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Writing "reality" : Vladimir Nabokov's Pale fire as the apotheosis of his memoiristic fiction Litchfield, Tennyson Scott


This thesis employs a synthesis of rhetorical and structuralist narratologies in order to theorise an approach to reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) in such a way as to emphasise the imagined “reality” implied by the text—which I argue is of great importance to Nabokov’s work—without impinging consideration of the artifice of the text, which has typically dominated critical discussion. In doing so, I frame Pale Fire as one of what Pekka Tammi has termed Nabokov’s “memoiristic fictions”: texts which fictively produce themselves within the world they imply. This allows for the avant-garde structure of the text (poem, annotations) to draw us as readers into the story-world rather than simply the mirror-play of the text’s fragmented artifice. As noted above, my approach, while emphasising the “reality” behind the artifice, does not denigrate the aesthetic elements of the text. Rather, I argue that the tensions between the voices of the text—which emerge at both the discourse and story levels—are the key elements of the experience of reading the text and should not be smoothed out by reading strategies which, through an over-emphasis on either “reality” or artifice (though usually the latter), seek to create a false unity in the text by somewhat negating the presence of the other. As my approach makes clear, reading Nabokov, and especially reading Pale Fire, the apotheosis of his memoiristic fiction, requires that we experience the text and the imagined “reality” it implies by allowing ourselves to feel, as it were, the aesthetic tensions within its fragmented artifice, but also the ethical tensions on the level of the story. We can neither access nor assess Nabokov’s ethical concerns without experiencing his story through the tensions of his aesthetic choices, but neither can we feel the full impact of these aesthetic choices without experiencing them through our consideration of the ethical situations at hand and the consequent tensions at the story level.

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