Your idea of breaking the students into groups is interesting,
but I wonder whether it would be effective to assign reading
strategies like that. If a student gets some momentum going
reading front to back, or following notes, can you stop that
and should you? Maybe instead you could start by raising those
possibilities and then ask students to report on how they read
One way to handle the wiki would be to alert students about
the correspondences in PF--for instance, explaining that
/izumrud/ means "emerald" in Russian--and then ask them for
contributions to a wiki, or if you can't get it set up,
for a class discussion that starts putting a "web of sense"
You could also try to get opinions after a first reading on
what the students think is "real". Is Kinbote really King
Charles? Did he invent Zembla? Who is Botkin? Did Kinbote
write any of the "variants"? In general, are any incidents
and characters the delusions or inventions of other characters?
Paper topics. (I see you probably don't need this, but I
couldn't help it.)
Find comments Nabokov made about PF. (Use the on-line index
to /Strong Opinions/ and search the archives of NABOKV-L.)
Do these statements affect your understanding of the novel?
Michael Wood called one of these statements "authorial
trespassing". Discuss the relationship between the author's
intentions, the author's statements, and the reader's
interpretations, supporting your views with reasoned arguments
and/or at least a glance at the enormous literature on this
Discuss a few of the smaller puzzles in the book. What
department does Kinbote teach in? Is there a "real story"
underlying Kinbote supposedly quoting a Zemblan version of
/Timon of Athens/? Why does Kinbote quote the minor poet
(Like George Shimanovich's suggestion but narrower.) Nabokov
has said that he gives some of his opinions to his "more
responsible characters", including Shade. Read /Strong
Opinions/ and note where Kinbote and Shade share their
creator's opinions and tastes and where they oppose them.
What does this tell you about K. and S.? You could address
whether either one is "poshliy". For the chance of an A+, do
the same with one or two of Nabokov's opinions that aren't
Wikipedia has a list of "intertextual" references in /Pale
Fire/. Track a few of these down and explain their
significance to the novel. For the chance of an A+, find
a reference that's not in the Wikipedia article and explain
its significance. (Slight extra credit for adding it to
Is "Pale Fire" a good or great poem? Support your answer
with specific examples and with what you've learned about
analyzing poetry. If it has defects when considered in
isolation, do they help it function in the entire novel?
Read one of the books or chapters on PF that proposes
a overall theory. (Your professor will provide you with
possibilities.) What is the evidence against the theory?
Can you find any evidence for it that the proponent
overlooked? What is your conclusion?
Nabokov has compared writing to composing chess problems,
and as Shade notes, a good chess problem can have only
one solution or "key". Is there a single key to /Pale Fire/?
Can you argue what it is or conjecture what it's related to?
Or is looking for a single key a bad way to read a possibly
puzzling novel, as some have said? If you take the latter
position, be specific about how searching for a key would
interfere with your enjoyment and understanding.
My conclusion: /Pale Fire/ must be harder to teach than
the physics I teach (though not necessarily more