Parody in Pale fire : a re-reading of Boswell's Life of Johnson

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Matthew Charles Evans Morris (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
James E. Evans

Abstract: This study explores Vladimir Nabokov's parody, in his 1962 novel Pale Fire, of Boswell's Life of Johnson. I attempt to show that Nabokov's numerous parodic references to Boswell's work in Pale Fire perform two significant functions. Like all of the parodies in Nabokov's novels, the Boswell allusions help give Nabokov's own book a sense of defintion or identity; by placing his own work in the context of another, earlier work, Nabokov's individual artistic concerns come into focus. His highly allusive novels, composed largely of pastiches of parody, thus are not created simply for pedantic purposes, i.e. to show to the reader how many books the well-read Nabokov digested throughout his life, but instead help him to combat Harold Bloom's anxiety impulse, the fear that any modern artist must somehow surmount when faced with the legions of dead strong poets and thinkers who came before him. Parody also sends Nabokov's readers back to the original sources, helping them to re-read older texts, in new ways. Through the prism of his parody, Nabokov also revives moribund genres, books and plays for his readers, providing insights into them that might not be possible in the context of a strictly scholarly exercise. As I will show, the close reader of Pale Fire will, in addition to feeling the force of the authorial identity Nabokov has established for himself in his own book, also develop an intricate understanding of the controversies surrounding highly subjective books such as The Life of Johnson, and come to look at the works parodied in Nabokov's novel in a different light. Newer novels can thus inform readings of older texts, helping the reader to re-read the older works in important, new ways.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1996
Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, $d 1899-1977. $t Pale fire
Boswell, James, $d 1740-1795. $t Life of Samuel Johnson

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