Most grateful for the reminder, JF. I also intended to comment on James Twiggs’ revelation (to me) that Cornell, as the plausible campus for Pale Fire,  was far from the rural backwoods one often imagines from the novel. It leads me to re-examine the dynamics of how Shade, Kinbote/Botkin interact over the Zembla myths. I have in mind a similar (but different, of course) situation at Oxford as Tolkien started spinning his Hobbit Legends (as early as 1937; later full-blown in The Lord of the Rings, 1954). The Middle-Earth inhabitants would be the subject of serious mock-donnish hilarity (at Inklings meetings with C S Lewis et al),  with much playful etymologizing (pseudo-Anglo-Saxon rather than invented Zemblan). Everyone shared the joke in private. With such a background in mind, it becomes difficult (impossible?) to claim that some Tolkienists were madder than others in confusing fact and myth.

Briefly browsing for Lord of the Rings/Pale Fire links, reveals a devoted Tolkien fan club. Members never pause to deny the reality of Sméagol’s attack on Déagol, though they argue endlessly over his motivation. I haven’t found any direct links between Tolkien and VN (of which there must be many a-lurking), but one Hobbit-believer ends his posting with two treasured pearls

Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form -- Vladimir Nabokov

Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -- Gustave Flaubert

On 01/11/2010 05:21, "Jerry Friedman" <jerryfriedman1@GMAIL.COM> wrote:

I hope I may be forgiven for going back to two posts from over a month ago that I've been wanting to reply to.

Jerry Friedman

On Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 8:17 AM, James Twiggs <> wrote:

Incidentally, don’t be misled by the rural setting into thinking the Cornell of Nabokov’s time was a “backwoods” university in any other sense. After all, VN taught there, as did the distinguished critic M.H. Abrams. The philosophy department, in which I studied, boasted Max Black and Norman Malcolm, whose well-known students include William Gass and Thomas Nagel. In 1949, Wittgenstein visited Malcolm and, though in poor health, made himself available for discussions with both faculty and students. The anthropology and Asian-studies programs were very strong as well . . . And so on.

Let's not forget physics!
But the main point I want to make is that although we, as readers of VN’s novel, can see just how mad Botkin/Kinbote is, this would not necessarily have been so clear to his colleagues. As someone suggested a few weeks ago (I think it was Jerry Friedman), the Zembla story may have started out modestly enough--as an obsession shared, at first, only with Shade. The delusion may then have grown progressively worse and may not have bloomed into final form till Botkin started writing the Commentary.

I did say that the Zembla story may have grown and changed, and that Shade may have been the first to know about it by a significant amount of time, but not the quite plausible detail that I think you've added.


By the way, why is it so seldom mentioned that Shade, in his obsession with the afterlife, is a bit on the batty side himself and that Sybil is something of a shrew?

As Kinbote shows her to us, anyway.

Jim Twiggs

From: Matthew Roth <MRoth@MESSIAH.EDU>

Some may argue that since Kinbote has concocted this scene well after end of the semester, he has simply replaced his memory of teaching Scandinavian languages with a false memory of teaching Zemblan. But once we accept this as a solution, Kinbote's New Wye narrative becomes a house of cards--we have no way of knowing what really happened and what has been replaced ex post facto--or all is allowed, and we can pick and choose to suit our interpretive needs.

Priscilla Meyer and Jeff Hoffman wrote, "The glimmerings of another existence
beyond our own may occasionally be discerned in nature, in fate's workings,
and in art; the puzzles and rich referentiality of Nabokov's texts are designed
to send the reader on a quest for the transcendent. The artist in his work
mimics the Creator and his creation; both provide clues and a method of
inquiry that can reward the quester with the discovery of a world beyond our
own, beyond the 'real', a word Nabokov said must always be used with
quotation marks.

"Pale Fire is structured on the idea that reality has an infinite succession
of false bottoms. The Danish material, almost invisibly embedded in
Nabokov's novel, provides a rich illustration of the principle...."
To reorganize this in a way that the authors may not have meant, the New Wye narrative may be one of those false bottoms, as may other "real stories" supposed to lie beneath it, and Nabokov may have meant this series of false bottoms to lead the quester to a vision of a world beyond our own.

Thanks to Jansy for mentioning that fascinating essay, which I finally read at

Another Botkin problem: if Kinbote is an alternative personality of V. Botkin, why is he so clearly a mirror opposite (and sometimes analog) of John Shade? The Shade/Kinbote dichotomy includes the following oppostitions and analogs, though I may be missing some things:

Those are interesting, and I can't cast any doubt on them (except the usual that they're all according to Kinbote), but Nabokov could simply be giving his main characters some enjoyable contrasts.  After all, the revelation of the characters is the center of this novel of reflections.  (Really?)  Nabokov wrote, possibly overstating a bit, "I think it is a perfectly straightforward novel. The clearest revelation of personality is to be found in the creative work in which a given individual indulges. Here the poet is revealed by his poetry; the commentator by his commentary."


Nominal Christian and nominal atheist.  But I think Nabokov needs this to build on the theme of the afterlife in the poem.
live across the lane from one another

They have to be neighbors somehow, and I don't see anything mirror-image about their houses, which as far as I can tell don't face each other.
all of the echoes that go back and forth between poem and commentary (see PFMAD, chapter 8).
born on the same day,

According to Kinbote, who I don't trust.  He could have been imitating Shade or trying to embarrass Sybil.
wives resemble each other,

Kinbote tells us his imaginary wife resembles the description of Sybil.  I see this as evidence that his delusion is being influenced by the poem.

came to New Wye at same time as John Shade's attack,

According to Kinbote.  This version doesn't leave much room for Botkin to teach in "another department" at Wordsmith.
both seem to be experts on Pope, etc...

It seems reasonable that Kinbote, idolizing his new neighbor, would read Shade's book.
It would make sense were Kinbote the opposite or analog of Botkin, but all of these relationships that should connect Kinbote to Botkin instead connect him to John Shade.

There are perhaps hints that Botkin is clean-shaven (Kinbote hasn't shaved in over a year, but that might mean he used to shave) and heterosexual (as people have been discussing).
Why? I do not doubt the thetic solution--that Kinbote=Botkin--but I don't think we can be satisfied with it, either.
Matt Roth

I don't either--it's another false bottom.
I forgot to add one more important connection between Shade and Kinbote/Botkin. While Kinbote imagines himself to be King Charles on the lam, Shade twice imagines himself as royalty in "Pale Fire" (l. 605 & l.894). In the second of these (Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed) he uses a dissociated perspective to imagine himself both as a king and as the victim of an assassin--the exact scenario envisioned by Kinbote. Surely VN wanted us to notice the coincidence. We then must ask why, and to what end.

Maybe to suggest that Kinbote's delusions did have some effect on Shade and the poem (which Kinbote may or may not notice).  Or, maybe more contrived, to prompt Kinbote's delusions if they didn't start till after he read the poem.
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