“Pale Fire” and the Nabokov industry

I’ve been going through a Nabokov phase lately, finishing off all the novels I haven’t yet read, and planning on re-reading a few of the ones that I have. (Nabokov said that you couldn’t read great books, you could only re-read them.) So far, I’ve read “Despair”, “Invitation to a Beheading”, “The Enchanter”, and “Glory”. I’ve also been reading Brian Boyd’s excellent biography “Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years”. Anyone in the slightest bit interested in fiction and in the operations of prose style should read this exceptional author’s work. Luxuriously brilliant, funny and humane, Nabokov’s work is more than just an exploration of memory and consciousness; it uses art to force windows into a lost past. Through the sheer gorgeousness of his style, his love of language and his deft handling of the most startling imagery and metaphor, Nabokov manages to avoid sentiment or simple nostalgia, and even though his subject matter can seem forbidding and unpleasant, the virtues of his style patterns his subjects with grace and morality. The fact that Vladimir Nabokov never won the Nobel Prize (neither did Joyce, or Proust) should render the award ridiculous.

Recently, Nabokov’s reputation suffered a palpable hit with the posthumous publication of “The Original of Laura”, a work unfinished at the author’s death in 1977. It’s not particularly hard to see why the notes and drafts were worked up into an expensive hardback, despite the author’s wishes that they should be burned rather than published. I suppose in some ways, with its collation of Nabokov’s famous compositional index cards, the book gives an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how Nabokov worked, but it’s hard to think that a man who polished his work to such a jewel-like lustre would have been anything but  horrified to see his rough drafts on open view.

Now, an independent publishers in the USA are bringing out “Pale Fire” as a separate edition. No, not the novel “Pale Fire”, but the central poem within the novel, purportedly by “John Shade”, sans foreword, commentary and index by his (possibly demented) editor Charles Kinbote. The link can be found here:


And there’s an excellent article on the subject on Slate, here:


I shouldn’t think there’s much beyond the lure of filthy lucre at work here, but I have to say that the idea of the separate, unshackled “Pale Fire” appeals in some way, certainly far more than the pointless “The Original of Laura”. And, to concentrate purely on the aesthetics in a way in which Nabokov may have approved, the edition does look beautiful …


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