NABOKV-L post 0020495, Tue, 10 Aug 2010 09:38:36 +1200

Re: from Ron Rosenbaum re VN's own words about the <Pale Fire>
Ron Rosenbaum is welcome to think that identifying Kinbote as Botkin solves all the puzzles that need to be solved in Pale Fire. But before exhorting me to consider Botkin he should perhaps have remembered that in fact I do explain, in the very book he dismisses (awarding-winning, may I note, despite his sneers, and acclaimed by major Nabokovians as well as by non-Nabokovian reviewers, and being translated into Russian by a young Russian scholar as a tribute to “the best book-length 
explicatory treatment of a single novel by VN that I can think of”) that Kinbote is indeed “really” a Russian Professor called V. Botkin. I show there (pp. 90-93) the evidence within the text for this inference, and refer to the work of Don Barton Johnson as the first author to consider Botkin carefully (Mary McCarthy provides no evidence for her hunch), and note the distinguished real Botkins of whom Nabokov would have been aware.
But to me and to others, solving the real identity of Kinbote and other puzzles does not take us far and still leaves many more puzzles unsolved. Or am I wrong? Maybe the underlying fact that Kinbote is Botkin does explain why Nabokov goes out of his way to allude, in two different ways, to Browning’s Pippa Passes in the note on the Haunted Barn? Perhaps I’m just too dull to see how my challenge has been answered. Could you explain?
Brian Boyd
On 10/08/2010, at 5:00 AM, Nabokv-L wrote:

EDNote: Since R. Rosenbaum's challenge here is to B. Boyd, I am not going to post any responses to this gauntlet until B.Boyd has had a chance to make his own reply, at which point I'll open the forum for others' observations. Normally I would have asked an author to edit out such phrases as "sadly ill advised" and "untethered critical virtuosity", and I point to them here as reminders to all to keep discourse respectful and free of ad hominem comments. It's a tricky boundary, and these clearly straddle it, or at least tickle it. Let's please stick to the facts. ~SB

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: from Ron Rosenbaum re VN's own words about the narrator
Date: Mon, 9 Aug 2010 09:20:28 -0700
From: palefire30 <><>

There's an old saying that when you find you're in a hole best stop digging. I couldn't help but think of it--and of Occams's razor (entities should not be multiplied beypnd necessity") when reading Brian Boyd's latest attempt to force the text of Pale Fire to offer evidence in favor of his assertion that Hazel Shade is the real auithor of "Pale Fire" and <Pale Fire>.

And make no mistake about it, although he seems to be now backing away from it, thankfully, to register instead all sorts of Hazel Shade "presences" in the book, I have some first hand evidence for what he originally professed, because I happened to interview Profesor Boyd in 1999 in New York when he first announced that he had renounced his revious "shadean "Shadean" position (that the poet John Shade made up the madman's commentary on his own poem. And that Boyd had had an epiphany that it was <really> Shade's dead daughter Hazel whod done it and that Boyd had turned that theory into a book into a (sadly ill advised) six week frenzy of misreading and writing.

You can read my interview with Boyd about his second conversion to a new narrator theory here:


Here we have in Boyd's own words his Hazel Shade theory.

But in re reading the interview I was struck by something I had forgotten. That VN himself explicitly tells us who <he> believed was the real madman narrator: V. Botkin. Not Mary Mccarthy who was the first reviewer to suggest it, but VN himself.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen this name mentioned by the many discussants of the question on the list of late--it's only the author's own words after all. But here is how I introduced those words in the article on Boyd above.although

"The controversy over the commentary began almost as soon as the 1962 publication of Pale Fire , with a now-famous New Republic essay by Mary McCarthy about the novel (an essay entitled "A Bolt From the Blue") which called it "one of the very great works of art of the 20th century," and which advanced a strikingly ingenious conjecture about the identity of the mad commentator, Charles Kinbote: "The real, real story" of Pale Fire , she argued, is that Kinbote and his Zemblan Kingdom are both the invention of a barely mentioned figure in the novel, a fellow faculty member of Kinbote and Shade, a fellow identified in the commentary only as "V. Botkin." Although V. Botkin is referred to only briefly, he occupies a disproportionate amount of space in the index "Kinbote" has appended to his commentary. And from clues in the index and elsewhere, Mary McCarthy argued that Kinbote was a fictive persona created anagrammatically by V. Botkin (a name
I've just noticed, by the initials V.N.).

It was a brilliant conjecture which was adopted by most readers and critics for nearly three decades until Brian Boyd sought to overturn it. [Actually Andrew Field was the first Shadean, Boyd a later disciple]. It [the Botkin theory] was a conjecture which Mr. Boyd's own research in the Nabokov archives seemed to confirm. According to a footnote in Mr. Boyd's second volume of his Nabokov biography, "At the end of his 1962 diary, Nabokov drafted some phrases for possible interviews: 'I wonder if any reader will notice the following details: 1) that the nasty commentator is not an ex-King and not even Dr. Kinbote but Prof. Vseslav Botkin, a Russian and a madman …'"

Sure I suppose the novel is so linguistically complex, one could spend the rest of one's career, as Boyd seems willing to do, defending or backing off slowly from his Hazel Shade conjecture.

But it would be sad if this brilliant biographer decides that he wants as part of his legacy to be identified with what William of Occam would have called an unnecessary entity. (Hazel as author). it would be sad if readers of <Pale Fire> were to take this tortured interpretation as a key to unlock the novel's magic.

Isn't it time we gave VN's own words about the narrator and their implications the attention they deserve rather than inventing distractions in order to demonstrate an untethered critical virtuosity?

Come back to V. Botkin, Brian Boyd.

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