I recently have come across the work of Northrop Frye, who was the prominent literary critic at the time that Pale Fire was written. I suspect that Pale Fire may be a parodic response to Frye’s Archetypal Literary Criticism. This would strongly support my theories of a Jungian substrate in PF. I wonder if anyone out there has studied ALC and if this seems to fit.
Archetypal Literary Criticism had its origins in 1934 with the classical scholar Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination that employed the theories of Carl Jung to analyze poetry. The field was added to in 1944 and 1949 with Joseph Campbell’s Jungian based mythical works, and achieved its formal theory in the work of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism in 1957. Frye’s work is considered one of the most important literary theories of the 20th century and helped displace New Criticism as the major mode of analyzing literary texts, until giving way to structuralism and semiotics. Frye developed a classification system of literature that he intended to be “scientific” and free from subjective taste and preferences. Archetypal Literary Criticism is not now widely taught nor practiced, but one would assume Nabokov, an astute polymath, to have been aware, if not intensely (if only disdainfully) interested in it. Nabokov’s staunch independence and belief in genius over generalization and categorizations, as well as his very personal critical treatment of Eugene Onegin, would point his interest towards parody of Frye’s current prevailing and strongly structured and subjective-free system.
Northrop Frye drew on the mythological works of Carl Jung, Jungian adherents Bodkin and Campbell, and mythologist J.G. Frazer (who had been a strong influence on Jung). There are many allusions and motifs in Pale Fire that seem to reflect Frye’s theories. Maud Bodkin may be alluded to in Pale Fire’s character Aunt Maud, with her morbid artistic symbolism, suggesting Nabokov’s awareness of Jung’s theories infiltrating literary criticism. The Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell’s seminal 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces was extremely popular at the time, and continues to be, with multiple re-printings. In The Gift, Nabokov, through his near-avatar Fyodor says, “The unfortunate image of a ‘road,’ to which the human mind has become accustomed (life as a kind of journey) is a stupid illusion: we are not going anywhere, we are sitting at home.” (The Gift, p.59) However, the “Hero’s Journey” is extensively parodied in Kinbote’s Zemblan escape. Campbell’s work seems to be reflected in Kinbote following in the well-worn footsteps of a classic “Hero’s Journey.” Less known is that Campbell was an eminent Joycean scholar as well. His A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) was a progenitor of Archetypal Literary Criticism. Finnegans Wake (parodically misspelled by critic Kinbote) is mentioned in Pale Fire. J. G. Frazer (an influence on T.S. Elliot’s New Criticism) is perhaps implicit in the many mythological allusions in Pale Fire.
Frye claimed that the mythology of death and resurrection was the meta-myth of the western canon. He attempts to classify all aspects of literature – poetry, epic, prose fiction, discursive prose, drama - into categories of modes, themes, and genres. He gives many examples from many of the same writers referenced in PF. It may be that this is what is behind PFs encyclopedic literary references.