Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025116, Tue, 25 Feb 2014 15:16:06 -0300

n-rereadings of PF: dualities...
Reading again the very familiar opening lines of Pale Fire I noticed that a special feeling had escaped me until then. Although what I’m considering now must be familiar to a great many Nablers, I’ll set it down here as a stimulus for further discussions. I’m not a Shadean but this new reading apparently reinforces the Shade-authorship point of view.

In his opening verses John Shade isn’t only describing his experience of confronting Summer or Winter while looking out from the windows of his study, or establishing an analogy between his actual emotions and his recollection of a shattered waxwing, to indicate that at present he is also feeling shattered, hoping to avoid depression to be able to “live on” by writing a poem. Actually, he is also warning us that he is not only in his study but, by a play of mirrors, that he also finds himself outside, in a “crystal land” (Zembla?).*

The shades of blue he describes are very different during the day (mainly azure) and at night. Although the passages alternating light and dark, West and East, life and death, Summer and Winter are not subtle, their stark contrast was subdued for me so I didn’t notice that the poet makes “death,” at that moment, gain the upper hand, as if he were feeling dead to the world.

The fact that I never bothered to take sides, preferring the more naïf version that the novel PF was written by V.Nabokov who describes in it the “mental story” of two different characters (a poet, and a commentator/editor), this realization puzzled me. What was Shade’s intention when he describes his own dual nature?

Was he demonstrating how he felt trapped by his physical condition and how he only recovered life while standing outside himself in a mirror-land?

Was V.Nabokov laying a trap so that - instead of recognizing the he (John Shade), just like the independent Kinbote (or Prof. Botkin), is also “doubled” - the readers could be led to suppose that he and C.Kinbote are one and that it’s John Shade who invents Kinbote and Zembla?

There’s also the phantom third to consider in both cases. John is the shadow of a dead waxwing, he is its ashen fluff and its living reflection on a false azure sky (which would correspond to his finding himself in a crystal land and writing a poem). Charles Kinbote (or Botkin) is also Charles II, the Beloved and the assassin Gradus. I cannot figure out any correspondences here, despite CK’s effort to synchronize John Shade’s moving hand to Gradus’s progress.

When “night unites the viewer and the view” does Shade mean that he has finally managed to integrate his contrasting traits and emotions, or does it have a religious tinge related to IPH and a “return to the bosom of his Creator”?


*- Editing the lines for emphasis we read: “… And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate

Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:

Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass

Hang all the furniture [ ] …

As to make chair and bed exactly stand

Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

[ ] And then the gradual and dual blue

As night unites the viewer and the view…”

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