Stanza/Commentary/Pale Fire Response Paper

“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.

Queerness in Pale Fire

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.

Using nouns creatively in Pnin

Throughout the novel, nouns are amended with an -ed ending and I believe turned into verbs or adjectives.

“a pair of spindly legs (now flanneled and crossed)” (7)
“in the middle of a landscaped campus, by ivied galleries” (9)
+ more

Other repetitions which I noticed were: clocks, authors (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov +others), changing residence

Chess Notation

I’m not an expert. My knowledge is entirely from Wikipedia. I had a difficult time finding which systems were used in the countries Luzhin played in during the 20th century. However, he mentions some things that I believe are consistent across systems. These are from the English Descriptive System, which was used in the 20th century and has now been replaced by Algebraic Chess Notation. e.p. (En passant), ch, +, ? can be appended to a move to indicate that it was a bad one. ! marks a good one. ++ is checkmate. Perhaps exclamation and questions marks hold some meaning in the story that is similar to their meaning in chess notation.


Self-portrayal in the Vane Sisters

I am confused about the mechanics of Sybil and Cynthia’s influence in the narrator’s life. The second through fourth paragraphs seem to indicate that Sybil and Cynthia have somehow emphasized objects in the physical realm in order to lead the narrator, “in a  series of trivial investigations” (619) to the information they wished to communicate. However the last paragraph, with its acrostic, seems to indicate that the sisters had controlled the narrator’s pen and/or thoughts. If they did control his pen in the last paragraph, it is reasonable to assume they had the power to influence content in the middle of the story. I am therefore confused as to why they allowed the narrator to portray them in such an unflattering manner. For instance, he describes Cynthia’s body odor as “the dullish, stalish, not particularly conspicuous but all-pervading and depressing emanation that her seldom bathed flesh spread from under weary perfumes and creams” (623). Ouch! I am surprised that women who care enough about their appearance to alter it with makeup might allow such descriptions to be written.

Perhaps I am giving Cynthia and Sybil’s postmortem abilities too much credit; maybe they are only sporadically able to cross the boundary between the living and the dead. Perhaps guilt and negative self-image caused Cynthia and Sybil to feel deserving of negative descriptions; after all, Sybil had an affair with a married man and Cynthia began the chain reaction that took D away from Sybil. Perhaps Sybil and Cynthia did have a hand in the narrator’s descriptions of them, and those sentences were the flattering version. In that case, what other omissions might have occurred?