- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691089574
- ISBN-13: 978-0691089577
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nabokov's "Pale Fire": The Magic of Artistic Discovery Paperback – November 4, 2001
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Brian Boyd has already chronicled the life of Vladimir Nabokov in two superlative volumes, one devoted to the author's silver-age youth in Russia and the other to his American maturity. Now Boyd turns his attention to the great enchanter's trickiest and most unlikely triumph in Nabokov's Pale Fire. With its oddball structure--which shackles an epic poem in heroic couplets to an increasingly loony, enveloping commentary--this 1962 novel has always been a bone of contention among diehard fans. Some consider it less a work of art than a Rube Goldberg contraption, onto which Nabokov has brilliantly bolted his favorite motifs. Others call Pale Fire the author's true masterpiece, and Brian Boyd falls quite emphatically into the latter camp, arguing that the book is no mere satire on literary parasitism:
It is a reflection on the whole history of literature, on the shift from romance to realism, from the old kind of hero with whose glory the reader is invited to identify ... to the modern image of everyman as artist, the suburban Shade, in the modest circumstances of the real, coping with courage and self-control, with imagination, curiosity, tenderness, and kindness, with the fact of his mortality and his losses past and still to come.Boyd's study is at once a shrewd and eloquent guidebook to the intricacies of Pale Fire and a revisionist argument as to its meaning. After all, Nabokovians have spent the last three decades feuding over the ultimate authorship of this double-decker narrative: could the poet, John Shade, have created both the poem and commentary? Or should both be chalked up to that nutty exegete Charles Kinbote? As he wades into this factional war, Boyd can sometimes appear only nominally less insane than Kinbote. ("The prominence of the Shadean or Kinbotean or 'undecidable' readings had not gone unchallenged. D. Barton Johnson, attending to verbal and subverbal detail, stood largely outside the Shade-Kinbote opposition when he focused on the Botkin behind Kinbote." Help!) Yet his hypothesis--which involves a ghost feeding lines to the living like a posthumous Teleprompter--makes perfect sense. And it reminds us that for all Nabokov's vaunted irony and scientific passion, he was fascinated throughout his entire career by the afterlife. Volodya as theologian? Boyd is smart and persuasive enough to make the concept stick, and to send every last one of us back to Pale Fire--immediately. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Interest in Nabokov has been kept up in recent years by such work as Boyd's monumental two-volume biography and Stacy Schiff's V?ra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). These two new studies will only enhance interest in Nabokov for some time to come. Boyd's new book is an intensive examination of Nabokov's Pale FireAa book that many scholars consider his masterpiece, since it lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Boyd looks at these interpretations and offers his own insights, some of which have changed over the years. He argues that the genius of Pale Fire is that while it can be read easily in a straightforward manner, further readings reveal a multilayered story that promts the reader to dig for deeper meanings. Boyd skillfully peels away the layers of this novel in a feast of literary detective work. He recommends that one read the novel before taking on his book. On the other hand, one need not read any of Nabokov's work to prepare for Johnson and Coates's Nabokov's Blues. Though he had no formal training in biology, Nabokov became an acknowledged expert on BluesAa diverse group of Latin American butterflies. Here Johnson and Coates examine his butterfly studies in the context of recent scientific expeditions to South America. They succeed in presenting both a biographical and scientific study that brings new understanding to both Nabokov's writing and his place in science. Taken together, these books should keep the most ardent Nabokov reader busy for some time. Recommended for academic collections.ARonald Ratliff, Emporia P.L., KS
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Nabokov was a writer who celebrated the complexities in life. He looked for unexpected meanings in even the most banal details of existence and the test questions he set for his students were notoriously eccentric, e.g., Describe Madame Bovary's hairdo; What sort of paper covered the walls of Anna Karenina's bedroom? for Nabokov, God was a subtle being, but tremendously inventive and perhaps a little sly.
