NABOKV-L post 0006850, Sat, 28 Sep 2002 10:17:16 -0700

Fw: Pale Fire questions for Mr Langridge.Langridge reply
Re: Pale Fire questions for Mr Langridge
----- Original Message -----
From: Andrew Langridge
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2002 12:58 AM
Subject: Re: Pale Fire questions for Mr Langridge

Hi Carolyn,

I don't relish the prospect of wading back in, but since you asked. . .
The entire novel presupposes that Shade and Kinbote are different people. Every character within the novel acts as if this is the case. If you are prepared to dismiss every incident in New Wye as Kinbote's fantasy, then you leave yourself with no purchase on reality and, let's face it, no objective evidence of a Kinbote, however fragmented, on which to pin your theory. I could claim that Pale Fire and Pnin were both invented out of thin air by Cincinnatus C in his final or first moments (I don't find anything in the novels to preclude this interpretation -- well, I wouldn't, would I? VN could hardly be expected to anticipate and pre-empt all future crackpots!), but I wouldn't expect anyone to take me seriously unless I could first carefully refute the apparent narratives of those novels and second, find incontrovertible evidence that supports my outré theory.
In order to create space for an interpretation as radical as the one you propose, you are obliged to present clear evidence that Shade and Kinbote could not possibly be separate entities. The unsurprising fact that K was not invited to S's funeral (if in fact Sybil even marked that occasion publicly) hardly suffices.
Similarly, the fact that all of the encounters between Kinbote and Shade are reported by Kinbote is completely logical in even the most conservative reading of the novel. Practically all the encounters of all of the characters are reported by Kinbote. He is, after all, the author of the non-poem text. I don't see it as being suspicious that Shade does not deign to mention his pesky neighbour in so private a poem.
And I don't concede that Brian's interpretation of PF relies on "The Vane Sisters." That story, and moreover VN's explication of it, merely establish that the solution he proposes is not unprecedented. The evidence presented in Nabokov's Pale Fire is the result of extremely close reading, not Frankensteinian (or Hydean) transplants.
The only real Nabokovian precedent for your split personality theory is The Eye, and VN's strategy in that novel (the real story is recoverable even before he reveals it at the end) is light years away from the murky inferences you have so far proposed, and furthermore he does not "cheat" by completely recasting Smurov's world to flatter his mania. On discovering Smurov's problem, the events we have followed become retrospectively clear, not retrospectively imaginary.
Furthermore, VN was constructing narratives along similar lines well before "The Vane Sisters," and the ghosts in Glory and Bend Sinister need no retrospective validation in order to materialise, only diligent close reading.
As for the relationship between Kinbote and Shade, what's wrong with:
Shade as the venerable poet, too polite and kindly to shun the unpleasantly obsessive neighbour that no-one else can stand; Kinbote as the latter?
Again, you need to refute the obvious interpretation before any wild alternative can get much traction. Even the slowest reader is unlikely to miss the point that Kinbote's depiction of their relationship is rose-tinted, but I see no reason to doubt they were acquainted. Do you?


From: "D. Barton Johnson" <>
Subject: Fw: Pale Fire questions for Mr Langridge
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 6:43 AM

----- Original Message ----- From: Carolyn Kunin <>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <>
Sent: Friday, September 20, 2002 8:34 AM
Subject: questions for Mr Langridge
Dear Mr Langridge,
I wonder if you would indulge me: what is the evidence to the contrary regarding my theory that Shade and Kinbote are not separate entities?
I am only able to come up with are the following:
1) the obituaries written for Shade as reported by Kinbote;
2) Kinbote and Shade are present at the same time in many scenes reported by Kinbote.
The tributes Kinbote quotes as "obituaries" may actually be newspaper articles regarding the bizarre occurance of a local poet and professor having suffered a stroke and/or having gone insane and the subsequent disappearance of the manuscript that he was working on.
Even Kinbote doesn't report a funeral, isn't that odd?
The only scenes in which Kinbote and Shade are both present as actual persons are reported by Kinbote in his commentary, at least one of which is openly addressed to a doctor. Ditto references to Zembla as a real place. The reference in Shade's poem is literary.
It is not unusual in multiple personality disorder for the suppressed personality to be aware of (or to "spy on") the dominant personality. The dominant personality is usually totally unaware of the presence of the other (hence periods of blackout). I don't find anything in the novel that precludes this interpretation.
Why can't Kinbote describe Shade's house? Why are there no pictures of Samuel and Caroline Shade? Why was there no funeral? Who was that baby related to Aunt Maud? These questions require answers.
My main problem with Mr Boyd's solution is that without the evidence of "The Vane Sisters" he would have no argument. Would it have been fair of Nabokov to write a novel for an audience that only consisted of those who had read that story in The Hudson Review and Encounter some years previously? A story that was not available at the time in any other edition? That therefore had to have been read, understood and retained in the memory? I do not find that fair at all! There are references in Pale Fire to Sybil Vane, but they lead the reader to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" not to an obscure 1952 story.
My secondary problem with Mr Boyd's solution is that it fails to answer a rather basic question: what is the relationship of Kinbote and Shade? Surely they are not neighbors and intimate friends as Kinbote would have us believe. Mr Boyd's solution seems to accept this.
Carolyn Kunin