Pale Fire


Vladimir Nabokov

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Narrator/Charles Kinbote

Charles Kinbote is the narrator of Nabokov’s Pale Fire. He is a professor at Wordsmith College, and he lives across the street from John Shade. Kinbote is a desperately lonely man who is… read analysis of Narrator/Charles Kinbote

John Shade

John Shade is a distinguished poet and English professor at Wordsmith College in New Wye. He is Sybil’s husband and Hazel’s father, and he lives across the street from Charles Kinbote, a… read analysis of John Shade

King Charles

King Charles the Beloved is the former king of Zembla. Recently overthrown in a revolution, he escaped to America where he lives in disguise as a professor. Charles Kinbote, the novel’s narrator, believes that… read analysis of King Charles

Jakob Gradus

According to Kinbote, Jakob Gradus is one of the extremists who takes over Zembla and overthrows King Charles, after which he tries to hunt down the exiled King and kill him. In Kinbote’s… read analysis of Jakob Gradus

Sybil Shade

Sybil is John Shade’s wife and Hazel’s mother. John and Sybil have been married for 40 years, and they’re profoundly in love; Sybil is the only person in the world with whom John… read analysis of Sybil Shade
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Hazel Shade

Hazel is John and Sybil’s daughter who died by suicide as a young adult, just a couple of years before the action of the novel. While Hazel is described as smart and curious, one… read analysis of Hazel Shade

Professor V. Botkin

Professor Botkin is a Russian-born professor at Wordsmith College. While he is barely mentioned throughout the novel, the several references that Kinbote does make are conspicuous; taken together, they suggest that Kinbote is, in fact… read analysis of Professor V. Botkin

The Gardener

Kinbote’s gardener in New Wye is a former male nurse who was looking to get into horticulture when Charles offered to give him a job and support him financially. Kinbote implies that he is… read analysis of The Gardener

Gerald Emerald

Gerald Emerald is a member of the English Department at Wordsmith College and Kinbote’s nemesis. According to Kinbote, Emerald and other Wordsmith faculty are cruel to him because they’re jealous of his close relationship… read analysis of Gerald Emerald

Judge Goldsworth

Judge Goldsworth is the owner of the house that Kinbote rents across the street from John and Sybil Shade. Goldsworth is a notoriously punitive judge, and Kinbote notes that he has left many men… read analysis of Judge Goldsworth

Queen Disa

Queen Disa is King Charles’s wife. She first meets King Charles when she is 19 years old, and the King agrees to marry her despite being gay because he feels pressure to produce an… read analysis of Queen Disa

Queen Blenda

Queen Blenda is King Charles’s mother and King Alfin’s wife. She dies of a rare blood condition exactly 33 years before John Shade’s death. Charles and his mother weren’t close and he… read analysis of Queen Blenda

Iris Acht

Iris Acht was a famous Zemblan actress and the mistress of King Charles’s grandfather. To facilitate their affair, the King had a secret passage constructed between his dressing room and her dressing room at… read analysis of Iris Acht


A Zemblan actor and filmmaker, Odon is King Charles’s most loyal ally in the palace. After the Zemblan revolution, he pretends to be a revolutionary so that he can stay close to King Charles… read analysis of Odon

Sylvia O’Donnell

A wealthy socialite with several ex-husbands, Sylvia is Odon’s mother and a trustee at Wordsmith College. At Odon’s behest, she helps King Charles immigrate to America by picking him up when he parachutes into… read analysis of Sylvia O’Donnell


Andronnikov is a Russian man working for the Zemblan extremists, and he is Niagarin’s partner. Andronnikov and Niagarin are hired by the Zemblan extremists to find the crown jewels. They ransack the entire palace… read analysis of Andronnikov


Niagarin is a Russian man working for the Zemblan extremists, and he is Andronnikov’s partner. Niagarin and Andronnikov are hired by the Zemblan extremists to find the crown jewels, and they are later tasked… read analysis of Niagarin


Oleg, the Duke of Rahl, was King Charles’s favorite childhood playmate and, the novel implies, his first sexual partner. When King Charles first discovers the secret passageway in his grandfather’s old dressing room closet… read analysis of Oleg

Professor Hurley

Professor Hurley is the head of the English Department at Wordsmith College. After Shade’s death, Professor Hurley circulates a memo around the English Department that claims that Shade’s final poem, “Pale Fire,” has fallen… read analysis of Professor Hurley

Aunt Maud

Aunt Maud is Shade’s aunt who raised him after his parents died. A painter who loved the grotesque and morbid, Maud is something of an eccentric who likely scandalized the stodgy townsfolk in New… read analysis of Aunt Maud


Fleur is King Charles’s old friend and the daughter of Queen Blenda’s favorite Countess. Before King Charles marries Queen Disa, Fleur moves into King Charles’s room and tries to seduce him… read analysis of Fleur

Jane Provost

Jane Provost (pseudonymously called “Jane Dean” in the poem “Pale Fire”) is Shade’s secretary and typist. She sets Hazel Shade up on a blind date with her cousin, Pete Provost, which goes terribly… read analysis of Jane Provost

Pete Provost

Pete Provost (pseudonymously called “Pete Dean” in the poem “Pale Fire”) is Jane Provost’s cousin. Jane sets Pete up on a blind date with Hazel, but Pete is unimpressed with Hazel’s looks and… read analysis of Pete Provost

Oswin Bretwit

Oswin is a royalist ally of King Charles who lives in Paris. While Gradus is searching for the King, he tracks down Bretwit under the pretense of returning some valuable papers to him, hoping to… read analysis of Oswin Bretwit

The Countess

The Countess is Fleur’s mother and Queen Blenda’s favorite lady in waiting. After Queen Blenda dies, the Countess moves in to the anteroom of King Charles’s bedroom, presumably to keep an eye… read analysis of The Countess


Conmal is King Charles’s uncle and Queen Blenda’s half-brother. He is a famous Zemblan translator best known for his translation of William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, the play from which Shade gets… read analysis of Conmal

Dr. Nattochdag

Dr. Nattochdag is the head of Kinbote’s department at Wordsmith College. While the novel never reveals the specific department to which Kinbote belongs (Kinbote seems to believe that he’s a Zemblan professor), it’s likely… read analysis of Dr. Nattochdag
Minor Characters
King Alfin
King Alfin is King Charles’s father and Queen Blenda’s husband. He died during Charles’s infancy while crashing his airplane into the side of a building. King Charles does not remember his father or his death.
Joe Lavender
Joe Lavender is a supporter of King Charles’s posing as an art dealer in Geneva. He is also the cousin of Sylvia O’Donnell’s husband, Lionel. Gradus crosses paths with Joe Lavender during his search for King Charles, but Joe does not reveal any information about the King’s whereabouts.
Garh is a young girl who shows King Charles down the Bera Mountain Range after he escapes Zembla.