Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014109, Sun, 19 Nov 2006 00:36:03 EST

Mary McCarthy and "Pale Fire" source,
and other material from "Encounter" 1962-3

From Anthony Stadlen: [Please publish this version, rather than my previous
email, in which there were various misprints.]

I have a nearly complete collection of Encounter, and I looked through it to
find (1) the identification of the source of "pale fire" and (2) the letter
from Michael Scammel (see below), both of which struck me when they were
first published. I have also included some other material I found.

1. Mary McCarthy, in her article in Encounter 109: 71-84 (October 1962),
does indeed correctly identify the source of "pale fire" (McCarthy 1962: 82).

2. A letter (April 1963) from Michael Scammel: "I was fascinated and
enthralled by Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant exegesis of his new novel, but why was it
published under Mary McCarthy's name? Whoever has read Miss McCarthy's pale
polemics on other subjects could not possibly mistake this fiery essay for
her handiwork, besides which the present piece is absolutely steeped in
traditional Nabokovian imagery (clockwork toys, reflecting mirrors, chess moves) and
presupposes an intimate knowledge of such diversified subjects as philology,
entomology, lepidoptery, Pope, Shakespeare and the Russian language....There
are precedents, of course, for Nabokov criticising his own work--for example
one of his early Russian novels, Dar (The Gift), the preface and afterword
to "Lolita" and certain parts of his autobiographical memoirs--and I hope that
one day this piece may appear in one volume with Pale Fire."

[Could this be why it does? Anthony Stadlen]

3. A letter from Arnold Goldman (December 1962) transforms McCarthy into
Nabokov by word golf:

McCARTHY -- harm cyt [sc. cit.] (notable tendency)
book van -- NABOKOV (ditto).

4. A letter (January 1963) from Dr Peadar Mac Maghnais castigates Mary
McCarthy for her misuse of scientific terms and "painful transgressions of optical



5. The July 1962 issue contains VN's essay "Pushkin and Gannibal".

6. In a letter (September 1962), Dwight MacDonald describes it as "an
inchoate accumulation of scholarly trivia in the worst tradition of American
academic research", and "one of those recent manifestations, which seem to be
controlled by the spirit of that Dr. Kinbote whom he thinks he is satirising in
Pale Fire but who seems to have taken possession of his creator, so that the
book and the present article are in the Kinbotean rather than the Nabokovian
mode". Mr MacDonald asked: "...would the editors have printed Mr. Nabokov's
fifteen pages had they been submitted by an unknown graduate student at, say,
Cornell University?"

7. In the same issue, Vladimir Nabokov replies from Zermatt: "Criticism is
valid only when illustrated with examples. Mr. Dwight D. MacDonald offers none.
Hence his criticism can apply only to a delusion (especially as he conjures
up an "unknown graduate student"--who would have been the redemption and
glory of my years of professorship, had that student ever existed)."

8. In a letter (May 1963), Norman Dorsen writes: "Far from departing from
the Nabokovian spirit, "Pushkin and Gannibal"--which was obviously a
spoof--seems just the kind of paper that Mr. MacDonald's hypothetical Cornell student
might have submitted to Professor Pnin, and with it warmed his heart."


9. In April 1963, Mary McCarthy's piece on William Burroughs's The Naked
Lunch appears. At the International Writers Conference in Edinburgh the previous
year, she had said, she says, that "in thinking over the novels of the last
few years, I was struck by the fact that the only ones that had not simply
given me pleasure but interested me had been those of Burroughs and Nabokov".
She also says: "Of the novels based on statelessness, I gave as examples
William Burroughs' The Naked Lunch, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire and Lolita."

Anthony Stadlen

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