NABOKV-L post 0020457, Thu, 5 Aug 2010 10:34:29 +1200

Re: Brian Boyd responds to Ron Rosenbaum re "Pale Fire"
In response to Ron Rosenbaum’s two messages:
First, on the Arion Press edition and the Gingko edition. Mo Cohen of Gingko was disturbed about the claim in the booktryst blog copied to Nabokv-L, and asked me if I knew about the Arion edition. I answered him:
Yes, I knew it, and was even consulted for it, and for my pains was sent a copy. But the Arion Press edition of Pale Fire was quite different from Gingko’s John Shade’s Pale Fire: a limited edition of novel and poem, without the focus on the poem that's the distinguishing mark of our edition. The separate booklet of the poem was on paper, of index-card proportions, and black-ruled, to suggest index cards, but set in type, not in handwriting, and bound, so that the whole playful conceit of our edition that the poem has come straight from Shade’s index cards to the reader, bypassing Kinbote and any other editorial intervention, is missing. And the focus entirely on the poem in the essays by R.S. Gwynn and me, supporting and expanding on this conceit, is absent from the essay Andrew Hoyem wrote to accompany his edition (which mostly references my old interpretation of Pale Fire, since retracted). So I don't think any of us, Jean Holabird, you, me, Ron Rosenbaum, is wrong to single out the Gingko edition as a breakthrough in the perception of the poem. The Hoyem edition is a gorgeous example of fine-bookmaking for the collectors who could afford $600, but it does nothing for the perception or evaluation of the novel, let alone the poem.
I have never read and never expect to read Pale Fire in the Arion edition: it's too precious-looking to risk defiling by leaving greasy fingerprints on page after page as one slowly reads through. But we have designed the Gingko edition to be read and savored, as if we were Shade's first friends and confidantes--or just admirers of his poetry, and Nabokov's.
I wouldn't have wanted to run with your project if I hadn't thought it completely new.

Second, on the interpretation of Pale Fire. My essay to appear in the Gingko edition was entirely focused on the poem, as Shade’s and Nabokov’s. It ignores the Commentary because the whole point of the Gingko edition is to restore the poem to the attention it deserves as a poem, as the product of the poet John Shade and of the Nabokov who created him and his masterpiece. The essay treats the poem seriously, lovingly, as on a par with Shakespeare in his best poems, in the sonnets. Had Ron Rosenbaum not been reading my essay only for evidence of the relation it has to the interpretation of the novel as a whole I advanced in my 1999 book, he might have noticed this.
The evidence in my book that I suggest points to Nabokov’s wanting to allow readers to infer the dead Hazel’s role in poem and commentary comes overwhelmingly from the 90% of Pale Fire signed by Kinbote. The case could certainly not be made from the evidence of the poem alone. Since in the Gingko project I was working with poem alone, as if straight from Shade’s hands, the question of Hazel’s role simply does not arise.
Whether or not Nabokov wanted to suggest that Hazel had influenced Shade’s composition of the poem, and in order to do that, had prompted Kinbote’s Zembla fantasy and his insistently importuning Shade to immortalize Charles the Beloved in his verse, he wanted Shade to be taken seriously as a poet. Even if Hazel was able to influence live people after her death, she would not have sought to inspire, say, her mother to write a poem with her suicide at its center. She could only influence to write a poem someone whose mind was a poet’s.
In a similar way, Nabokov suggests, has Fyodor suggest, that Fyodor may be influenced by the spirit of his father, and the spirit of Pushkin, both in writing his aborted biography of his father, and in writing The Gift itself. Fyodor does not see these as any diminution of his artistry or responsibility.
And Nabokov also wrote to his mother that he thought, after his Cambridge exams, that his dead father had somehow inspired him in writing those exams. I think he implies, in the shape of The Gift and elsewhere, a sense that his own work comes from regions beyond, where his dead father and dead Pushkin somehow live on, as he implies, in Pale Fire, a sense that his own work comes from regions beyond where his dead parents and dead Shakespeare somehow live on. He also knows how much hard labor, how much research and painstaking revision, he put into these and other compositions, how much responsibility he has for every creative decision. If his work does put him in touch with, even allow him to channel, mysteries beyond, they remain mysteries, and his work remains his, just as within the fictive world he inhabits, John Shade’s poem remains his, whatever else Nabokov may or may not imply lies behind it.
Brian Boyd

On 5/08/2010, at 8:23 AM, Nabokv-L wrote:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: from Ron Rosenbaum re "Pale Fire"
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2010 12:33:43 -0700
From: palefire30 <><>

Dear List members,

I want to thank A. Bouazza for bringing to our attention the sale of the Arion Press <Pale Fire>.

