NABOKV-L post 0005887, Mon, 2 Apr 2001 09:53:15 -0700

Boyd on best text of Pale Fire
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: Query: Best text of Pale Fire?
Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2001 23:50:37 +1200
From: "Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)" <>
To: "'D. Barton Johnson '" <>

Pale Fire and other texts

Brian Boyd

Re Mary Bellino's question:

The Library of America edition of Pale Fire is the most reliable
It has been prepared after partial collation with other editions,
like most Nabokov texts the first (Putnam) edition contained very few
for a work of such length and complexity. I hope Mary Bellino noted not
the errors VN corrected (listed on pp. 871-872 of the LoA edition), but
the other typos listed further down p. 872.

The Vintage edition, like all the Vintage editions, was reproduced
photographically from the first (English-language) editions, but
incorporated corrections noted or recorded over the years by Vladimir,
and Dmitri Nabokov, Elena Sikorski and myself. The Vintage editions are
therefore the most accurate for the English translations of the Russian
fiction, and the Library of America editions for the English fiction and
Speak, Memory.

No editions of any of Nabokov's works have yet been prepared collating
published texts against manuscripts, typescripts, proofs and serial

Possible errors in Pale Fire that were either left unemended because
uncertain, or that I have noted after the Library of America editions
prepared, are, by page and line number of the first edition (asterisks
possible deliberate "errors"):

21.12: salad,] salad <noted by Tony Fazio>
*46, poem 370: chtonic] chthonic
58.poem 667: caterpillar] caterpillar,
*105.26: loosing] losing
187.03: confusely] confusedly
*194.06: Litt] Lit
204.07: 440] 445
231.2: 664] 662
237.23: boys] boys,
244.17: 747] 741
275.08: $11,000,000] "$11,000,000
301.06: principles] principals
308.13: S] S <italics>
308.15: S] S <italics>
314.07: K <italics>] K.
315.09: S] S <italics>

In relation to the last four, VN has been inconsistent throughout the
or has at best adopted two or three principles, but in fluctuating
"K." is thus (without italics) through most entries (s.v, for example,
Conmal, Mandevil, Odon, Oleg) but is "K" (italicized), as Gradus is "G"
Shade "S" (both italicized) in the long entries on Gradus, Kinbote and
Shade. But there are further exceptions ("K." becomes "K" italicized
consistently after all the "K" italicized in the Shade note).

Despite the index entry "K <italics>, see Charles II and Kinbote," the
romanized "K."/italicized "K" distinction might be explicable as
a distinction between "K[ing Charles II]" and "Kinbote." Since
except s.v. "Thurgus the Third" Charles II seems to be referred to in
abbreviation as "K.", I propose emending the "Thurgus" reference
(314.07) to
"K." It may be, however, that there is no consistent distinction:
it would be a mistake to emend, s.v. "Shade," "K's <italics> spectacular
arrival in the USA, 691" to "K.'s": the seamless flow of "K" as Kinbote
as King needs to be retained.

"Harebreath" is of couse a wonderful metaphor and pun, probably the
of a Zemblan idiom.

John Burt Foster proposes "chtonic" as Hazel's mispronunciation of
"chthonic" and although I feel less sure of this than he, this real
possibility is enough to preclude emendation.

Two general comments:

First, Mary Bellino's query reminds us that we have no textually
Nabokov editions (although the Library of America editions are easily
best currently available). But there are other priorities: to publish
unpublished and collected work, especially prose and interviews (which I
hope to do over the next year or so), the remaining lectures (mainly on
Russian poetry), and the remaining letters (several times the bulk of
letters published to date), and full-scale annotations to the existing
(the Library of America imposed a house style and severe space limits on
what I could annotate for their editions). The annotations might of
become part of a textually definitive (and bilingual) collected edition
would collate all known authorial versions.

Second, might I add once again that the multiple errors with numbers and
cross-references and consistency in Pale Fire, noted above and in the
edition, some caught by VN, most not, again stress how flimsy are the
grounds for reinterpreting what happens in the last third of Lolita on
more basis than a "November 16" for "November 19" confusion. VN was
exceptionally meticulous and careful but he still made errors. But one
he would never make would be to invite us to reinterpret a long novel
completely on the basis of a single typographic character.

Not even if he knew that a "bodkin" (note the correct spelling) is,
according to Webster's Third, " a compositor's sharp-pointed tool used
chiefly to push out a character from set type when making corrections."

-----Original Message-----
From: D. Barton Johnson
Sent: 1/04/2001 6:16 a.m.
Subject: Query: Best text of Pale Fire?

>From Mary Bellino (

Can anyone tell me which of the editions of _Pale Fire_ is the most
reliable textually? To judge by the brevity of Brian Boyd's apparatus to
the Library of America edition, it would seem that the original Putnam
edition wasn't particularly error-filled, but I'm wondering whether any
further collations have been done. In particular, there are two
misspellings on page 467 of the Library of America edition, "chtonic"
and "tryptich" (though the latter is spelled correctly on page 516, and
the former is spelled correctly in Boyd's own note) -- I'm not sure
whether these represent editorial decisions, genuine cruces, or mere
slips. If anyone has made a complete collation of one or more of the
editions with the ms (that is, VN's pencilled index cards at the Library
of Congress), I would appreciate hearing about it. Also, what is the
relationship of the text of the Vintage paperback (which I haven't seen)
to the earlier editions?

Many thanks,