Will Pritchard's "Dark Words: Blackness in Pale Fire" has been published in fall issue of Modern Fiction Studies.
This essay considers the complicated racial dynamics of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962). In particular, it focuses on Charles Kinbote's young Black gardener and John Shade's childhood clockwork toy. In what ways does race matter to Pale Fire? To what extent is Nabokov critical of—or susceptible to—American racism? I argue that Nabokov shows considerable ambivalence in his depiction of African Americans and that the novel is helpfully illuminated by our noticing how it deploys what Toni Morrison calls, in her book Playing in the Dark, "a real or fabricated Africanist presence."