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Pale Fire
Cover of Pale Fire
Pale Fire

In Pale Fire Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's self-styled Boswell, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

In Pale Fire Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's self-styled Boswell, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book INTRODUCUTION by Richard Rorty

    [WARNING: this Introduction not only gives away the plot of Pale Fire, but presumes to describe the reader's reactions in the course of a first reading of the book – reactions which will not occur if the Introduction is read first. The first-time reader may wish to postpone the Introduction until he or she has finished the Index.]

    The imagination, Wallace Stevens said, is the mind pressing back against reality. But it is in the interest of reality – that is to say, of the imagination of the dead – to insist that no further pressure is needed: that the imagination of the living can do nothing save reiterate lessons previously learned, instantiate previously known truths. Judicious reviewers must presuppose that nothing genuinely new can be written, for only on that assumption are they in a position to judge, and in no danger of being judged by, the book they are reviewing. Like the judicious reviewer, the common reader is made nervous by books that are insufficiently like the books he or she has read in the past.

    Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977) wrote books which were not much like anybody else's, and they rarely got good reviews. Most reviewers echoed Dr Johnson's dictum that nothing odd can last, and proceeded to diagnose Nabokov's oddities as signs of his egoistical disdain for reality, a disdain which cloaked his inability to imitate reality convincingly. Simon Raven, reviewing Pale Fire on its publication in 1962, said that it was 'not a novel, but a blueprint'. Saul Maloff's review explained that 'the novelist's immemorial purpose and justification' was 'to create a world', and that Nabokov had created only 'a constellation of elegant and marvelous bibelots, an art which is minor by definition'. Reviewer after reviewer conceded Nabokov's skill while deploring his self-indulgence, his delight in his own tricks – tricks which made clear his lack of respect for both reality and the common reader. Dwight Macdonald called Pale Fire 'unreadable', emphasized that Nabokov, even at his best, was 'minor', and urged that 'the technical exertions he [Nabokov] expends on the project are so obtrusive as to destroy any aesthetic pleasure on the reader's part'. Perturbed by the fact that Mary McCarthy had called Pale Fire 'a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth', Macdonald explained that both the novel and McCarthy's review were 'exercises in misplaced ingenuity'.

    Nabokov had no interest whatever in creating a world like the one to which Raven, Maloff and Macdonald were accustomed. 'We speak,' he once said, 'of one thing being like another thing, when what we are really craving to do is to describe something that is like nothing on earth.' It was just that craving which annoyed so many of the reviewers. To those who wish reality to be given the respect it takes as its due, such a craving is a sign of egotistic self-indulgence. 'Egotism' is reality's name for whatever calls attention to itself – whatever is odd, hard to understand, hard to follow. Those who respect reality, who are sure that it needs no further pressure, insist that what is worthwhile is already a part of reality, and merely needs to be accurately represented. What is not a part of reality is subjective, personal, idiosyncratic, silly, puerile, evanescent, not worth writing down. For reality is, to the respectful eye, the only legitimate authority. The poet's longing to exert pressure upon reality seems not only futile but morally dubious.

    Now, thirty years after the publication of Pale Fire, critics and literary...
About the Author-
  • Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

    The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.

    Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses--the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions--which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Reviews-
  • Mary McCarthy

    "This centaur work, half-poem, half-prose . . . is a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth. Pretending to be a curio, it cannot disguise the fact that it is one of the great works of art of this century."

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