Nabokov believed that "the unraveling of a riddle is the purest and most basic act of the human mind." He probably would have loved this remarkable book, an attempt to unravel the riddles and hidden meanings Nabokov, himself, embedded in Pale Fire.
When Pale Fire first appeared in 1962, reviewers said, correctly, that it could be enjoyed without puzzling over its hidden meanings but that it obviously hid many levels of complexity. In a now-famous article, Mary McCarthy called Pale Fire "a jack-in-the-box, a Fabergé gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem, an infernal machine, a trap to catch reviewers..." But she also thought it was a thing of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth.
Even on a first reading of Pale Fire, we understand that Nabokov is playing a most elaborate literary game. Kinbote is hilariously mad, and his efforts to interpret Shade's poem as a commentary on Zemblan events can be seen as a satire of imaginative academics.
But Nabokov also scattered less obvious clues throughout the book. McCarthy decided that the "real" author of the commentary was yet another Zemblan who is barely mentioned, V. Botkin. And there are those who believe that Nabokov is telling us that John Shade didn't die but simply wrote the commentary under the name of Kinbote as a way of disappearing.
Boyd now interprets Nabokov's intentions in yet another way. He believes that both the poem and the commentary were inspired from beyond the grave as well as by Shakespeare's many ghosts.
Nabokov's Pale Fire is a monument to a brilliant scholar's persistent love affair with a book and its author. For more than three decades now, Boyd has made Pale Fire, and Nabokov, his obsession, much in the way that Nabokov, himself, was obsessed with butterflies. In 1990 and 1991, Boyd published his excellent two-volume biography of Nabokov and established himself as the world's premier Nabokovian.
Pale Fire, however, remained central to this thinking. When Boyd was asked to discuss Pale Fire on the Electronic Nabokov Discussion Forum, he discovered that his own views about this remarkable and original book were changing. Those views form the heart and soul of his own vibrant and energetic work. Even if we do not agree with all of his theories (and anything, at this point, must remain only a theory) we have to admire his scrupulous intelligence and dedication.
Boyd does not disdain eccentric flights of imagination. Nor is he afraid of being thought of as obsessive. There was a sweet madness in Nabokov, and quite obviously, Boyd has assimilated some of it, all to the good.
Nabokov's Pale Fire is more than a wonderful book; it is also a labor of love of the highest order. It can only enhance your understanding and love of both Nabokov and Pale Fire, and perhaps give you some insight into Boyd, himself.
I have read Pale Fire twice and still only feel that I am barely familiar with how the common household objects in the place Kinbote is housesitting helped to create that zany land of the north, Zembla.
I dont want to spoil some of the surprises in this book (Boyd has gone back on his stance of Shade being the author of both poem and commmentary which he supports in his biography of Nabokov). But let me just say that these surprises provoked me in the middle of long nights to exclaim "What is goint ON? " and pace around frantically.
A haunting question (and by the way the ghostly aspects of Pale Fire which i had only felt in a vague way are exposed by Boyd to be something richer than i would have ever imagined) is not only how much control Hazel Shade had over the commentary but also how much control Nabokov's playful shade is exerting upon Boyd. The reviewer below me is onto something.
Boyd brings to Pale Fire his thorough knowledge of Nabokov's other works - for example his thesis - anti-thesis description of chess in Speak Memory or that bizarre short story The Vane Sisters - and illustrates how they help to see into the mystery of some of Nab's more complex works.
After reading Pale Fire twice, I naively thought that i understood it (yes that Bodkin in the University was suspicious, and yes the existence of internation thug Gradus i had previosly questioned) but i was only approaching the intitial layerings of this beatifully layered world. Im not saying that i am necessarily convinced with all Boyd has to say, but he has dazzled me with his insights and made me fully realize that I am far from understanding fully this work of art. It is to Nabokov's supreme credit that he could create a world that seems as immense, varied, and impossible to appreciate fully enough as the one we live in everyday.
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Brian Boyd does a great job of infecting the reader with his enthusiasm for...Read more