Matt Roth writes:
Thanks to John Morris for the kind words and for his comments.  John articulates something I have long thought but never managed to condense into actual words: "The story is about Charles Kinbote and John Shade, whatever else we may care to presume is "really" going on."  That is exactly right!  Even if we go so far as to say that Kinbote doesn't, within the "real" narrative, exist in flesh and blood, we can and do still enjoy his story of existence as if it were actual.  In the same way, we enjoy that farcical battle of wits between Gradus and Oswin Bretwit, or the scene at Joseph Lavender's villa, even though we know that in fact these scenes are figments of Kinbote's imagination.  The surface narrative, containing both New Wye and Zemblan incidents, maintains its own reality and can be enjoyed regardless of all our other theories about what's really happening. 
One more observation about Brian Boyd's observations. In his post from 1997 (when Brian still held to his purely Shadean theory) he mentioned two connections between the poem and commentary which he felt demanded an explanation.  One is the birthdates: "The dates (Shade, Kinbote and Gradus all share the same birthday, surely a strikingly gratuitous coincidence if it leads nowhere." The second is the botfly-fat fly coincidence: "Shade says he is "ready to become a floweret or a fat fly, but never to forget," and Kinbote and Botkin are each equated with fat flies."  I don't want to debate Brian Boyd's theory all over again, but I think it's worth mentioning that these coincidences are not, as far as I can see, explained very well by the theory that Hazel is inspiring both poem and commentary.  Indeed, the botfly-fat fly coincidence is wholly unexplained by that theory, unless of course Hazel also inspired Sybil to call Kinbote a botfly, but that seems to be pushing things too far.  On the other hand, if Kinbote is another personality of Shade, these coincidences are much more readily explained and even become "keys" to such a theory.


>>> On 4/2/2008 at 10:05 PM, in message <>, NABOKV-L <NABOKV-L@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:

Matt Roth's message was inexplicably garbled.  The second option for
dealing with VN's coincidences should read as follows:

2. We can say that they simply reveal VN's role as pattern-maker.  In
effect, all these coincidences are an analogy: Nabokov is to his
fictional characters and worlds as the cosmic game-players ("promoting
pawns / To ivory unicorns and ebon fauns") are to us.

John Morris writes in response to Matt:

           Matt Roth's excellent post has (among other perceptive
nailed the most pressing problem about Botkin/Kinbote, I think.  He
"If Kinbote can make up the exchanges in [the note to line 894] --and
events are impossible--then we should question the veracity of all
supposed interactions with residents of New Wye, including John and
But what happens if we do?

            The problem, in brief, is how much narrative is actually
if neither Kinbote nor Zembla can be presumed to exist.  We now have a
narrator so unreliable that we either believe nothing he says, or
selectively pick and choose which passages to accept or "correct" in
to support whatever theory we hold about the respective realities of
and "Professor Kinbote" in the world of Pale Fire.  Indeed, why should
radical Cartesian doubt stop with line 894, or interactions with New Wye

residents?  This skeptical road, once embarked upon, has no self-evident


           This is a tedious way to approach a novel.  Anything we say
about it now gets a footnote: "According to Botkin, who may be lying."
John Shade exist? Yes, according to Botkin, who may be lying.  Does
abscond with the text of Shade's poem?  Yes, according to Botkin, who
may be
lying.  And on and on.

           Can this really be the reading experience VN intended for us?

Imagine you are describing this wonderful novel to someone who has never

read it.  Do you begin, "The main characters are John Shade, an aging
and a Russian madman named Botkin who makes up this place called Zembla -

oh, and possibly Shade too; who knows?; he's crazy! - and then . . ."?
not even sure how that sentence would end, and I'm quite sure that none
us would so describe Pale Fire.  In VN's own occasional words about the
book, he always adopted what we might call a "surface-level reliability"

version; for instance, he speaks of  "the day on which Kinbote committed

suicide (and he certainly did, after putting the last touches to his
of the poem)." That is, even though he elsewhere states that Kinbote is
really Botkin, he sees no need to tack that on to this gloss of the
denouement, or to question whether Kinbote really headed for the hills
Shade's text.  The story is about Charles Kinbote and John Shade,
else we may care to presume is "really" going on.  V. Botkin isn't even
character in the book, in an important sense.

           Kinbote himself - irritating, pathetic, deluded, proud,
ultimately lovable - and his forever unreachable Onhava are what this
cherishes in the novel.  It's all very well to say that K is "really"
Botkin.  This may be a case in which "reality" (which for VN was "an
infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms.")
remain a footnote, in a very small font.

           Does this amount to "explaining less of the novel"?  Yes,
worries me too.  But it's a symptom of a deeper worry; to use Matt
phrase, I worry about how V. Botkin can be "wedged into" any narratively

satisfying scenario.  I'll be interested to see what others think.

J. Morris

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