Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025166, Fri, 7 Mar 2014 21:18:23 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] Escher in Pale Fire, the poem?

Carolyn Kunin: Thanks to Matt and Jansy for solving this one so quickly. [ ] It was the note at the beginning of the index stating that the three main characters were S, C and K that set me on the road to my solving of the riddle [ ] Whatever did happen to Gradus, by the way? [ ]he's but a figment of a figment.

Jansy Mello: You will be delighted to learn that the future novel “Pale Fire” was to be called, at first, “The Happy Atheist” and that our hero’s quest “involves some very sophisticated spiritualism” (“centered in the problem of heretofore and hereafter, and it is I may say beautifully solved”). There is no poem, though. Gradus is still a “Mr. Copinsay”

Writes V.Nabokov: “My main creature, an ex-king, is engaged throughout PALE FIRE in a certain quest…[ ]My story starts in Ultima Thule, an insular kingdom, where a palace intrigue and some assistance from Nova Zembla clear the way for a dull and savage revolution.” We even hear about President Kennedy having to “answer evasively …about the displaced personage.” He adds: “The book is regularly interrupted, without any logical or stylistic transition, right in the middle of a sentence (to be blandly continued a few lines further) by glimpses of an agent, a Mr. Copinsay, from Thule, whose job is to find and destroy the ex-king…” (letter to Jason Epstein, March 24, 1957)

The letters I did remember were written to Pyke Johnson, Jr. (August 16, 1959) “I have decided to postpone indefinitely the writing of PALE FIRE. The work has not been advancing… “ and to Rust Hills (from Prom. Des Anglais, Nice, March 23, 1961) “Yes, I do have that material for you, and since you are brave you might like to consider it. It is a narrative poem of 999 lines in four cantos supposed to be written by an American poet and scholar, one of the characters in my new novel, where it will be reproduced and annotated by a madman… If you want this poem despite its being rather racy and tricky, and unpleasant, and bizarre, I must ask you to publish all four cantos. The novel is going to take several more months to finish…”

In fact, in December 7,1961 the entire novel is ready and its typescript is mailed to his publisher in NY.

The index of D.Nabokov and M.J.Bruccoli’s edition of VN’s “Selected Letters 1940-1977” wasn’t a great help somehow. I should have consulted Brian Boyd’s AY first!

Still searching for VN’s vision of dead waxwings I came across a reference to both (the letter and the birds) by Abraham P. Socher published in “ Online Zembla”:

“In fact, Nabokov had been blocked in the composition of Pale Fire, and collecting bits of literary debris, from 1957 to 1960. A letter to his editor Jason Epstein in March, 1957, describes a work in which, as Brian Boyd notes in his indispensable biography, "there is still no Shade, no homosexual king, no poem, commentary, and index." A few months later, in October of the same year, Nabokov jotted down the following note on an index card: "Waxwings: knocking themselves out in full flight against the reflected world of our picture window. Leaving a little gray fluff on the pane." But it was not until much later that he seems to have realized that the observation might be a part of his novel- in-progress.

Shades of Frost: A Hidden Source for Nabokov's Pale Fire http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/socher.htm

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