PALE FIRE is a pastiche of parody, drawing from many sources. My particular focus has been Jungian archetypes and alchemy. Of course it is well known that the satirical poets of the 18th Century, Pope, Swift and Johnson comprise a major constituents in Nabokov’s “bursting spongebag” novel. They each made fun of the alchemy of the day. I admit to not knowing much about these men, so I’m doing some catch-up and discovering some interesting things that support my theories.
Pope’s Rape of the Lock:
>There is apparently a card game of “Ombre” structuring the plot. I have conjectured before that it seems a card game is taking place in PF, possibly Lansquenet, or Faro (as in Pushkin’s Queen of Spades). There are many references in PF to kings, queens, jacks, numbers, diamonds, hearts, clubs, spades. In a variant John Shade writes, “I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost a ‘man’ in Spanish.” The game Ombre comes from Spanish, Hombre.
>Bodkins (hair pins) play a crucial role.
>Elemental spirits play important roles in The Rape of the Lock. As Pope writes in his foreword:
“The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Criticks, to signify that Part which the Deities, Angels, or Daemons, are made to act in a Poem: For the ancient Poets are in one Respect like many modern Ladies: Let an Action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost Importance. These Machines I determin’d to raise on a very new and odd Foundation, the Rosicrucian Doctrine of Spirits.”
Pope is ridiculing Rosicrucianism, but the elemental spirits he mocks were first categorized and given names by the alchemist Paracelsus. These were: Air=Sylphs, Earth=Gnomes, Fire=Salamanders and Water=Undines. These categories include all the folkloric elves, fairies, kobolds, imps, nymphs, sprites etc. Elemental spirits can be either beneficent or malevolent, alluring or repulsive. Jung called them trickster figures. Jung’s anima/anima counter-sexual archetypes are often alluring and dangerous tricksters, as well.
PALE FIRE’s “machinery” is likewise abetted by elemental spirits:
Sylvia=Sylph: Paracelsus’ coinage comes from “sylvester” (woods) + “nymph.” She is a beneficent aerial and wood nymph; she shoots wolves from an airplane.
Gradus=Sylph: Although Gradus is stunted and ugly like a gnome and associated with the alchemical element Mercury (earth element), he also flies through the air and is a messenger and is associated with the Vanessa atalanta.
Vanessa atalanta=Sylph: The muse is an aerial spirit, a herald of doom, alluring but possibly malevolent.
Alfin=Sylph: He flies planes, therefore aerial. His name suggests “elfin.” He’s a fairly benign spirit.
Gerald Emerald=Gnome: The man in green is very leprechaun-ish; a fun-loving mischievous but alluring trickster (practical joker= card allusion). His Zemblan Shadow, Izumrudov displays his malevolent side.
Poltergeist (Maud)=Gnome: Poltergeists are mischievous to malevolent “household spirits” a.k.a “domestic ghosts.” Kobolds are often house-hold spirits.
Andrikov and Niagarin=Gnomes: The blundering soviet spies dig for treasure, like mining ore.
Odon=Undine: Kinbote’s clever aide-de camp is a merman. His Irish background suggests leprechauns. His brother Nodo, the card-shark is malevolently crafty.
Fleur=Undine: Fleur’s sensual enchantment (wasted on Kinbote) is the epitome of the alluring mermaid. The mermaid Melusine was one of the emblems of the alchemic mercury in its unredeemed (dangerously alluring) state. Melusine was often pictured admiring herself with a mirror and comb, as we see Fleur in C, 80:
“He awoke to find her standing with a comb in her hand before his - or rather, his
grandfather's - cheval glass, a triptych of bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror,signed with a diamond by its maker, Sudarg of Bokay. She turned about before it: a secret device of reflection gathered an infinite number of nudes in its depths, garlands of girls in graceful and sorrowful groups, diminishing in the limpid distance, or breaking into individual nymphs, some of whom, she murmured, must resemble her ancestors when they were young - little peasant garlien combing their hair in shallow water as far as the eye could reach, and then the wistful mermaid from an old tale, and then nothing.”
Oleg=Salamander: Salamanders are possibly equated with dragons, hence fire. The salamander’s cold body was believed to withstand fire, thus they could live within their element (as all the elementals do – but only their specific element). Light is associated with fire, so the torch light of Oleg’s ghost is an aid to Kinbote’s second tunnel visit.
The many sparks and scintillations in PF suggest the fire element.
Barn Spirit=Salamander: Hazel’s spirit in the barn is probably not the same as the poltergeist house-hold spirit; it communicates with light. (For this reason I think it is not a Sylph like Ariel in The Rape of the Lock, but no matter.) The heroine, Belinda is warned by the sylph Ariel about the soon ensuing travesty of the “dire offence”– the amorous Baron is seeking to snatch a lock of her hair:
But Heav’n reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warn’d by the Sylph, oh pious Maid, beware!
This is to disclose is all thy Guardian can.
Beware of all, but most beware of Man! (11-114)
I have always felt that the usual solution to the spirit in the barn’s message, “Papa do not go etc.” is too inelegant and too easy and is an intended feint. The above spirit warning would seem to make a lot more sense as a warning to Hazel. The Baron in The Rape of the Lock is based on the real personage of Lord Petre. In the mirror of PALE FIRE, the ardent Lord Petre becomes the repulsed Pete Dean. The desired and lovely Belinda (meaning “beautiful beautiful) becomes rejected Hazel.
Note also that Hazel and Fleur are opposite anima figures – repulsive and alluring. Fleur, like the mermaid she is, and like the lovely Belinda, is always combing her hair.
Enticingly, beginning with “oh” through “Man,” there are 81 letters. Leaving out “oh pious Maid, beware!” (17 letters), there are 64 remaining. This is very close to Hazel’s message; she recited the alphabet “eighty times, but of these seventeen yielded no results. Curiously the actual letters of the message only number 61, not 63. I have not been able to make it work, unfortunately, but maybe some genius puzzleer might.
I’m thinking that the number of letters might suggest similar syllables in 2 iambic lines – probably of Nabokov’s creation, but meaning much the same?