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MonkeyNotes-Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Some of Nabokov's books have been quite controversial. His sense of humor is sometimes misunderstood and often criticized. His characters are often "wacky," frequently "deeply disturbed." He investigates the minds of people who live on the edge. Nabokov's subject matter has also been considered daring. Lolita develops the sexual relationship between a step father and his step daughter; it is still banned from several libraries in the United States.

Pale Fire is a period piece, depicting a particular view of middle America in mid-century. By placing a deposed "European king" in upper-middle-class New England, he has a chance to expose the quiet and strained life of pseudo-intellectuals and average poets. The fantastical, almost baroque, old-world of Zembla is sharply contrasted with the quiet dullness of the "new world," portrayed in a small New England college town. Because of the morality of mid-century, the homosexual antics of Charles are not explicit, merely alluded to. For example, the young king Charles and a school chum "coo like doves" together in a locked closet.


Many critics have commented on Nabokov's choice of the "scholarly writing" form to tell this story. Certainly in the late nineteen-fifties and early sixties, writers in the U.S. and Europe were playing with forms and experimenting with new types of presentation. Nabokov's choice of presentation in Pale Fire is clever, rather than radical. Throughout the text, he makes fun of old forms, particularly American poetry and scholarship. Since Nabokov was an accomplished poet himself, John Shade's poem, although bland, is also a remarkable and very well-crafted piece of writing, engaging several levels of meaning and even commenting on its own style.

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MonkeyNotes-Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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