NABOKV-L post 0018346, Sun, 24 May 2009 00:21:22 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] Pale Fire and another reference to "Pale Flambeau" (
Rameau's Castor et Pollux libretto)
Try as I may I can never stray too far from Nabokov. This afternoon I was listening to a marvellous 2008 production of Jean-Phillipe Rameau's "Castor et Pollux" (libretto by Pietter-Joseph Bernard), recorded live at Het Muziektheater,Amsterdam.
A word caught my attention, mainly because I remembered Priscilla Meyer's reference to a "pâle flambeau" in connection to "Pale Fire".

In "Find What the Sailor Has Hidden" (1988) Meyer discusses scientific references in PF ("Flora,Fauna, and Faery") and brings up CK's note, to line 80, in which he mentions Torfaeus and A.R.Wallace (a scientist who worked independently of Charles Darwin, but also came up with the theory of the survival of the fittest).

Meyer quotes an exchange from PF where "Shade takes the materialist position and Kinbote is aligned with Wallace" and its first lines are: " Shade: Personally, I am with the old snuff-takers: L'homme est né bon" .
I think Shade is here referring to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's famous ideal "good savage". Kinbote, to Wallace...

Meyer also mentions Wallace's "spiritualistic" investigations and informs that "Wallace recorded the proceedings of the many seances he attended". Wallace offers a long message,from August 1893, in French and purportedly sent by a dying Napoleon III to a medium who signed the poem as "Ésprit C". ( cf.P.Meyer, p.173). The lines she quotes are:

"Où vais-je?..../
Des bords du lit funèbre, ou palpite sa proie/
Aux lugubres clartés de son pâle flambeau,/
L'impitoyable mort me montre le tombeau./
Éternité profonde..."

Rameau was a contemporary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who (information from the Rameau DVD recording) "had never recovered from Rameau's annihilating judgement on his own compositions."
In "Castor et Pollux," there are words that not only mention a "pâle flambeau" but are similarly applicable to a dying, or as is the case of Castor,a dead hero. Castor and Pollux are indirectly mentioned in ADA ( for example, in the panel in the Three Swans Hotel, with Leda and her eggs, from which Castor and Pollux hatched (only Pollux is "Jupiter Olorinus"' son, though). I don't remember if they are present in PF.

It is impossible to ascertain if the reference to Rousseau indicates VN's knowledge of Rameau and the libretto of his opera.
The links with Wallace are clear as is his reference to a poem "taken down by a medium".
And yet, independently of VN's knowledge (which was extensive!), certainly what the "Ésprit C" wrote was inspired in "Castor et Pollux" for there are too many words in common bt. their lines (flambeaux, tombeau, lugubre, clartés,funèbres...) A clear and demonstrable hoax, I'm sure.


(paraît dans le plus grand deuil)
Tristes apprêts, pâles flambeaux,
Jour plus affreux que les ténèbres
Astres lugubres des tombeaux,
Non, je ne verrai plus que vos clartés funèbres.
Toi, qui vois mon cour éperdu,
Père du jour, ô soleil, ô mon pére !
Je ne veux plus d'un bien que Castor
Et je renonce à la lumière.

Further links may present themselves ( "to borrow, to borrow or to borrow"?). Now, I must return to the opera and hear a little more.


Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: