Pale Fire. New York, 1962
Nabokov called Pale Fire's form "specifically, if not generically, new." "Generically," perhaps, it is his answer to the verse novel exemplified by Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Specifically, it is centered on the title poem, "Pale Fire," a 999-line verse, divided into four cantos, by the fictional deceased poet John Shade - in Nabokov's estimation, "by far the greatest of invented poets." The poem is introduced by the supposedly mad critic Charles Kinbote, in a foreword written in the spirit of Nabokov's own explanatory forewords. Kinbote also provides a 300-page "commentary" and index, which together recount the history of Zembla, "a distant Northern land."
Nabokov had been turning over various seeds of Pale Fire as early as 1939, but the form it was finally to take did not crystallize until 1960. When he submitted the poem, originally called "The Brink," to Esquire in 1961, he told editor Rust Hills that it was "racy and tricky, and unpleasant, and bizarre." (Esquire rejected the piece, as the magazine never published poetry.) The novel was published in April 1962, and by summer it was a best-seller, despite the complexity of the narrative and the fact that, according to Nabokov, "few reviewers realized what it was really about." Reviews were mixed, but Mary McCarthy's encomium in her New Republic review, "A Bolt from the Blue," eclipsed them all: she called it "one of the very great works of art of this century." Pale Fire, too, was nominated for but did not win the National Book Award.
American chronology of the Nabokovs, for Dmitri
Russia 1899-1919 | Europe 1919-1939 | U.S. 1940-1960 | Switzerland 1960-1977
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