Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026198, Sun, 24 May 2015 19:51:32 -0300

Past conjectures about the narrators in Pale Fire

Although a great number of Nablers have participated in the heated debates
about "who the 'real' narrator of the story is" in Pale Fire, the issue is
far from settled and I suppose many of the newcomers to the VN-L might
profit from links that offer a reminder of some of the past discussions (I
only selected four or five names for brevity's sake or their immediate
access online):

Brian Boyd in his book "Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic
Discovery" and W. Dowling, in the article "Who's the Narrator of Nabokov's
Pale Fire?" (2003), provide a schematic view before they present their own
interpretation and proofs for their arguments.*

Pekka Tammi's "Pale Fire" summarizes three positions related to the "primary
'author' of Pale Fire's fictions": (1) Kinbote/Botkin is responsible for the
entire text, having created Shade and his poem as well as the foreword,
index, and commentary; (2) Shade is responsible for the entire text, having
created the scholastic apparatus as well as the annotator for his own poem;
and (3) both the above "solutions are valid to a degree, . . . the novel
retain[ing] a basic ambiguity between them,"and, as Brian Walter observes:
"evidence is plentiful for either of the first two solutions finally
underscores the truth of the third: the novel maintains a crucial,
unresolvable narrative ambiguity regarding the identity of its fictive
authors." (Cf. Brian Walter in "Synthesizing Artistic Delight: The Lesson of
Pale Fire") B.Walter maintains that "The design of Pale Fire .assigns
enormous responsibility to the reader. If Shade's poem comprises the thesis,
and Kinbote's commentary represents its infernal antithesis - the underworld
subtext Nabokov offers the reader as a byway to understanding not Shade's
poem, but the work overall - then it is only by virtue of the reader's
efforts to extrapolate a novel from Pale Fire's tenuously connected parts
that the work can achieve synthesis. The novel, then, comes to comprise an
intricate, extended commentary on the nature of reading.[.] Kinbote finally
seems designed to test one of his author's favorite characterizations - the
welcome, even defining duplicity of the artist:[ ] What Kinbote says of
Shade - "His whole being constituted a mask" (25) - applies more aptly to
the annotator himself[ ]As a result of the narrator's multiple guises, a
significant portion of Pale Fire criticism is predicated simply on the
question of narrative responsibility: to whom, critics debate, is the text
attributable? Penetrating Kinbote's masks leads the reader then not to an
unmistakable image of the author's truth, but rather to an image of the
reader's methods for deriving truth. [ ] The narrator's digressive,
self-serving methods serve to wring from the reader an unusually
self-conscious effort to acquire the various facets of the novel.[ ] Boyd
shows the author's concern with this extra narrative difficulty of Pale
Fire: "'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 . . .'" (The American Years709 [


*-"The controversy among Nabokovians has separated into three
possibilities: (1) The real narrator is the person corresponding to John
Shade, who does not really die but composes a work in which he makes his own
death an incident so that he can go on and compose a commentary to his own
completed poem: "Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinished poem."
(2) The real narrator is the person corresponding to Kinbote (Botkin), who
writes a poem and imagines the death of the poet so as to have an excuse to
tell the story he is really interested in -- the magical tale of his lost
kingdom of Zembla and his escape and exile. Or (3) there really are two
narrators in Pale Fire, one corresponding to Shade, one to Kinbote."

Here is his own view: "I think that John Shade and Kinbote are creations of
a narrator resembling Vladimir Nabokov, and that this narrator "shows
himself" at a certain crucial point in a way that cannot be denied. But
here's what I don't mean. I don't mean that the narrator corresponds in any
sense to the "real" Vladimir Nabokov -- that is, the Russian emigre writer
who today lies buried in a cemetary in Montreux, Switzerland.[.] the
Nabokov-like narrator is telling the story as a voice that, if it survives,
will have exactly the same status as John Shade and Kinbote.What, then,
about all those ghosts and voices and "communications from beyond"? I think
the Nabokov-like narrator is saying something like this: "A work of art
originates in the consciousness of a creator, but it does so in a manner of
speaking 'from the outside' ." This is what the ancient invocation of the
Muses was about [ ] When the creator has finished a work of art, he's still
present in the world, but there is this 'other him' that is caught forever
in the words of the work that has come to birth through him." [. ] Gradus
"IS is the "death" that occurs when, the consciousness of an artist having
"passed into" a speaker or character inside a work of art, the work is
completed and its creator is marooned outside it. Gradus is the moment at
which the spirit of a creator is immortalized in a work of art and the poet
or artist goes back temporarily to being just an ordinary human being. [ .]
That leaves untouched, of course, the "puzzle of consciousness" -- and, in
particular, of consciousness as it may exist beyond physical death -- as
Brian Boyd and others have addressed it as the central theme of Nabokov's
writing." Still related to "who is the real narrator" of VN's novel, W.
Dowling notes that, for Brian Boyd " in a poem and commentary much
concerned with the life of consciousness in 'another realm' after physical
death, that the ghosts of both Hazel Shade and John Shade exert pressure on
the narrative at various points, sending 'coded' messages that account for
the resonances and reverberations between the poem and commentary(

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