Pale Fire

Allusions and references

The first two lines of John Shade's 999-line poem, "Pale Fire", have become Nabokov's most quoted couplet:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure in the window pane

Like many of Nabokov's books, Pale Fire alludes to others. "Hurricane Lolita" is mentioned, and Pnin appears as a minor character. There are many resemblances to "Ultima Thule" and "Solus Rex",[48] two short stories by Nabokov intended to be the first two chapters of a novel in Russian that he never continued. The placename Thule appears in Pale Fire, as does the phrase solus rex (a chess problem in which Black has no pieces but the king).

The book is also full of references to culture, nature, and literature. They include:

  • Bobolink
  • Maud Bodkin
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Robert Browning, including "My Last Duchess" and Pippa Passes (inspired in a wood near Dulwich[49])
  • Cedar, including a colloquial American meaning, juniper[50]
  • Ben Chapman (baseball). Some have said the newspaper headline "Red Sox Beat Yanks 5–4 On Chapman's Homer" was genuine[51] and "[u]nearthed by Nabokov in the stacks of the Cornell Library",[52] but others have stated no such game occurred.[53][54] However, a different player, Sam Chapman of the Philadelphia Athletics, did hit a home run in the 9th inning on September 29, 1938, to defeat the Yankees, 5–4.[55]Another major league baseball player, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, was the only person killed in a Major League baseball game, dying after being stuck in the head by a baseball thrown by notorious spitballer Carl Mays. His death spearheaded a change in MLB rules, outlawing the spitball.[56]
  • Charles II of England
  • Charles VI of France, known as Charles the Well-Beloved and Charles the Mad[51]
  • Disa (orchid) and the butterflies Erebia disa and E. embla (which may lead to Disa and Embla[46])
  • T. S. Eliot and Four Quartets
  • "Der Erlkönig"
  • Thomas Flatman
  • Edsel Ford (poet) and the poem "The Image of Desire"[57]
  • Forever Amber[58]
  • Robert Frost and the poems "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and possibly "Of a Winter's Evening"[59]
  • Oliver Goldsmith
  • Gradus ad Parnassum
  • Gutnish
  • Thomas Hardy and the poem "Friends Beyond" (for the word "stillicide")[51]
  • Bret Harte and his character Colonel Starbottle[57]
  • Hebe and the poem "Vessenyaya Groza" ("Spring Thunderstorm") by Fyodor Tyutchev[60]
  • Sherlock Holmes and "The Adventure of the Empty House"[61]
  • A Hero of Our Time
  • A. E. Housman, including "To an Athlete Dying Young"
  • In Memoriam A.H.H.
  • Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde[49]
  • Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Boswell's Life of Johnson and Hodge
  • James Joyce
  • Kalevala
  • John Keats, including La Belle Dame Sans Merci[62]
  • The Konungs skuggsjá or Royal Mirror
  • Krummholz
  • Jean de La Fontaine and "The Ant and the Grasshopper" (or cicada)
  • Franklin Knight Lane
  • Angus McDiarmid or MacDiarmid, author of Striking and Picturesque Delineations...[63]
  • The Magi, including Balthasar and Melchior
  • Novaya Zemlya
  • Papilio nitra (now P. zelicaon nitra) and P. indra
  • Parthenocissus
  • Edgar Allan Poe and the poem "To One in Paradise" (for the phrase "Dim gulf")[51]
  • Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift
  • Marcel Proust
  • François Rabelais
  • The Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
  • Alberto Santos-Dumont
  • Walter Scott, including "Glenfilan, or, Lord Ronald's Coronach",[49] The Lady of the Lake, and The Pirate
  • Robert Southey
  • Speyeria diana and S. atlantis
  • Thormodus Torfaeus
  • Waxwing
  • Pierinae
  • Word golf
  • William Wordsworth, including the River Wye, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, including "Kubla Khan"
  • Lev Yashin, a "stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper"

See also The Ambidextrous Universe, a later book referencing Pale Fire which in turn triggered a reciprocal response in a subsequent Nabokov novel (Ada, 1969).


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