A recent article by Mary Ross in Nabokovian Notes features Pale Fire’s arcane landlord, Judge Goldsworth. The article suggests that the judge represents aspects of Saturn, both the planet and myth, adding that on the eve of John Shade’s 61st birthday “a bright ‘star’ would be rising in the east–Saturn returning to its celestial position of 61 years ago.” “As it happens” the author says, “(the judge) has been away and is soon to return.”
To check whether Saturn would indeed be rising in the east on Shade’s birthday, I combed through Pale Fire to construct a map of the Dulwich neighborhood (below). I then checked with an online astrological calculator (https://keisan.casio.com/exec/system/1224767453) to see where Saturn would be in the northern Appalachia sky in 1959. Yep, Saturn would be rising at approximately 120 degrees east/southeast) at twilight on July 5th, the evening of John Shade’s 61st birthday. At about the same time, the sun would be setting opposite at 300 degrees (west/northwest).
Shade would see “sun and star” appearing over the top of Dulwich Hill (in the case of the sun, reflected in the windowpanes of the topmost houses). He would also see, perhaps, the reflections of these astrological bodies (a double reflection for the sun) in his little scissors as he sits by the window and trims his nails (Lines 183-186). Nabokov loved reflections.
In Western astrology, the return of Saturn every 30 or so years (Saturn’s orbital period) to its original position in one’s natal chart has important spiritual/psychological implications. We who wondered why Nabokov would choose Shade’s end-of-life birthday to be 61 now have a possible answer: Shade would be experiencing his second Saturn return, crossing the threshold of maturity to the next phase of his life (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_return).
On the evening of July 21, just before his untimely death, Shade writes at the end of Canto 4: “The sun attains Old Dr. Sutton's last two windowpanes” (Line 986), indicating that the setting sun is behind him as he gazes up to the east/southeast (where Saturn rises!). Earlier in the poem Shade remembers autumn twilight rambles on the wooded hill and says, “That’s Dr. Sutton's light. That’s the Great Bear” (Line 119), the Great Bear being another likely astrological clue—but that’s for others to hypothesize.
Nabokov’s astrological clue about the role of Saturn and its return was hidden for over 56 years—almost long enough for the planet’s second return!