Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015785, Thu, 6 Dec 2007 10:24:56 -0500

Re: has Nabokov created a narrator/double before?

Carolyn said:
"But in fact Nabokov has done something very similar (Shade is to Kinbote
as Jekyl is to Hyde) before. I think our previous Ed., Don Johnson, put me
onto the story. I'm ashamed to say I cannot now think of what it was, but it
took place in Berlin. Don?"

MR: I'm not Don, but I think Carolyn is talking about The Eye. If one were
to argue for the idea that Kinbote is a secondary personality of Shade, I
would think that The Eye could provide a powerful precedent--a companion
piece in the sense that Priscilla Meyer argues that VN's books are often
paired. In The Eye we have a narrator who claims to have died, but then
continues on. Whether or not he actually died is ultimately ambiguous. Boyd
in VNRY writes:

"Nabokov's great technical advance in The Eye, his bold handling of point
of view, prefigures much of his later art: his almost insanely egocentric
narrators; his glides back and forth between first and third-person
narration; his sudden focal shifts that jar one reality against another and
force us to resolve their clash. Does the narrator of The Eye 'really' die?
If not, does he think he does? Is his persistence after death a fact, a
fixed delusion, a metaphor, a deliberate device? Are narrator and Smurov
really one, and if so, is 'each' conscious of the 'other'?"

So here we have a character who is shot (by himself) and may or may not
have died. He is then able to see himself from a third-person point of
view--something we only discover indirectly. In addition, we suspect that
Smurov may actually be a homosexual, despite his supposed love affairs. In
Pale Fire, John Shade also declares his own death ("And then one night I
died") only to recover and "live on, fly on" in the story. Tiffany DeRewal
(and I think Carolyn as well?) asserts that Shade's "heart attack" is the
crisis point where Shade's personality finally begins to bifurcate. It's
the point where he begins to see himself from the perspective of someone
else (Kinbote). And this someone else turns out to be an unstable,
homosexual, "insanely egocentric" narrator. In all, it seems to me that The
Eye plays out in a manner roughly analogous to Pale Fire, if indeed we
accept the second personality theory as a possibility.

By the way, for those not familiar with The Eye, this web site
http://www.mantex.co.uk/ou/a319/nab-016.htm provides a very good synopsis
and brief analysis not just of The Eye but of most of VN's stories.


Alexey mentioned a book of riddles to which I alerted him. I did so
off-list, but since he mentioned it, I'll pass it along to all of you. I
found it while looking for references to "Terra the Fair." I think it would
have delighted VN, but there's no evidence that he ever read it. Here it is:
http://books.google.com/books?id=c702AAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA26. Enjoy!

Matt Roth

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