NABOKV-L post 0002662, Tue, 23 Dec 1997 10:02:37 -0800

: PF narrator? Nicol. Who invented whom--Brian et al (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Charles Nicol <>, one of the
"founding fathers" of the Nabokov Society and author of many VN essays,
offers his thoughts on the Shade/Kinbote problem

Brian wants some specifics as to why Shade didn't invent Kinbote,
and some explanations as to why the novel has such complicated
interlocking references if Shade did not. (Mary Bellino, in her
posting, had previously offered some suggestions about Kinbote's
"realities.") Let me try to reply to a few of Brian's arguments.
First, however, we need to remind ourselves that if Shade did
invent Kinbote and stage his own fictional death in order to produce
tension between his finished and unfinished poem, then he also
invented references to his own wife writing letters to Kinbote after
that fictional death; the morbid spectacle of various people arguing
over the manuscript; Kinbote arguing that he resembles Shade's
beloved daughter (a suicide whose memory one would be surprised to
find violated in such a way); Shade's forbidden trip to the liquor
store with Kinbote; and a certain amount of embarrassment to the
Judge who lives next door. The list is endless and seems
unnecessary to me.
As I said in my earlier posting, in my opinion the real question
is, how much of Kinbote's reality is borrowed from Shade's poem?
I believe the interlocking complexities can be explained as they
are--to me--clearly explained in the novel (with some help from Mary
McCarthy's initial review): Shade finds Kinbote insane but
interesting ("a fellow poet") because he invents his own Zemblan
reality; Kinbote is totally fascinated with his next-door neighbor,
and thoroughly documents his spying activities; when Jack Grey kills
Shade because of Shade's resemblance to the Judge, Kinbote steals the
poem, which he thinks is about Zembla, a subject on which he has
given Shade endless hints; the next day he reads the poem through
twice, first finding no discussion of Zembla, but the second time
asking "What was that dim distant music, those vestiges of color in
the air?" He has now discovered hints of his Zembla in "Pale Fire."
We should read this as follows: Kinbote has now adjusted his
imaginary Zembla to correspond more closely to Shade's poem. This is
where analysis should start.
Now I have to go through MY analysis of the first few lines; as I
said, I cringe when I see everybody else's, and Brian has every right
to do the same for mine.
As the beginning of the Index notes, there are "three main
characters in this work." Look at the THREE--not two--waxwings in
the first four lines of "Pale Fire" (I suspect that most of us on
this list could recite them by heart, but here they are anyway):

I was (1) the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was (2) the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
(3) Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.

Kinbote reads this and, seeing that Shade is obviously the dead bird
(represented here by the smudge of ashen fluff), decides that Grey
must be the Shadow, and his own land of mirrors, Zembla, is the
reflected sky. He goes on to lift from the poem whatever he can:
notably, Shade's description of Sybil as a young woman becomes his
own Disa.
I don't see any problems with Shade's speculations about the
nature of reality. Krug wonders about reality too, but he doesn't
write *Bend Sinister*. As to the title, "Pale Fire," notice that
Shade does borrow quotes in other works even though he suggests that
he does not; his biography of Pope is, if I remember correctly,
*Supremely Blest*. I always took "Pale Fire," in Shade's case, as a
kind of metafictional joke: if Shade is going to steal a title from
Shakespeare, then he is going to steal one that refers to the process
of stealing: the moon's a thief and steals her pale fire from the
sun. Again, I see no problem.
This seems to me to be a reading that explains the complexities
of the novel, and I would be happy to elaborate on it as my paper at
the Cornell Fest if that seems appropriate.

I forgot to mention what Patrick Nolan has recently reminded us:
Pnin exists in *Pale Fire* as well. How can Shade have invented
Pnin? Or, alternatively, how can Pnin be a real person? In Pnin's
own novel, Nabokov is a character; so it seems to me that to argue
that Shade created the world of *Pale Fire* is to argue that he must
have created not just Pnin but Nabokov as well.

Yr obedient savant,
Chaz Nicol