Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023651, Sun, 10 Feb 2013 10:34:02 -0200

Facts in Fiction: The New York Times in Pale Fire
An off-List exchange with a friend (who works on an original idea concerning the importance of Botkin ) stimulated me to investigate how many ascertainable facts omniscient Kinbote inserted in his report about his creature, Gradus, or "Jacques d'Argus - or Jack Grey, for that matter (let us not forget Jack Grey!)." *
We learn that a "formidable thunderstorm had greeted Gradus in New York on the night of his arrival from Paris (Monday, July 20)." and that, on the next day, he "began with the day's copy of The New York Times. His lips moving like wrestling worms, he read about all kinds of things. Hrushchov (whom they spelled "Khrushchev") had abruptly put off a visit to Scandinavia and was to visit Zembla instead (here I tune in: "Vï nazïvaete sebya zemblerami, you call yourselves Zemblans, a ya vas nazïvayu zemlyakami, and I call you fellow countrymen!" Laughter and applause). The United States was about to launch its first atom-driven merchant ship (just to annoy the Ruskers, of course. J.G.). Last night, in Newark, an apartment house at 555 South Street was hit by a thunderbolt that smashed a TV set and injured two people watching an actress lost in a violent studio storm (those tormented spirits are terrible! C.X.K. teste J.S.). The Rachel Jewelry Company in Brooklyn advertised in agate type for a jewelry polisher who "must have experience on costume jewelry" (oh, Degré had!). The Helman brothers said they had assisted in the negotiations for the placement of a sizable note: $11,000,000, Decker Glass Manufacturing Company, Inc., note due July 1, 1979," and Gradus, grown young again, reread this twice, with the background gray thought, perhaps, that he would be sixty-four four days after that (no comment). On another bench he found a Monday issue of the same newspaper. During a visit to a museum in Whitehorse (Gradus kicked at a pigeon that came too near), the Queen of England walked to a corner of the White Animals Room, removed her right glove and, with her back turned to several evidently observant people, rubbed her forehead and one of her eyes. A pro-Red revolt had erupted in Iraq. Asked about the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum, Carl Sandburg, a poet, replied, and I quote: "They make their appeal on the highest of intellectual levels." A hack reviewer of new books for tourists, reviewing his own tour through Norway, said that the fjords were too famous to need (his) description, and that all Scandinavians loved flowers. And at a picnic for international children a Zemblan moppet cried to her Japanese friend: Ufgut, ufgut, velkam ut Semblerland! (Adieu, adieu, till we meet in Zembla!) I confess it has been a wonderful game - this looking up in the WUL of various ephemerides over the shadow of a padded shoulder.Jacques d'Argus looked for a twentieth time at his watch. He strolled like a pigeon with his hands behind him. " (Pigeon-walking with "his hands behind him" is a curious image that reminded me of Humbert's verses in Lolita about squirrels, rabbits, ending with "The snake when he walks holds his hands in his pockets...". A little before observing G's movements, CK had him kick a pigeon ...)

Compare with S.Bachner's references:

Wiscari, "Kruschchev Calls Off Plan for a Visit to Scandinavia" New York Times, July 21,1959, A1

New York Times July 20,1959; Prescott, "Books of the Times," The New York Times, July 20,1959,23. Also among the items that appear largely unchanged is a quote from Carl Sandburg about the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum and the headline "Iraqi Red Revolt and Army Mutiny Erupt at Kirku," New York Times, July 20, 1959,10.

"Thirty Childen Join Picnic of Nations," New York Times, July 20, 1959, 12; Upset Stomach Troubles Queen...

Kinbote's embelishments that insert Zembla into the international landscape are easy to spot. VN's criticism of lack of attention to detail, while describing a hack reviewer of books for tourists in Norway, makes a "cameo appearance" (?)


* I relied on the information obtained on line, related to Sally Bachner's book The Prestige of Violence: American Fiction,1962-2007

University of Geoergia Press, Athens, Georgia 30602 2011. Sally Bachner's first chapter is dedicated to Nabokov's Zembla ( Pale Fire's Historical Violence). The information about the New York Times comes from her notes to the Introduction.

Cf. The Prestige of Violence: American Fiction, 1962-2007


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