Monday, February 19, 2018
Pale Fire online reading group, Week Six
Cover of January 1964 issue of Playboy magazine, which included an interview with Vladimir Nabokov.
This week: Commentary for Line 149 to Commentary to Line 181.
I read this particular section on my birthday, enjoying the sentences and the witticisms. There are so many good sentences in this book, and I particularly like this one: "I saw a world-famous old writer, bent under the incubus of literary honors and his own prolific mediocrity, arrive in a taxi out of the dim times of yore when Shade and he had been joint editors of a little review." (From the commentary to line 181).
Comments on some other bits:
Line 149 commentary: Kinbote seems to be repulsed by the sort of young women who delight most men and his artfully phrased repugnance is a recurring amusing motif in the novel: "A sleepy and sullen expression blurred whatever appeal her snub-nosed round face might have had for the local shepherds .... " Is it just me, or is the whole section about Garh an inversion of the old dirty jokes about the farmer's daughter?
Line 172, books and people: "Prof. Pnin....happily, Prof. Botkin..." Pnin is presumably a reference to Nabokov's novel, Pnin. Pay close attention to the references to Prof. Botkin.
Line 172, books and people: It seems to me that this is Nabokov speaking directly, under the guise of Shade -- the comments attributed to Shade sounds like the statements Nabokov made in his interview with Playboy magazine.
A couple of bits from the interview:
Nabokov: I think my favorite fact about myself is that I have never been dismayed by a critic’s bilge or bile, and have never once in my life asked or thanked a reviewer for a review.
Nabokov: To return to my lecturing days: I automatically gave low marks when a student used the dreadful phrase “sincere and simple”—“Flaubert writes with a style which is always simple and sincere”—under the impression that this was the greatest compliment payable to prose or poetry. When I struck the phrase out, which I did with such rage in my pencil that it ripped the paper, the student complained that this was what teachers had always taught him: “Art is simple, art is sincere.” Someday I must trace this vulgar absurdity to its source. A schoolmarm in Ohio? A progressive ass in New York? Because, of course, art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex.
"Art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex." The credo behind his most "complex" and "deceitful" novel, Pale Fire?