NABOKV-L post 0014404, Fri, 15 Dec 2006 21:51:40 -0800

Re: New England or Virginia?
In response to Matthew's confusion, I add my own -- summarizing what is to be
known about PF's geography. The below is extracted from an article in
Don Johnson

One of the prerequisites for any discussion of birds is knowledge of their
geographical distribution. The novel's semi-mythical settings range from Nova
Zembla, through Europe to Wordsmith College in New Wye, and Cedarn, Utana
(Utah+Montana). Most of the "real" action in Pale Fire takes place in
“New Wye,”
suggesting New (Y)ork state, although elsewhere Kinbote locates New
Wye in New
England (Commentary to line 149, p.139). To add to the mystification, Kinbote
sites New Wye not very far north of Baltimore at the latitude of Palermo in
Sicily (19). Baltimore is at latitude 39 17 N and longitude 76 36 W;
Palermo at
38 15 & 13 34. Queried in an interview, Nabokov indicated that “the particular
features of the landscape—the lakes, the campus, the academic suburb---remain
close to Cornell,” but adds that Wordsmith is “much more to the south than any
of the colleges with which I have been connected. … The flora and the
fauna may
indicate somewhere a little further south in Appalachia.” Shade, in one of his
natural history disquisitions, speaks of “the extraordinary blend of Canadian
Zone and Austral Zone … in that particular spot of Appalachia where at our
altitude of about 1,500 feet northern species of birds, insects and plants
commingled with southern representatives” (169). The evening ambles of Shade
and Kinbote are well away from Ithaca which is at 475 feet. In short, much of
Appalachia provides the novel’s natural history context.



> The concordance is already causing me problems. For the entry
> "New Wye," we seem to have conflicting information. In the
> foreword, Kinbote places New Wye at the same latitude as
> Palermo, Italy. Jerry Friedman has pointed out that this would put
> it somewhere in Virginia, just south of Washington. But in
> C.149 Kinbote writes that Odon's mother (Sylvia O'Donnell)
> "was an American, from New Wye in New England." I find these
> statements irreconcilable. Given the degree of importance VN
> gives to exact locations of things, I have to assume that the
> mistake is Kinbote's. If I have to pick one or the other as
> the "true" location, I choose Virginia, in part because
> "Appalachia," as the term is commonly used, points to that part
> of the Appalachian chain south of the Mason Dixon line in
> southern Pennsylvania.
> Matt Roth
> [EDNOTE. In LOLITA, Humbert describes a map of America that he saw
> as a child, which "had ?Appalachian Mountains? boldly running from
> Alabama up to New Brunswick, so that the whole region they
> spanned?Tennessee, the Virginias, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont,
> New Hampshire and Maine, appeared to my imagination as a gigantic
> Switzerland or even Tibet" (209-210). -- SES]
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