NABOKV-L post 0018579, Tue, 15 Sep 2009 13:38:49 -0300

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Re: THOUGHTS: Pale Fire and The Cream of the Jest
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Jerry Friedman: Has anyone connected /Pale Fire/ with /The Cream of the Jest/ (1917), by James Branch Cabell? First among the similarities is the structure...(There's no index, though.)...Harrowby is not Kinbotean. Mostly he's indistinguishable from an omniscient narrator, and when he does appear, any humor is far more subtle than Kinbote's egotism.*

JM: Jerry wrote: "we shouldn't be surprised to find the occasional coincidence. Harrowby's wife says"...he is...comforting Nova Zembla with his talcum powder." I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was, and "I trust the reader appreciates the strangeness of this..."
Coincidences can be harrowing. There is a Brazilian author (H.Haydt), who never read Nabokov and Cabell, whose novel describes "Quimboto" ( a folcloric wizzard in the Amazon region) and includes a commentator (here it is a "Turtle-Savant" and not Quimboto) who reduces every metaphor of the novel to its literal meaning and explains away every poetic flight in the original text. As in "Lolita" ( like it happens with other novels, such as in E.A.Poe's Gordon Pym, I think) there is a manuscript by a stranger that is delivered into the hand of its future editor.
Also by chance, didn't I just bring up an ancient VN-posting, written by Michael Maar before he published "The Two Lolitas"?
Anyway, what you got is a very convincing and exciting "trouvaille" (with Nova Zembla and information about Wilson's recommendation to VN), as I see it - but I haven't read Cabell...

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* excerpts from JF's posting: "Harrowby's description of Kennaston is reminiscent of Kinbote's description of Shade: "The man could create beauty, to outlive him; but in his own appearance he combined grossness with insignificance..." Unlike Kinbote, Harrowby says he disliked Kennaston and gives no reason to think Kennaston liked him...Then the romantic imaginary world, Poictesme, not entirely unlike a medieval Zembla, but it's Kennaston's (not Harrowby's) fantasy world...Another similarity is Kennaston's quest for hidden knowledge. It's not about death, though...Another similarity is that both Kennaston and Harrowby write beautifully in an elaborate style, with occasional rare words, that closely resembles their author's style. The main thing that made me compare the books, though, is the end of Kennaston's quest (when) Kennaston explains "the one great thing the sigil taught me—that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter—except to show how very dull we are." This reminded me of Shade's less certain belief that began with apparent evidence of the supernatural but survived apparent disproof of the evidence...the word "nympholept" appears, describing men who are obsessed with unattainable women.
Did VN read TCotJ?...Wilson recommended his "New Yorker" article praising Cabell in a letter of April 24, 1956 (278 in /Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya/)...If Nabokov did read Cabell, I have no idea whether he would have seen anything to use or surpass.Both writers read widely and eclectically, so we shouldn't be surprised to find the occasional coincidence. Harrowby's wife says..."...he is gladdening Calcutta with his soaps, delighting London with his dentifrice, and comforting Nova Zembla with his talcum powder." I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was, and "I trust the reader appreciates the strangeness of this..."

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