Many years ago I read Mary McCarthy's review of PALE FIRE which had appeared in NEW REPUBLIC on June 4th 1962. Years later when I came across a Penguin PALE FIRE with her review as an introduction to the novel it struck me as having been reworked.
In order to answer the question whether McCarthy had identified the source of VN's title in her original review, and knowing that I, at that time, had xeroxed her review, searched two attics, and finally found it as reprinted in Norman Page, NABOKOV: THE CRITICAL HERITAGE (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982),pp. 124-136, where she admits:
"I have not been able to find, in Shakespeare or anywhere else, the source of 'pale fire.' In the commentary there is an account of the poet burning his rejected drafts in 'the pale fire of the incinerator.' " p. 136
A. Bouazza.
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From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU]On Behalf Of Stan Kelly-Bootle
Sent: 17 November 2006 23:11
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Botkin(e). Modest Proposal

VN is quoted as saying:

“And even Mary McCarthy, who has discovered  more of the books* than most of its critics, had some difficulty in locating  the source of its title, and made the mistake of searching for it in  Shakespeare's 'The Tempest.' It is from 'Timon of Athens.' “

* Is ‘books’ a typo for ‘book’ or did VN say something like ‘more of the book’s symboliism/allusions?’

Yet in her 1962 (note the date) Introductory Essay to PF  (added to the 1991 Penguin edition) McCarthy DOES identify the title’s source and, after quoting the FAMOUS five lines from Timon of Athens (Act IV sc 3), she expands on the CENTRALITY to PF of this Shakespearean mirror-as-thief theme. She writes:

“Pale Fire itself circles like a moth, or a moon, around Shakespeare’s mighty flame.”

VN may have  missed or misread MM’s ref to The Tempest?

“... Prospero of The Tempest pops in and out of the commentary, like a Fata Morgana, to MISLEAD THE READER INTO LOOKING FOR ‘PALE FIRE’ IN SHAKESPEARE’S SWAN SONG. [my caps, of course] It’s NOT there, but the Tempest is in Pale Fire.”

I’ve not yet checked on any earlier versions of MM’s essay. Could she have modified them as a result of VN’s criticism? We would need some reliable dates. I’VE JUST SEEN A POSTING SUGGESTING THAT MM DID INDEED REVISE CIRCA 1971.
If so, it’s rather shoddy scholarship since she maintains © 1962 against her revised version in the Penguin 1991 ed.

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