NABOKV-L post 0017056, Tue, 16 Sep 2008 17:11:08 -0300

Re: [NABOKOV-L] [QUERY] Sebastian Knight

JA: I just meant that the Character of V. and Kinbote were miles apart... for V. what's wrong with Sebastian is that he is so superior to the inferior beings around him (like Cincinattus?) while Goodman sees him as not being up to the challenges of the modern world... I never know what to make of these number things, actually... the characters don't really ask what they would in life...Only Nabokov's forcing the characters not to talk to each other directly allows things to remain unnecessarily mysterious...the book's so stylishly written and funny and fresh that the many moments of doubt about the character's actions that creep in every time I read the book don't destroy it, but they do add I think a false tint to the cosmic speculation in it. On the other hand this does make you mistrust the narrator more.

JM: The more I read TRLSK, the more I find similarities in spirit between it and Pale Fire, although it could have been expected since they share the same author. To the list of small blunders by V., I add a curious one: V saw a photograph of Sebastian's first love twice (once, while Sebastian still shared a home with him and next, after his death, while he examined his drawers.) but, when he finally meets her, he makes a point of leaving her, visually, a blank.
You put the finger on one of the great ("unnecessary"?) mysteries in this novel when you said that VN's characters seldom talk to each other directly. At other times, and even in other novels, they seem to be in touch but then we realize that their exchanges are an illusion and their conversation consists of alternating monologues: they cannot say that which they most desire to express, their illusiory secret "kernel" - thus they are condemned to remain as simulacra or shadows...

Another issue, related to the world of appearances:
In Pale Fire we have John Shade's lines (613-14):
...from the outside, bits of colored light
Reaching his bed like dark hands from the past

Offering gems; and death is coming fast.

But Kinbote mentions a substitute draft:

Through slatted blinds the stripes of colored light

Grope for his bed — magicians from the past

With philtered gems — and life is ebbing fast.

The changes are considerable: dark hands of colored light become stripes of colored light that "grope", death comes fast versus life ebbs fast. What intrigued me, though, is Kinbote's reference to "philtered gems", the idea of a magic "philter" produced by the effect of light. The use of the "ph" in this word smacks of Kinbote, does it not?

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