The Composition of Nabokov’s Pale Fire

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In a 1964 Playboy interview with Alvin Toffler (later collected in Strong Opinions), Vladimir Nabokov detailed his preferred method of composing novels, explaining “I do not go dutifully from one page to the next, in consecutive order, no, I pick out a bit here and a bit there, till I have filled all the gaps on paper. This is why I like writing my stories and novels on index cards, numbering them later when the whole set is complete” (SO 32). The purpose of this study is to bring to light some of the substantive and interesting features of the holograph manuscript (and subsequent, pre-publication revisions) of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, first published by G.P. Puntam’s Sons in 1962. The holograph manuscript, consistent with Nabokov’s description of his writing process, is composed of 1092 individually numbered index cards and resides in the Nabokov archive at the United States Library of Congress.1 In addition to this manuscript, three sets of hand-corrected galley proofs can be found in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.


Originally published as:

“The Composition of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.” Nabokov Online Journal (Vol. IX, 2015)