Nabokov's "Pale Fire": The Magic of Artistic Discovery

Princeton University Press
4
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Pale Fire is regarded by many as Vladimir Nabokov's masterpiece. The novel has been hailed as one of the most striking early examples of postmodernism and has become a famous test case for theories about reading because of the apparent impossibility of deciding between several radically different interpretations. Does the book have two narrators, as it first appears, or one? How much is fantasy and how much is reality? Whose fantasy and whose reality are they? Brian Boyd, Nabokov's biographer and hitherto the foremost proponent of the idea that Pale Fire has one narrator, John Shade, now rejects this position and presents a new and startlingly different solution that will permanently shift the nature of critical debate on the novel. Boyd argues that the book does indeed have two narrators, Shade and Charles Kinbote, but reveals that Kinbote had some strange and highly surprising help in writing his sections. In light of this interpretation, Pale Fire now looks distinctly less postmodern--and more interesting than ever.

In presenting his arguments, Boyd shows how Nabokov designed Pale Fire for readers to make surprising discoveries on a first reading and even more surprising discoveries on subsequent readings by following carefully prepared clues within the novel. Boyd leads the reader step-by-step through the book, gradually revealing the profound relationship between Nabokov's ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, and metaphysics. If Nabokov has generously planned the novel to be accessible on a first reading and yet to incorporate successive vistas of surprise, Boyd argues, it is because he thinks a deep generosity lies behind the inexhaustibility, complexity, and mystery of the world. Boyd also shows how Nabokov's interest in discovery springs in part from his work as a scientist and scholar, and draws comparisons between the processes of readerly and scientific discovery.

This is a profound, provocative, and compelling reinterpretation of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

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About the author

Brian Boyd is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of the prize-winning Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (Princeton 1990), Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (Princeton 1991), and Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness. Referred to in a recent journal as "the great man of Nabokov studies," he has also edited Nabokov's English novels and autobiography for the Library of America and Nabokov's Butterflies for Beacon Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 15, 2001
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9781400823192
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / General
Literary Criticism / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Brian Boyd
At the age of twenty-one, Brian Boyd wrote an essay on Vladimir Nabokov that the author called "brilliant." In 1991, after gaining exclusive access to the writer's archives, he wrote a two-part, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, that has become standard reading. This collection features essays written by Boyd after completing Nabokov's biography, incorporating material he gleaned from his research as well as new discoveries and formulations. This volume forms the perfect companion for readers of Nabokov, approaching the author from a variety of angles and perspectives.

Boyd confronts Nabokov's life, career, and legacy; his art, science, and thought; his subtle humor and puzzle-like storytelling; his complex psychological portraits; and his inheritance from, reworking of, or affinities with Shakespeare, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Machado de Assis. Boyd offers new ways of reading Nabokov's best English-language work: Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and the unparalleled autobiography, Speak, Memory, and he discloses otherwise unknown information about the author's world. Sharing his personal reflections, Boyd recounts the adventures, hardships, and revelations of researching Nabokov's biography and his unusual finds in the archives, including materials still awaiting publication. The first to focus on Nabokov's metaphysics, Boyd in fact downplays their importance, instead emphasizing the author's humor, reinvention of narrative possibility, and psychological renderings of various characters to unlock the greater mysteries. Reading Nabokov as novelist, memoirist, poet, translator, scientist, and individual, Boyd further immortalizes his far-reaching, versatile talents.
Brian Boyd
This first major critical biography of Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest of twentieth-century writers, finally allows us full access to the dramatic details of his life and the depths of his art. An intensely private man, Nabokov was uprooted first by the Russian Revolution and then by World War II. Transformed into a permanent wanderer, he did not achieve fame until late in life, with the success of Lolita. In this first of two volumes, Brian Boyd vividly describes the liberal milieu of the aristocratic Nabokovs, their escape from Russia, Nabokov's education at Cambridge, and the murder of his father in Berlin. Boyd then turns to the years that Nabokov spent, impoverished, in Germany and France, until the coming of Hitler forced him to flee, with wife and son, to the United States. This volume stands on its own as a fascinating exploration of Nabokov's Russian years and Russian worlds, prerevolutionary and émigré.

