The Scholar Critic

The device that I have used in The Dark Trilogy is one also used by Vladimir Nabokov in Pale Fire – that of using an imaginary second person – a scholar – to discuss and explain a poem, thereby narrating the story.

Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote wrote that his friend’s poem was a “sudden flourish of magic” and it will become ¬†evident that my scholar feels similarly about the poem of his friend. He too would of course suggest that his commentary should be read both first and during a reading of the poem as a reference and, like Kinbote, feels that the:

“… reality of its author and his surroundings, attachments and so forth, [is] a reality that only my notes can provide. “

The literary persona of my scholar-critic Рa friend of the poet since their school days Рis unduly proud of his scholarship and of his writing skills. He is also very much in the habit of writing scholarly papers, so his introduction, his commentary on the poem and even his biographical notes are peppered with footnotes which serve to demonstrate his own knowledge and skill as much as they help the reader!  He also, with some justification, feels that he should be the one to write at length and in some depth about his friend.

Perhaps you will feel that the scholar is writing as much to serve and promote his own aims – a major publication, association with a great poet, evidence of his research skills, and so on – as to respond to the poet’s request:

… You must know that my health is failing and that these days I rarely leave my home on the South Downs, valuing the peace of the rolling countryside and the view of the distant sea above companionship and travel; so when my publishers asked me to work on a new version of ‘Retrospective’ my first thought was to refuse. That was until I re-read the poem and was once again transported back to my early lives and loves. I DO believe that the poem deserves another outing! And what I believe would enhance its brevity are the stories behind it, but I have no longer the energy. I should like to see a commentary to the poem which opens up the histories which underpin my lines. Christo, having known me for most of my life I know that you will be able to unravel the often difficult themes and thinking lying behind the lines of the work I am now calling ‘Dark Ashes’ …

Or perhaps you will see a colleague determined to bring his good friend’s poem to the wider audience it deserves.