NABOKV-L post 0006855, Sat, 28 Sep 2002 14:05:25 -0700

seductively false in Pale Fire

----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Thursday, September 26, 2002 8:07 PM
Subject: seductively false in Pale Fire

Dear Walter Miale,

Of course you are right - the reader always has to know when to suspend disbelief. Isn't that what you gain with every re-reading? you start to question what you previously accepted.

I don't think it's a question of holding Nabokov to plausibility (God forbid). But you have made an excellent point with your VN reference. In Pale Fire, the most seductive creation is not Kinbote, but Shade. Kinbote is rather patently false - he can't even be bothered to cover his errors (those that he is aware of). But Shade's deceptions are very carefully hidden. There are hints, but if the reader has been seduced he will resist following them. Shade's muse is the versipel (from latin versi turn & pel skin - hence a changeling, a werewolf, a turncoat). Nabokov loves the butterfly, but he knows there are other, darker metamorphoses.

I prefer the Halsman portrait of VN: not the beaux tenebreux, but the imp.


> From: "D. Barton Johnson" <>
> Reply-To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
> Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 16:31:20 -0700
> Subject: Fw: Query re Plausibility (was Re: Friedman to Malign D re Pale Fire)
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Walter Miale" <>
> To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
>> ---------------- Message requiring your approval (125
> lines) ------------------
>> From: Walter Miale <>
>> Subject: Query re Plausibility (was Re: Friedman to Malign D re Pale
> Fire)
>> Alfred Hitchcock was impatient with viewers of who found fault with
>> implausibilities in the plots of his pictures, and who demanded
>> plausibility, and he referred to such viewers derisively as "the
>> Plausibles." But was he right? Shouldn't we at least sometimes expect
>> plausibility in plots, and if so when and when not? Personally, in this
>> case of Kinbote's hireability, I'm with Hitchcock all the way. But why? I
>> don't know exactly. I don't suppose that on college faculties crackpots
> are
>> such rare bugs (?), but Kinbote really is a horse of a different feather.
>> Even so...
>> Weren't the chances that the royal boat would so timely sail by Prospero's
>> island infinitesmal?
>> What was that herb that put Juliet to sleep for 24 hours?
>> Those switches in All's Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure -
>> Plausible??
>> How about that ending of The Winter's Tale?
>> Do Shakespeare's comedies REQUIRE some implausibility?
>> Was the world of Lolita one of perfect verisimilitude?
>> But we do require truth from authors, both higher truth and internal
>> consistency. If I understand Nabokov on poshlust, one function of
>> literature is to distinguish truth from the seductively false. So again:
>> when should, and when shouldn't, we hold authors to account for
>> implausibility?
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "Jerry Friedman" <>
>>> To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
>>> Sent: Monday, September 23, 2002 12:45 PM
>>> Subject: Re: Fw: Fw: reply to Malign D
>>>> But Kinbote is insane, and it seems many people know it (Foreword
>>>> and note to line 629). Would a college really have hired an
>>>> instructor who believed he was from an imaginary country? (And
>>>> not to teach Russian, if we can trust Kinbote in the note to line
>>>> 172.) One who it seems couldn't be counted on to avoid scandalous
>>>> gay behavior? And who has, as Carolyn Kunin says, poor social
>>>> skills? That's not a rhetorical question. Robertson Davies (who
>>>> admired _Pnin_ and _Lolita_ and maybe others, by the way) puts a
>>>> shell-shocked veteran who climbs the water pipes in a fictitious
>>>> boarding school between the world wars, so were small colleges
>>>> that desperate for teachers in the fifties? This seems important
>>>> as one of the things that make me doubt *everything* in the book.
>>>> Speaking of doubt, the trustee's (Sylvia's) existence seems rather
>>>> blurry, since she supposedly lived for ten years in Zembla and is
>>>> the mother of Odon and presumably the doomed Oleg.
>>>> Speaking of the note to line 172, I'd like to mention to Malign D.
>>>> that that's one of the two places where Pnin is explicitly mentioned,
>>>> the other being the note to line 949. However, I enjoy the idea
>>>> that Nabokov is in the book--as a writer whose prose Kinbote
>>>> is imitating. See for instance "faunlet". More seriously, has
>>>> anyone ever identified any writer as the subject of imitation by
>>>> Kinbote, or was he just bragging in the note to line 991 without
>>>> giving any examples?
>>>> Speaking of corrections, Victoria Alexander convinced me by e-mail
>>>> that I had misread her extract from D'Arcy Thompson. I apologize.
>>>> I still think he's wrong, though, but the physics of bird flight is
>>>> so far off the topic that probably anyone interested should e-mail
>>>> me directly.
>>>> Jerry
>>>> --- "D. Barton Johnson" <> wrote:
>>>>> EDITOR's NOTE. Kinbote is apparently wealthy and a good friend of a
>>>>> trustee. Anyone who studied Russian in American colleges in the
> 40-50s
>>>>> encountered Russian instructors whose qualifications were
>>>>> quite modest.