In the course of his ten years' work on the biography, Boyd traveled along Nabokov's trail everywhere from Yalta to Palo Alto. The only scholar to have had free access to the Nabokov archives in Montreux and the Library of Congress, he also interviewed at length Nabokov's family and scores of his friends and associates.

For the general reader, Boyd offers an introduction to Nabokov the man, his works, and his world. For the specialist, he provides a basis for all future research on Nabokov's life and art, as he dates and describes the composition of all Nabokov's works, published and unpublished.

Boyd investigates Nabokov's relation to and his independence from his time, examines the special structures of his mind and thought, and explains the relations between his philosophy and his innovations of literary strategy and style. At the same time he provides succinct introductions to all the fiction, dramas, memoirs, and major verse; presents detailed analyses of the major books that break new ground for the scholar, while providing easy paths into the works for other readers; and shows the relationship between Nabokov's life and the themes and subjects of his art.

Brian Boyd
This first major critical biography of Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest of twentieth-century writers, finally allows us full access to the dramatic details of his life and the depths of his art. An intensely private man, Nabokov was uprooted first by the Russian Revolution and then by World War II. Transformed into a permanent wanderer, he did not achieve fame until late in life, with the success of Lolita. In this first of two volumes, Brian Boyd vividly describes the liberal milieu of the aristocratic Nabokovs, their escape from Russia, Nabokov's education at Cambridge, and the murder of his father in Berlin. Boyd then turns to the years that Nabokov spent, impoverished, in Germany and France, until the coming of Hitler forced him to flee, with wife and son, to the United States. This volume stands on its own as a fascinating exploration of Nabokov's Russian years and Russian worlds, prerevolutionary and émigré.

In the course of his ten years' work on the biography, Boyd traveled along Nabokov's trail everywhere from Yalta to Palo Alto. The only scholar to have had free access to the Nabokov archives in Montreux and the Library of Congress, he also interviewed at length Nabokov's family and scores of his friends and associates.

For the general reader, Boyd offers an introduction to Nabokov the man, his works, and his world. For the specialist, he provides a basis for all future research on Nabokov's life and art, as he dates and describes the composition of all Nabokov's works, published and unpublished.

Boyd investigates Nabokov's relation to and his independence from his time, examines the special structures of his mind and thought, and explains the relations between his philosophy and his innovations of literary strategy and style. At the same time he provides succinct introductions to all the fiction, dramas, memoirs, and major verse; presents detailed analyses of the major books that break new ground for the scholar, while providing easy paths into the works for other readers; and shows the relationship between Nabokov's life and the themes and subjects of his art.

Brian Boyd
At the age of twenty-one, Brian Boyd wrote an essay on Vladimir Nabokov that the author called "brilliant." In 1991, after gaining exclusive access to the writer's archives, he wrote a two-part, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, that has become standard reading. This collection features essays written by Boyd after completing Nabokov's biography, incorporating material he gleaned from his research as well as new discoveries and formulations. This volume forms the perfect companion for readers of Nabokov, approaching the author from a variety of angles and perspectives.

Boyd confronts Nabokov's life, career, and legacy; his art, science, and thought; his subtle humor and puzzle-like storytelling; his complex psychological portraits; and his inheritance from, reworking of, or affinities with Shakespeare, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Machado de Assis. Boyd offers new ways of reading Nabokov's best English-language work: Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and the unparalleled autobiography, Speak, Memory, and he discloses otherwise unknown information about the author's world. Sharing his personal reflections, Boyd recounts the adventures, hardships, and revelations of researching Nabokov's biography and his unusual finds in the archives, including materials still awaiting publication. The first to focus on Nabokov's metaphysics, Boyd in fact downplays their importance, instead emphasizing the author's humor, reinvention of narrative possibility, and psychological renderings of various characters to unlock the greater mysteries. Reading Nabokov as novelist, memoirist, poet, translator, scientist, and individual, Boyd further immortalizes his far-reaching, versatile talents.
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