John Shade’s Duplicate Selves: An Alternative Shadean Theory of Pale Fire

Document Type


Publication Date



In the concluding section of Brian Boyd’s groundbreaking monograph, Nabokov’s Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery, 1 he writes that “there are many more discoveries to be made in Pale Fire: perhaps more direct or at least additional ways of reaching the same conclusions, or new consequences of these proposals” (254). This essay springs from the latter of Boyd’s possibilities—a new conclusion based in large part on the premises established by Boyd both in his Shadean reading of Pale Fire in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 2 (hereafter B1) and in the later monograph (B2), where Boyd recants much of his earlier argument. Boyd’s Shadean theory largely rests on the many connections between Shade’s world and Kinbote’s imaginary Zembla—a web of coincidences so vast and complex that, he asserts, they can only be the product of a single consciousness. In his revised theory, Boyd abandons the Shadean view—that John Shade wrote both poem and commentary—in order to assert that Hazel Shade’s ghost is responsible for the connections between the two worlds, while Shade’s ghost contributes the Gradus material to Kinbote’s commentary


Originally published as:

“John Shade’s Duplicate Selves: An Alternative Shadean Theory of Pale Fire.” Co-Authored with Tiffany DeRewal. Nabokov Online Journal (Vol. 3, 2009)