I don’t want to recapitulate my whole argument, but may I just ask about one detail in Pale Fire which seems typically pointed and which no one else seems to account for?
Nabokov goes out of his way to introduce an allusion to Robert Browning’s Pippa Passes in the note on the Haunted Barn (Commentary 347). That it is not just an allusive play on words (“his little boy . . . pointed and remarked informatively, ‘Here Pappa pisses.’ Another, less pointless, story”)—that it is not pointless to Nabokov, although it is to Kinbote (his maker makes him include it, despite Kinbote’s thinking it pointless)—is indicated by the fact that this occurs at the edge of Dulwich Forest: Browning is said to have had his first flash of inspiration for Pippa Passes in Dulwich Wood (NPF 87-88).
Now Pippa Passes is about a young woman, Pippa, who influences four people in major ways without their recognizing it.
And this note shows Hazel obsessed with what she takes to be the ghostly light in the Haunted Barn. When the Shades visit, the light does not oblige. But Nabokov goes out of his way, again, to have Kinbote visit Jane Provost and get from her a typescript recording Hazel’s jottings from the barn (all highly improbable “realistically,” a fact deftly obscured by this master teller of great fairy tales), including the transcribed message
pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told.
Now we also know that both Vladimir and Vera Nabokov separately explained this as a message for “father not to go across the lane to Goldsworth’s where a tale from a foreign land will be told” (NPF 273-74n5). Since Hazel transcribes what she thinks the message the light dictates in 1956, three years before Shade’s death as he crosses the lane to Goldsworth’s house and meets his death, it seems evidence that the characters in the novel cannot see, but that we can see from outside the novel, that there is ghostly signalling to the living in the world of the novel, and that Kinbote, who wants to read the message as a foreshadowing of Hazel’s suicide, and who imagines a dramatized version of the fruitless visit of the Shades with Hazel to the barn that ends with his stage direction “Life is hopeless, afterlife heartless,” is, no surprise, thoroughly mistaken.
We also know, thanks to Gennady Barabtarlo, that the word atalanta, as in the butterfly Vanessa atalanta, recurs three times in this message--
pada ATA LANe pad noT go ld wArT ALAN Ther tAle feur far rAnT LANT Ant tal told
--a pattern we cannot unsee once seen. Again, we can only assume Nabokov went to some trouble to have this second resonance inside the first, and we can only assume that it links with the charged description of the Vanessa atalanta that flies around Shade, tugging at his sleeve, just after he writes line 999 and is taken by Kinbote across the lane to Goldsworth’s just before he is shot.
Now this same note also ends with a poem by Shade, “The Nature of Electricity,” where Shade playfully imagines ghosts as the forces behind electric lights: “And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole Town with innumerable lights,” and streetlight number 999, perhaps, “is an old friend of mine.” Shade writes a 999-line poem with a title drawn from Shakespeare’s phrase about the moon, our biggest night light, snatching her “pale fire” from the sun; his home town has all the trees in Shakespeare along a famous avenue, and Kinbote, who does not know where “pale fire” comes from in Shakespeare, reports Charles II escaping by an underground passage with insistent underworld overtones that goes under Coriolanus Lane (“lane” being the last word of “Pale Fire”) and Timon Alley (Timon of Athens being the play in which the phrase “pale fire” occurs).
Nabokov has exerted the full resources of his imagination to coordinate such things: the uninterpreted message from a ghostly light in the haunted barn; Shade’s writing a poem about ghostly lights, including Shakespeare and a ghost in streetlamp 999; the underworld and Shakespeare in Onhava and the Shakespearean trees in New Wye; and the atalanta that visits Shade after he finishes 999 and unknowingly ignores the message in the haunted barn as he walks across the lane to his death.
Now why does Nabokov also link into this note on the Haunted Barn the allusion to Browning’s Pippa Passes and the doubled allusion there to inspiration (Browning getting his inspiration for the poem as he walks through Dulwich Forest, Pippa inspiring people who do not realize they have been inspired by her)?
Will it have nothing to do with the daughter whom Shade introduces into his poem by referring to “the phantom of my little daughter’s swing” and then by Sybil greeting “her ghost,” and who in this very note shows her own obsession with the ghostly, and actually records what we and the Nabokovs, but no mortal within the novel, can read as a prophetic ghostly message?
Kinbote, comically, although he imagines an Onhava with a Timon Alley, and a Charles the Beloved who carries a copy of Timon Afinsken through the underground-underworld passage to his escape, cannot recognize the source of the Shakespearean phrase “pale fire.” He also names for us, in the note (C.998) immediately following the extraordinary description of the atalanta flitting around Shade just moments before his death (C.993-995), the trees he recognizes in “the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare” (C.47-48). There are many kinds of trees in Shakespeare other than those Kinbote recognizes, but it is surely interesting that in this particular location he provides the evidence that he does not recognize the hazel that features in The Taming of the Shrew. (And that just after the initial mention of “the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare” in C.47-48 comes the phrase “the hint of a haze.”)
Nabokov takes great pains to allude externally and internally in elegant and pointed ways. Should we ignore these? Does he not seem to have thought recollections, patterns, hints and inferences part of the adventure of reading? Does finding surprises he has planted diminish the luminosity and numinousness? Not for me, even in the course of a first reading at sixteen; not now, more than forty years later, discovering new surprises as I write this, and leaving more I have just noticed for another time.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: from Ron Rosenbaum re Pale Firings Date: Fri, 6 Aug 2010 15:35:09 -0700 From: palefire30 <palefire30@YAHOO.COM> To: <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
Dear List Memebers,
Has anyone else noticed the contradictory logic of B. Boyd and his loyal defenders in regard to the role of Hazel Shade in <Pale Fire>?
On the one hand we are told by Jerry Friedman that Boyd never <really> argued for the role for the dead girl's ghost in wriiting/inspiring <Pale Fire> or "Pale Fire".
On the other hand we are told with unconvincing muse-ings such as that from R.S. Gwynn that, if in fact Boyd did so argue (as most would agree he did), he was right.
I agree with Jansy that they are wrong on both counts. I think the problem is that Boyd (and many others) are too eager to offer a "solution" to <Pale Fire> as if it were some crossword puzzle rather than a luminous numinous work of art.
|Search the archive||Contact the Editors||Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"|
|Visit Zembla||View Nabokv-L Policies||Manage subscription options|
All private editorial communications, without exception, are read by both co-editors.