieces that would eventually become PF.  It seems that there were at least three wire reports that went out to newspapers around the country about the Bernville icefall.  I have attached one in .pdf form so that you can see that all three elements of the "PF" anecdote (ice from sky, farmer, airplane as source) are mentioned here.
While looking for these reports, I was reminded of a card inserted into the PF ms. at the LOC.  The card, which is placed at the beginning of the commentary to line 691 (in which CK hears about Shade's "heart attack") is a summary of a story from the 26 May 1957 Daily News. According to the story, a woman's heart stopped for 2 1/2 hours but a surgeon massaged it all that time until it finally started beating on its own again. I did a little checking, and though I do not have access to the Daily News article, I did find the wire report of this incident carried in other papers throughout the country. I have included one of these.  Of particular interest might be the comment made by the patient, Dorothy Hull: "I never knew I had died until they told me yesterday." Think of John Shade's "And then one night I died."
None of this is too significant, but I think it's interesting to reconstruct some of the lesser-known sources of VN's inspiration.
On an unrelated note, many thanks to Jansy for finding all of those fours and forties. I don't know what they mean, but I'm intrigued.
Matt Roth
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