NABOKV-L post 0014514, Wed, 27 Dec 2006 20:39:18 -0200

Fw: [NABOKV-L] brocken reflections; rainbows and windows
CHW wrote: "I now understand that for such as Shackleton visions of this kind were an almost everyday occurrence, and, as DN has stressed, for mountaineers as well..." "... both he [Shackleton] and Eliot are clearly suggesting a supernatural presence of some sort, helping them along, or guiding perhaps, in Eliot's case...

JM: Windows, dark glass and mirrors are constantly recurring in VN and, perhaps, they reinforce the "eery" feeling of light, snow, water and mirages.
As we find in Bend Sinister: "The sky immediately overhead was quilted with a livid and billowy expanse of thick cloud; very large, greyish, semitransparent, irregularly shaped snowflakes slowly and vertically descended; and when they touched the dark water of the Kur, they floated upon it instead of melting at once, and this was strange. Further on, beyond the edge of the cloud; a sudden nakedness of heaven and river ...and the first evening lights in the windows of riverside buildings...Watching the snowflakes upon the dark and beautiful water, Krug argued that either the flakes were real, and the water was not real water, or else the latter was real, whereas the flakes were made of some special insoluble stuff. In order to settle the question, he let his mateless glove fall from the bridge; but nothing abnormal happened: the glove simply pierced the corrugated surface of the water with its extended index, dived and was gone."

Matthew Roth mentioned "one of the two remarkable parhelia I witnessed...a complete double rainbow (a complete circle!),which appeared just off the east bow of the lookout one evening after a rain when the sun was even with me on the western horizon." and this is an experience I once had during sunset in a rainy day while crossing a bridge. I was encircled by a complete rainbow that seemed to quiver along the surface of the water below, keeping me at its center even while the car was in motion. I was then immediately reminded of a scene in "The Gift" ( which I haven't re-read in a long time): it was more a feeling than a true recollection of VN's words on butterfly-hunting expeditions, waterfalls and rainbows.

CHW: I still find it difficult to visualize exactly what Shade is describing in the opening lines of his Pale Fire. Presumably, "from the inside", the shadows of the room's furniture (bed as well as chair? --- from where precisely is the light source coming?) are being projected out on the lawn, outside. Or is it that the interior of the room is being reflected on the inside of the windowpane, but by letting his eye pass through the glass, the man who is looking upon it can simultaneously see the lawn outside, sometimes covered with snow?"

JM:The first lines of Pale Fire tell about a bird that smashes against the reflected sky in a window pane (a virtual image). The following verses then describe a room whose objects are reflected in a dark glass (another virtual image), before being projected onto the snowy landscape that, in turn, is glimpsed through the glass (a real image plus a virtual addition, arisen from a different world).

I understood that, in PF, Kinbote chose to describe the relationship between man and the creator as "in a mirror" ( "in a glass"), thereby emphasizing the narcissistic dimension of his outlook. John Shade´s opening lines, on the contrary, harmonize both views ( "in a glass" and "through a glass, darkly"), thus opening unexpected horizons for the relationship between reader and book, art and reality.

A. Field wrote about what he saw as Nabokov´s intention to create a correspondence between the glass that separates Shade and Kinbote, and a lake (ozero, in Russian), "neatly set between the other two O-ish obeli (Omega and Zero), which signify the two possibilities after death, nothing and everything" (LAVN, 345). He based his reasoning in the verses that describe Shade´s metaphors about the reflection of his room onto the garden to write about the glass separating Shade and Kinbote, but I think he considered the narcissistic dimension was shared both by Kinbote and "the Creator".

Priscilla Meyer shifted the emphasis from the dual mirror relation between John Shade and Charles Kinbote. She wrote about the window that lies between two worlds. She observes that "The alphabet, then, supplies the coordinates of space-time in the universe of Pale Fire, where Lake Omega, the point of intersection, is a window between two worlds (Cf. Priscilla Meyer´s Find What the Sailor Has Hidden, Vladimir Nabokov´s 'Pale Fire', Wesleyan University Press, 1988,184).Meyer observes that in Pale Fire Nabokov "suggests that nature is a system of decodable signs" (LWHH,145), a book written by the Creator.

As I understand it, even as the creator of a fictional universe Nabokov does not establish a parallel between his book and nature. Even though art can be used as a mirror of the world, Nabokov shows us that this only happens when we look at it through the eyes of Kinbote. VN indicates that we can also see through the windows of Shade´s poem and then glimpse what may still be discovered - once we learn to look at what lies beyond the mirror in which we find no longer our parhelial (?) shadow - but ...Art? ( my hesitant text about this idea can be found in Zembla: "Art as a window to the Hereafter").

CHW: "It's funny how survivors will attribute their survival to God: non-survivors are unable to give their account either of how God failed them, or what it's like wherever they are now."

JM: Yes, I agree with Charles' observation, but now we are back to Eliot's epigraph about the inscription at the entrance of hell and Dante's medieval conception of the circle of "the elect"? Whatever we chose to believe, Shackleton's survival and his accurate testimonial are outstanding still. Sometimes I have the impression that VN courted such experiences and tried to describe his conclusions somehow.

Search the archive:
Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies: