Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015762, Mon, 3 Dec 2007 04:44:53 EST

Re: QUERY: VN's opinion of John Shade?

In a message dated 03/12/2007 04:36:22 GMT Standard Time,

Caroline Kunin writes: "Did he ever express an opinion on John Shade?"


Indeed he did. The last question and answer of interview No. 9 in Strong
Opinions are as follows (1973: 118-119):

[Q.] Would it be fair to say that you see life as a very funny but cruel

[A.] Your term "life" is used in a sense which I cannot apply to a manifold
shimmer. Whose life? What life? Life does not exist without a possessive
epithet. Lenin's life differs from, say, James Joyce's as much as a handful of
gravel does from a blue diamond, although both men were exiles in Zurich and
both wrote a vast number of words. Or take the destinies of Oscar Wilde and
Lewis Carroll -- one flaunting a flamboyant perversion and getting caught, and
the other hiding his humble but much more evil little secret behind the
emulsions of the developing-room, and ending up by being the greatest children's
story writer of all time. I'm not responsible for these real-life farces. My own
life has been incomparably happier and healthier than that of Genghis Khan,
who is said to have fathered the first Nabok, a petty Tatar prince in the
twelfth century who married a Russian damsel in an era of intensely artistic
Russian culture. As to the lives of my characters, not all are grotesque and not
all are tragic: Fyodor in The Gift is blessed with a faithful love and an
early recognition of his genius; John Shade in Pale Fire leads an intense
inner existence, far removed from what you call a joke. You must be confusing me
with Dostoevski.

This comes from an interview with Nicholas Garnham on 3 September 1968 at
the Montreux Palace for BBC--2 television. It was, says VN, "faiuthfully
reproduced" in The Listener on 10 October 1968, under the title "Strong Opinions".
I clearly remember reading it, and being made thoughtful by it, at the time.
The fact that VN used the title of the article for his book seems to imply
that he regarded his answers in the interview to be somehow paradigmatic.

I have included the whole of the answer in which he refers to Shade as this
seems to make clearer how he thinks of Shade.

Also, the fact that VN did at one time submit the poem "Pale Fire", alone,
for publication seems to indicate something important.

Anthony Stadlen

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