Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire

Pale Fire is a book like no other. Overshadowed by Lolita, Pale Fire is nevertheless Nabokov at the height of his powers: it comes right after Pnin, Lolita and a prose translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. But because of its unusual structure, Pale Fire is more often abandoned than finished, more often spoken about than read. Which means that a great, witty, mischievous work of literature remains virtually undiscovered. And yet Pale Fire’s greatest secret is that it is utterly delightful.

The novel is a playful link between Modern and Postmodern, which sets out to deceive but never cheat. It invites us to a discovery in a way that no other book does. It’s a ‘Jack-in-the-box, a Faberge gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem, an infernal machine, a trap to catch reviewers, a cat-and-mouse game, a do-it-yourself novel’ (Mary McCarthy, The New Republic, June 4, 1962).


  • Nine-week study
  • Recommended edition: Nabokov, V. Novels 1955 – 1962. ed Brian Boyd. (New York: The Library of America, 2014). ISBN: 978-1883011192 (see further edition notes below)

The facilitator will provide participants with pre-session reading material to help situate the reader in the novel. The facilitated discussion will use Pale Fire as a springboard for our conversation; we welcome participant questions, responses and ideas as we navigate the challenges of the work. There is no expectation of previous study or work with the poem nor in the academic tradition: this study will challenge and invigorate the first-time reader as well as the life-long lover of Vladimir Nabokov’s extraordinary prose.

Further Edition information:

Unfortunately there’s no annotated edition of Pale Fire, but the Library of America edition — with notes and minor error corrections — is the next best thing. The edition includes some other novels (Lolita, Pnin and the Lolita screenplay) but isn’t too unwieldy.

Nabokov, V. Novels 1955 – 1962. ed Brian Boyd. (New York: The Library of America, 2014). ISBN: 978-1883011192.

Really important: some other editions of the novel only contain the poem, which won’t do for our purposes. Salonistas need to take care to buy an edition containing the foreword, poem, commentary and index.

At a push, the Penguin Modern Classics edition is OK. (Page numbers won\’t matter too much because this edition includes the poem’s line numbers, and the commentary is grouped up according to line number.)

Nabokov, V. Pale Fire: Penguin Modern Classics. (London: Penguin, 2000). ISBN: 978-0141185262.

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.



Posted on

June 26, 2018