Want to learn about Vladimir Nabokov by taking classes from Professor Brian Boyd, the world's most important Nabokov scholar? All you have to do is move to New Zealand and enroll at the University of Auckland (pictured).
This week, we cover about 15 pages, in my paperback, pages 61 through 76. In any edition, we are going from the discussion of line 62 to the discussions of lines 120-121.
When Oz Fritz began reading Pale Fire, he suggested that "this novel will have a bardoesque aspect to it," and explained that bardo spaces are "spaces that convey the mood of death or the bardo." (See the comments in the post for the first week.)
Oz has been developing his theory that Pale Fire is "a classic of esoteric communication" (see the comments for last week's entry), but this time I want to go back to his earlier remark about death haunting the novel. We have yet to even come to John Shade's death, but I certainly think Nabokov's novel includes a sense that death can strike at any time. The poem Pale Fire is dominated by the suicide of the poet's daughter, and the passage that we cover this week is largely concerned with two sudden deaths: The farcical yet tragic death of the king's father in an airplane crash, just as onlookers have seen him "raise one arm in triumph and reassurance" after pulling his plane out of an apparently uncontrollable dive, and the sudden death of the king's mother, who was ill but had been "much better on the day before."
And in the beginning of this week's passage, the narrator describes his night terrors, haunted by "how given to regicide Zemblans are."
The careful reader cannot help but notice that the literary commentator must be the exiled king; how else could he know so much about the king's life?
But is that all to the story? In his introduction to Nabokov's Pale Fire, Brian Boyd quotes the observation by Martin Amis that Nabokov, whatever else he is doing, "spins a jolly good yarn, with believable characters, a strong story-line, and vivid, humorous prose ... He does all the usual things better than anybody else." Boyd them observes that in a first reading, the reader can make out important elements of the plot, including figuring out the link between Professor Kinbote and King Charles II. (An aside, Martin Amis is himself is pretty great when he's at his best. See, for example, Money: A Suicide Note.)
But for Boyd, and Nabokov, part of the pleasure of reading is teasing out more. Boyd quotes Nabokov as telling his students at Cornell that "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader."
It seems too early to discuss any spoilers, but Boyd says there are four major interpretations about what "is" "really" going on in the book, and that he himself changed his mind, coming to a new interpretation that "contradicts all the others."