NABOKV-L post 0002617, Sat, 13 Dec 1997 16:29:12 -0800

Re: Pale Fire (fwd)
I don't think there is one definitive explanation or truth to be found in
Pale Fire. Pale Fire is consciously enigmatic because as you said yourself,
one is never sure if Kinbote is a reliable source or not. Shade could have
truly existed but it is not certain because all the information the novel
provides us with has been filtered by the eccentric Kinbote. However, the
fact that the poem is written in such a wonderfully different style and
voice from the commentary, along with Kinbote's own reverence toward Shade,
leads us to want to believe Shade is actually a being outside of Kinbote's
mind. Your impression that Kinbote knew Shade is probably correct. It is
my own opinion, though, that Kinbote had very little contact with Shade but
wished they had been more intimate, and so, in his own warped mind he
created the fanciful scenarios in which he and Shade were great friends.
Also, there are only I think three instances of Kinbote actually interacting
with Shade in the novel. And, the interactions seem to involve Shade
politely dismissing Kinbote's advances toward him. It is a good assumption
that Zemblan probably doesn't exist but we're never really sure, especially
since Kinbote describes it geographically. However, Zemblan in russian
means "land" and there are other details which can be found that lead to the
conclusion that it is most likely a figment of Kinbote's deluded mind. If
we follow the assumption that Shade did exist and that he and Kinbote were
acquaitances, then the final scene where Shade dies is only difficult to
solve because of Kinbote's strange description of it. What happens is
basically that an insane man, one who presumably escaped from the mental
hospital Kinbote himself attended some time earlier, locates Kinbote at his
new home and goes for a visit. However, when "Gradus" arrives he sees
Shade, who reminds him of the judge who put him away, and he kills him. The
problem with any interpretation however, is that Kinbote has all the control
in this case, since every other voice in Pale Fire depends on him. He can
manipulate whatever he likes.
It is my own opinion that Nabokov used this novel didactically to
demonstrate both how to utterly remove an author from his own novel and to
make his own commentary on literary criticism. We must ask ourselves
whether there is actually an author to Pale Fire. There is some evidence of
Nabokovian qualities but for the majority of the novel he vanishes himself.
Also, Pale fire is a commentary on criticism because it forces us to examine
our views of critical literature. Is Kinbote's interpretation of Pale Fire
wrong? I would say yes, but it makes one wonder why it is wrong. I think
Nabokov sat down and wrote the poem Pale fire, then he left it alone for a
while. When he returned, I think he conceived of the nutty Dr. Kinbote and
how an insane man would interpret a poem. He then proceeded to allow
Kinbote to completely use the poem in a self-serving manner and also to
construct a commentary which had only a tenuous basis in reality but which
was absurdly fantastic. But then again, who knows?


Paul Cantagallo
Currier House Box #119
64 Linnaean St.
Cambridge, MA 02138