I was a few pages deep into my Amazon recommended queue (an activity that I save specifically for reading days) and found something that really baffled me. There is a book by Nabokov–published posthumously–that I had never heard of. It’s called Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, and it is basically what the title suggests it is: Nabokov’s dream diary. He recorded his dreams on index cards right after waking up, in order to test “the theory that time may go in reverse, so that, paradoxically, a later event may generate an earlier dream.” I really wonder if Nabokov’s dreams are as deep and layered as his novels are.
“And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”
It is very interesting to me that Humbert ultimately believes that his novel is “the only immortality” he and Lolita will share. It’s true, to some degree, that Lolita provides a form of immortality for these characters. After all, the book has remained relevant years after its publication. But, we must ask ourselves, what is the price of Humbert and Lolita’s immortality? No doubt, loss of life is a steep cost, but Humbert the artist is more concerned with memorializing Lolita in her childlike form.
Attached is a link to an article arguing that Pale Fire is the best novel of the 20th century and one that suggests Pale Fire is in the midst of a cultural resurgence.
In the view of Ron Rosenbaum, the author of the first piece, what makes Pale Fire so brilliant is its communication with Shakespeare, specifically Hamlet, and its singular achievement of Shakespearean complexity. The second article notes Pale Fire’s presence in two recent movies, Blade Runner 2049 and Unsane.
A meta-arc concerning reflection appears to be running through both these pieces. While “The Novel of the Century” is preoccupied with Pale Fire‘s reflection of the foremost author in the English language, the Boston Globe article notes the novel’s reverberating reflections through contemporary culture.
Could Pale Fire be thought to function as a timeless reflector or mirror of literary history? If so, does it deserve to be termed the best novel possibly not just of the twentieth century, but of recent history, despite the subjectivity and arbitrariness necessarily associated with such distinctions?
The Novel of the Century: Nabokov’s Pale Fire
“Where were the battlements of my sunset castle? Where was Zembla the Fair? Where her spine of mountains? Where her long thrill through the mist? And my lovely flower boys, and the spectrum of the stained windows, and the Black Rose Paladins, and the whole marvelous tale? Nothing of it was there! The complex contribution I had been pressing upon him with a hypnotist’s patience and a lover’s urge was simply not there. Oh, but I cannot express the agony! Instead of the wild glorious romance—what did I have?”
“Laughing in sheer relief, I embraced my good Netochka, telling him I would never be naughty again. I take this opportunity to salute him. He always behaved with such exquisite courtesy toward me that I sometimes wondered if he did not suspect what Shade suspected, and what only three people (two trustees and the president of the college) definitely knew.”
“Without consulting each other, the young Prince and his friend veered in absurd panic and, with the pedometer beating wildly, raced back the way they had come. “Ouf!” said Oleg once the last shelf had been replaced. “You’re all chalky behind,” said the young Prince as they swung upstairs. They found Beauchamp and Campbell ending their game in a draw. It was near dinner time. The two lads were told to wash their hands. The recent thrill of adventure had been superseded already by another sort of excitement. They locked themselves up. The tap ran unheeded. Both were in a manly state and moaning like doves.”
Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of incest or secondary homosexual complications.
She wore on the second day of their ridiculous cohabitation nothing except a kind of buttonless and sleeveless pajama top. The sight of her four bare limbs and three mousepits (Zemblan anatomy) irritated him, and while pacing about and pondering his coronation speech, he would toss towards her, without looking, her shorts or a terrycloth robe.
And beyond the vestibule of his vigil (here he began falling asleep), in the dark cold gallery, lying all over the painted marble and piled three or four deep against the locked door, some dozing, some whimpering, were his new boy pages, a whole mountain of gift boys from Troth, and Tuscany, and Albanoland.
- What even is a mousepit?
- Quoting shade’s line 80: “Here was my bed, now reserved for guests”. Ambiguous?
Like a boomerang flung out into the shade,
Returning as if a full-circuit’s been made,
We aborted our trip before totally aware,
That a prowler was stalking outside his lair,
Full of himself like some demented potion,
He made it his mission to cross the ocean,
And all we could do was to sit and wait,
While pale fires burned out our fate.
“Like a boomerang flung out into the shade,”
The poet uses simile to envision the young king propelled out of his kingdom to land fortuitously as his neighbor in New Wye.
“Full of himself like some demented potion,”
The assassin as narcissist equal in power to a witch’s brew.
“While pale fires burned out our fate.”
Reference to the imagery of the Immortal Bard is imperative as a tip of the hat to end the ultimate canto of Shade’s brilliant tour de force.
“We have been married forty years. At least
Four thousand times your pillow has been creased
By our two heads. Four hundred thousand times
The tall clock with the hoarse Westminster chimes
Has marked our common hour. How many more
Free calendars shall grace the kitchen door?” (280)
Note to lines 275-280:
A draft of this stanza appeared on a notecard that I saw through Shade’s illuminated window one evening. However, upon opening the envelope in my forest hideaway, I discovered that the notecard was not present. It’s likely that Mrs. Shade, the great censor, forced John to destroy it. I reproduce it from memory here.
We have been married forty years. At least
Four thousand times your pillow has been creased
By our two heads. But wax and waned the moon,
Each night I hear cries of the loon,
It flaps and shifts its wing,
And believes that it is king
We see here an obvious reference to Zembla’s national bird, the majestic loon. How happy am I to see that Shade has been listening! His reference to the king must be related to the most fascinating scholarly article about chess that I saw him reading two weeks and three days ago.
When King Charles fails to consummate his heterosexual marriage, Queen Disa “read books, found out all about our manly Zemblan customs” (208). This implies that homosexuality is a norm in Zembla. Also, by describing homosexuality as “manly,” Nabokov is defying the common stereotype that says gay men are effeminate.