From the Abe Books website description of what was sold, it is clear that this is <not> a "stand alone" edition of the poem "Pale Fore" but rather a two volume edition of the whole novel, something quite different, in form and purpose from the forthcoming Gingko Press edition that I wrote about in <Slate> <><>

Here is the Abe Books description from their website describing the record sale price of what they call "the book" (not "the poem" (I wonder why the record sale, coming a week or so after my column?):

"Other items of particular note include a Nabokov book that is not Lolita. Coming in at number five we have his Pale Fire, a fascinating and unusual novel which takes the form of a 999-line poem, along with notes, commentary and editorial by a fictional friend of the (also fictional) poet throughout. This copy was #44 of a 266-copy limited edition."

While the poem may have occupied the first volume, clearly what is being described is a "book" of two volumes in which the poem is embedded. The Gingko Press edition is of the poem alone, purposely designed so that the poem will be considered separately from the book.

I wonder if the author of the triumphalist post here ("Ron Rosenbaum was wrong") who made such a issue of the Arion Press being a stand alone "Pale Fire" will have the grace to concede his error.

I'm somewhat disappointed by the tone the moderators of the list have allowed, in which I have been accused of "shilling" for Gingko Press, and described as "strange". Particularly when my own civil disagreement with Brian Boyd on whether he has "abandoned" (my version) or merely ignored (his version) his theory of the authorship of "Pale Fire" (it was somehow dictated by the ghost of John Shade's dead daughter Hazel Boyd contend in 1999) was not posted. I hope we're not protecting favorites here. I merely asked whether any other List members believed Boyd's theory. I re iterate the question now: does anyone else believe Hazel Shade's ghost somehow dictated "Pale Fire"?

Ron Rosenbaum

EDNote: the "Triumphalist post" ("Ron Rosenbaum at Slate is Wrong . . .", July 28) mentioned above was not written by a Nabokv-L subscriber, but rather copied to the list by Sandy P. Klein from its original location, a blog at "" The original post is at:
The unpleasant tone, which RR is correct to note would not be allowed in direct comments by list subscribers about other subscribers, was part of that off-list post, reproduced here for documentary purposes. As for the missing RR post (July 24)--my apologies: I did not suppress it intentionally; an email glitch caused it to escape my notice and so I failed to forward it. I'm pasting it in below, in hopes that it will still spark some interest and response.
Please be aware that our policy is never to suppress a subscriber-authored post without communicating about it with the contributor. If a post is merely a reproduction of other web content, sometimes we do silently suppress. Feel free to contact us if ever your posts don't appear; glitches occur regularly, and our in-boxes can be hectic places. Thanks for your patience.

Subject: from Ron Rosenbaum in regard to B.Boyd's theory of the authorship of "Pale Fire"
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2010 06:13:10 -0700
From: palefire30 <palefire30@YAHOO.COM><mailto:palefire30@YAHOO.COM>

As an admirer of Brian Boyd, I must say I am entertained by his fancy footwork in his recent communication to the list about his theory of the authorship of the poem "Pale Fire" in the novel <Pale Fire>.

After writing an entire book centered on the conjecture that the poem was not written by ostensible author John Shade (<Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery> Princeton University Press, 1999) but by the ghost of Shade's dead daughter Hazel, he now writes a 30 page essay for the forthcoming stand-alone edition of the poem, in which he fails to mention this daring but far-fetched theory. I do not say he "repudiates" his theory in my <Slate> essay, I just wonder why what was once a central issue to him (and all readers of what we both agreee is probably Nabokov's greatest work) is absent now. What happened to Hazel's shade?

Indeed throughout his essay he refers to "Shade's ideas" and tells us that inthe poem "Shade expresses these realizations lucidly" (both on p. 8).

Mr. Boyd tells us: "Rosenbaum is wrong to imagine my essay repudiates my Pale Fire book. It just looks at a different flank of the elephant, a different point of the starfish".

Is he then, elephant and starfish aside, still willing to assert that he believes the poem "Pale Fire" was meant by VN to be taken as written by the ghost of John Shade's dead daughter? I think this is an important question for the foremost Nabokov biographer to help us clear up.

And I'd be interested to see if anyone else on the list subscribes to this theory of the poem's authorship.
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