NABOKV-L post 0020929, Sun, 31 Oct 2010 23:21:19 -0600

Re: Botkin
I hope I may be forgiven for going back to two posts from over a month ago
that I've been wanting to reply to.

Jerry Friedman

On Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 8:17 AM, James Twiggs <> wrote:

> Incidentally, don’t be misled by the rural setting into thinking the
> Cornell of Nabokov’s time was a “backwoods” university in any other sense.
> After all, VN taught there, as did the distinguished critic M.H. Abrams. The
> philosophy department, in which I studied, boasted Max Black and Norman
> Malcolm, whose well-known students include William Gass and Thomas Nagel. In
> 1949, Wittgenstein visited Malcolm and, though in poor health, made himself
> available for discussions with both faculty and students. The anthropology
> and Asian-studies programs were very strong as well . . . And so on.

Let's not forget physics!

> But the main point I want to make is that although we, as readers of VN’s
> novel, can see just how mad Botkin/Kinbote is, this would not necessarily
> have been so clear to his colleagues. As someone suggested a few weeks ago
> (I think it was Jerry Friedman), the Zembla story may have started out
> modestly enough--as an obsession shared, at first, only with Shade. The
> delusion may then have grown progressively worse and may not have bloomed
> into final form till Botkin started writing the Commentary.

I did say that the Zembla story may have grown and changed, and that Shade
may have been the first to know about it by a significant amount of time,
but not the quite plausible detail that I think you've added.


By the way, why is it so seldom mentioned that Shade, in his obsession with
> the afterlife, is a bit on the batty side himself and that Sybil is
> something of a shrew?

As Kinbote shows her to us, anyway.

> Jim Twiggs
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Matthew Roth <MRoth@MESSIAH.EDU>

Some may argue that since Kinbote has concocted this scene well after end of
> the semester, he has simply replaced his memory of teaching Scandinavian
> languages with a false memory of teaching Zemblan. But once we accept this
> as a solution, Kinbote's New Wye narrative becomes a house of cards--we have
> no way of knowing what really happened and what has been replaced ex post
> facto--or all is allowed, and we can pick and choose to suit our
> interpretive needs.

Priscilla Meyer and Jeff Hoffman wrote, "The glimmerings of another
beyond our own may occasionally be discerned in nature, in fate's workings,
and in art; the puzzles and rich referentiality of Nabokov's texts are
to send the reader on a quest for the transcendent. The artist in his work
mimics the Creator and his creation; both provide clues and a method of
inquiry that can reward the quester with the discovery of a world beyond our
own, beyond the 'real', a word Nabokov said must always be used with
quotation marks.

"*Pale Fire* is structured on the idea that reality has an infinite
of false bottoms. The Danish material, almost invisibly embedded in
Nabokov's novel, provides a rich illustration of the principle...."

To reorganize this in a way that the authors may not have meant, the New Wye
narrative may be one of those false bottoms, as may other "real stories"
supposed to lie beneath it, and Nabokov may have meant this series of false
bottoms to lead the quester to a vision of a world beyond our own.

Thanks to Jansy for mentioning that fascinating essay, which I finally read

Another Botkin problem: if Kinbote is an alternative personality of V.
> Botkin, why is he so clearly a mirror opposite (and sometimes analog) of
> John Shade? The Shade/Kinbote dichotomy includes the following oppostitions
> and analogs, though I may be missing some things:
> clean-shaven/bearded
> ...
> heterosexual/homosexual
> carnivore/vegetarian
> lame/spry

Those are interesting, and I can't cast any doubt on them (except the usual
that they're all according to Kinbote), but Nabokov could simply be giving
his main characters some enjoyable contrasts. After all, the revelation of
the characters is the center of this novel of reflections. (Really?)
Nabokov wrote, possibly overstating a bit, "I think it is a perfectly
straightforward novel. The clearest revelation of personality is to be found
in the creative work in which a given individual indulges. Here the poet is
revealed by his poetry; the commentator by his commentary."


Nominal Christian and nominal atheist. But I think Nabokov needs this to
build on the theme of the afterlife in the poem.

> live across the lane from one another

They have to be neighbors somehow, and I don't see anything mirror-image
about their houses, which as far as I can tell don't face each other.

> all of the echoes that go back and forth between poem and commentary (see
> PFMAD, chapter 8).
> born on the same day,

According to Kinbote, who I don't trust. He could have been imitating Shade
or trying to embarrass Sybil.

> wives resemble each other,

Kinbote tells us his imaginary wife resembles the description of Sybil. I
see this as evidence that his delusion is being influenced by the poem.

came to New Wye at same time as John Shade's attack,

According to Kinbote. This version doesn't leave much room for Botkin to
teach in "another department" at Wordsmith.

> both seem to be experts on Pope, etc...

It seems reasonable that Kinbote, idolizing his new neighbor, would read
Shade's book.

> It would make sense were Kinbote the opposite or analog of Botkin, but all
> of these relationships that should connect Kinbote to Botkin instead connect
> him to John Shade.

There are perhaps hints that Botkin is clean-shaven (Kinbote hasn't shaved
in over a year, but that might mean he used to shave) and heterosexual (as
people have been discussing).

> Why? I do not doubt the thetic solution--that Kinbote=Botkin--but I don't
> think we can be satisfied with it, either.
> Matt Roth

I don't either--it's another false bottom.

> I forgot to add one more important connection between Shade and
> Kinbote/Botkin. While Kinbote imagines himself to be King Charles on the
> lam, Shade twice imagines himself as royalty in "Pale Fire" (l. 605 &
> l.894). In the second of these (Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed)
> he uses a dissociated perspective to imagine himself both as a king and as
> the victim of an assassin--the exact scenario envisioned by Kinbote. Surely
> VN wanted us to notice the coincidence. We then must ask why, and to what
> end.

Maybe to suggest that Kinbote's delusions did have some effect on Shade and
the poem (which Kinbote may or may not notice). Or, maybe more contrived,
to prompt Kinbote's delusions if they didn't start till after he read the

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