NABOKV-L post 0020508, Wed, 11 Aug 2010 10:30:25 +1200

Re: [Fwd: from R. Rosenbaum re B. Boyd and Hazel's grave]
I'm surprised that Ron Rosenbaum thinks it important that in N'sPF I did not quote VN on Kinbote as Botkin, since I make that very identification myself from evidence within the novel, as one really needs to do, and since I quote that very passage in VNAY. I myself am surprised to find I didn't also quote it in N'sPF; it would have made no difference if I had.

To pick up on Simon Rowberry's comment about authorial extratextual information, VN doesn't, I think, provide sufficient internal evidence for identifying Botkin's first name as Vseslav, even if Charles the Beloved's full name is given once in the novel, in the Index, as Charles Xavier Vseslav.

Ron Rosenbaum doesn't want puzzle-solving yet he insists on the solution Nabokov supplied to one puzzle, and seems to think we should stop there. He doesn't like the fact that I and others "are too eager to offer a "solution" to <Pale Fire> as if it were some crossword puzzle rather than a luminous numinous work of art."

But Nabokov supplied other information than the one piece RR keeps quoting. For instance, in the year Pale Fire was published: "I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions" (SO 16); in the same interview, he is asked: "In your new novel, Pale Fire, one of the characters says that reality is neither the subject nor the object of real art, which creates its own reality. What is reality?" In his answer Nabokov famously says "reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence, unquenchable, unattainable." (SO 10-11). One might be forgiven, in context, for thinking that this says something about Pale Fire.

Ron Rosenbaum implies I'm suppressing evidence by not quoting VN on Botkin, although I had quoted it in VNAY. He thinks I'm distorting Nabokov by turning him, against his intent, into a puzzle-maker or someone who hides solutions or conjures up ghost writers. Might I note that RR ignores another piece of Nabokov's own evidence outside the novel that I quote in VNAY 454 and that shows Nabokov did create at least one virtual crossword puzzle in the novel that points to a message having been uttered by a ghost., although unrecognized by any character in the novel: the words recorded by Hazel from the light in the Haunted Barn, "pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant tal told," Nabokov wrote to Andrew Field on 26 September 1966, offer a garbled warning via Hazel "to her father and hint at the title of his poem to be written many years later. Padre should not go to the lane to be mistaken for old Goldswort (worth) after finishing his tale (pale) feur (fire) [which in Shakespeare is accompanied by] the word 'arrant' (farant) [and this with 'lant' makes up the Atalanta butterfly in Shade's last scene. It is 'told' by the spirit in the barn." (Bracketed material in original.) Unlike the identification of Kinbote's real first name as Vseslav, Nabokov's explanation outside the novel in this case matches what the re-reader within the novel, who knows of Shade's death, can decode from the garbled message.

Brian Boyd

On 11/08/2010, at 9:08 AM, Nabokv-L wrote:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: from R. Rosenbaum re B. Boyd and Hazel's grave
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 14:04:49 -0700
From: palefire30 <><>

Dear List Members,

I'm surprised Brian Boyd accuses me of puzzle-solving when the entire gravamen of my objection to his Hazel Shade theory is that it skews a reading of the novel toward puzzle solving, skews the reading of the novel toward elaborate searches for Hazel Shade allusions to buttress his jigsaw solution. And because he is Brian Boyd, his vast and well-deserved respect as a biographer gives what I regard as his less stellar skills as a close reader undue weight. With the effect of reducing a multifaceted novel into a Hazel Shade ghost hunt. It would be a shame if such a diminished interpretation becomes gospel.

Nothing in my post argues that Botkin "solves" the novel. I was just shocked that Boyd now fails to mention VN's own words--cited in Boyd's own biography about Botkin, in his recent postings, making the poor fellow disappear.

I believe, of course, that once a work of art is released into the world it doesn't "belong" entirely to its author, but on the other hand it might be wise to at least take the author's words into account. Boyd says he does in his book, although he proceeds to contradict VN explicitly on the subject. Substituting own's own conjecture's for the novelist's is a perilous game. I don't think his epiphany and six week frenzy of explication has held up over the years I think that is why (as I have been arguing) Boyd has been backing away from the forcefulness of his intial strong Hazel Shade conjecture ever since the book came out.

It doesn't stand up to scrutiny although one can admire, as I did, his <Pale Fire> frenzy of obsessiveness, his wish to "own it" through imposing his own novel interpretation on it. But we see in the Ginkgo Press essay and in his recent posts here which give us etiolated, third hand connections ("Pippa passes" etc) that he is shying away from the strong connection he makes in the book. I don't blame him. I applauded it when he retracted his Shadean allegiance. I admire the man I just think he should get out of the game of conjuring up ghost writers.

While I am a devotee of close reading I don't believe that it licenses any old interpretation, that anything goes. Seven types of ambiguity, yes, seven to the seventh power?

And so I'd repeat VN's fairly non-ambiguous words (from the Boyd bio) since Boyd declines to allude to them in his most recent post:

"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 …'" This has nothing to do with Mary Mccarthy despite Boyd's apparent attempt to pass off Botkin on her. It's VN himself.

Perhaps we should ask why Professor Boyd feels the need to substitute his own self-proclaimed ingenuity for VN's fairly unequivocal declaration. He may be right, he may well be more percipient about <Pale Fire> than its author. (He got many good reviews, he informs us and we all know that reviewers are never wrong, although they may be intimidated by Boyd's <biograhical> as opposed to exegetical strengths.)

I think it's important that list members--and potential first time readers--should not be intimidated by the attempt to force <Pale Fire> into Hazel Shade's Procrustean grave.

Ron Rosenbaum

Search the archive<> Contact the Editors<,> Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"<>
Visit Zembla<> View Nabokv-L Policies<> Manage subscription options<>
All private editorial communications, without exception, are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: