Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016439, Fri, 30 May 2008 11:19:06 -0400

THOUGHTS: Sources for PF in 1957 Newspapers
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered about the source of the story in "PF"
823-35, in which a piece of ice from an airplane plummets from the sky and
strikes a farmer dead. I guessed that VN had read about the case of Edward
Groff, of Bernville, PA, but I wondered what VN was up to in late July,

Checking VNAY, I found that "Pushkin kept Nabokov at his desk in Ithaca
throughout the summer of 1957." But also this, regarding VN's surroundings
and activities: "Cat-minding, window, waxwings, shagbark, swing,
horseshoes--everything about the place was kindling for Pale Fire" (314).
This confirms that in the summer of 1957 VN was at work gathering bits and
pieces that would eventually become PF. It seems that there were at least
three wire reports that went out to newspapers around the country about the
Bernville icefall. I have attached one in .pdf form so that you can see
that all three elements of the "PF" anecdote (ice from sky, farmer, airplane
as source) are mentioned here.

While looking for these reports, I was reminded of a card inserted into the
PF ms. at the LOC. The card, which is placed at the beginning of the
commentary to line 691 (in which CK hears about Shade's "heart attack") is a
summary of a story from the 26 May 1957 Daily News. According to the story,
a woman's heart stopped for 2 1/2 hours but a surgeon massaged it all that
time until it finally started beating on its own again. I did a little
checking, and though I do not have access to the Daily News article, I did
find the wire report of this incident carried in other papers throughout the
country. I have included one of these. Of particular interest might be the
comment made by the patient, Dorothy Hull: "I never knew I had died until
they told me yesterday." Think of John Shade's "And then one night I died."

None of this is too significant, but I think it's interesting to
reconstruct some of the lesser-known sources of VN's inspiration.

On an unrelated note, many thanks to Jansy for finding all of those fours
and forties. I don't know what they mean, but I'm intrigued.

Matt Roth

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