Pale Fire

by

Vladimir Nabokov

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Narrator/Charles Kinbote Character Analysis

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 narcissistic, unpleasant to others, and has pedophilic tendencies. In addition, he is insane—he has strange delusions and even hallucinations, which means that his version of events rarely aligns with the truth. According to Kinbote, his true identity is King Charles the Beloved, the former king of Zembla who has been exiled to America in the aftermath of a revolution. However, as the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that Zembla is an imagined world in which Kinbote can be the man he wants to be: a beloved and admired king, powerful and competent, and at the center of all events. (Actually, it seems that “Kinbote” itself is an imaginary identity—Nabokov subtly but repeatedly implies that his novel’s narrator is, in truth, the Russian-born professor V. Botkin who genuinely believes that he is King Charles disguised as Kinbote.) During Kinbote’s time at Wordsmith College, he tells Shade relentlessly about Zembla, hoping that Shade’s newest poem will be all about King Charles’s escape—however, after Shade is murdered on the street in a case of mistaken identity, Kinbote gains possession of the manuscript of “Pale Fire” and realizes that the poem isn’t about Zembla at all. After manipulating Shade’s widow, he becomes the editor of “Pale Fire,” and he writes a bizarre and self-centered Foreword, Commentary, and Index to the poem, all of which argue that the poem—while appearing to be about Shade’s family and love of nature and interest in the afterlife—is subtly all about Zembla. Kinbote also advances the conspiracy theory (which he genuinely believes) that Shade was shot by the Zemblan assassin Gradus who was aiming for Kinbote, attempting to kill the disguised King of Zembla. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Kinbote is in tremendous distress, both because of his loneliness and because his mental health is deteriorating. At the end, it is implied that Kinbote takes his own life.

Narrator/Charles Kinbote Quotes in Pale Fire

The Pale Fire quotes below are all either spoken by Narrator/Charles Kinbote or refer to Narrator/Charles Kinbote. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Pale Fire published in 1962.
Foreword Quotes

Nay, I shall even assert (as our shadows still walk without us) that there remained to be written only one line of the poem (namely verse 1000) which would have been identical to line 1 and would have completed the symmetry of the structure, with its two identical central parts, solid and ample, forming together with the shorter flanks twin wings of five hundred verses each, and damn that music.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Related Symbols: Birds and Butterflies
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

As a rule, Shade destroyed drafts the moment he ceased to need them: well do I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies of that backyard auto-da-fé.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Related Symbols: Birds and Butterflies
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Let me state that without my notes Shade’s text simply has no human reality at all since the human reality of such a poem as his (being too skittish and reticent for an autobiographical work), with the omission of many pithy lines carelessly rejected by him, has to depend entirely on the reality of its author and his surroundings, attachments and so forth, a reality that only my notes can provide. To this statement my dear poet would probably not have subscribed, but, for better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:
Pale Fire: Canto Three Quotes

Nor can one help the exile, the old man
Dying in a motel, with the loud fan
Revolving in the torrid prairie night
And, from the outside, bits of colored light
Reaching his bed like dark hands from the past
Offering gems and death is coming fast
He suffocates and conjures in two tongues
The nebulae dilating in his lungs.

Related Characters: John Shade (speaker), Narrator/Charles Kinbote
Page Number: 55-56
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 1-48 Quotes

We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past in a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 596), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, steadily marching nearer in iambic motion, crossing streets, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Jakob Gradus, John Shade
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 49-98 Quotes

At times I thought that only by self-destruction could I hope to cheat the relentlessly advancing assassins who were in me, in my eardrums, in my pulse, in my skull, […].

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Jakob Gradus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 149-214 Quotes

In its limpid tintarron he saw his scarlet reflection but, oddly enough, owing to what seemed to be at first blush an optical illusion, this reflection was not at his feet but much further; moreover, it was accompanied by the ripple-warped reflection of a ledge that jutted high above his present position. And finally, the strain on the magic of the image caused it to snap as his red-sweatered, red-capped doubleganger turned and vanished, whereas he, the observer, remained immobile. He now advanced to the very lip of the water and was met there by a genuine reflection, much larger and clearer than the one that had deceived him. He skirted the pool. High up in the deep-blue sky jutted the empty ledge whereon a counterfeit king had just stood. A shiver of alfear (uncontrollable fear caused by elves) ran between his shoulderblades. He murmured a familiar prayer, crossed himself, and resolutely proceeded toward the pass. At a high point upon an adjacent ridge a steinmann (a heap of stones erected as a memento of an ascent) had donned a cap of red wool in his honor.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), King Charles
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 367-434 Quotes

I am thinking of lines 261-267 in which Shade describes his wife. At the moment of his painting that poetical portrait, the sitter was twice the age of Queen Disa. I do not wish to be vulgar in dealing with these delicate matters but the fact remains that sixty-year-old Shade is lending here a well-conserved coeval the ethereal and eternal aspect she retains, or should retain, in his kind noble heart. Now the curious thing about it is that Disa at thirty, when last seen in September 1958, bore a singular resemblance not, of course, to Mrs. Shade as she was when I met her, but to the idealized and stylized picture painted by the poet in those lines of Pale Fire. Actually it was idealized and stylized only in regard to the older woman; in regard to Queen Disa, as she was that afternoon on that blue terrace, it represented a plain unretouched likeness. I trust the reader appreciates the strangeness of this, because if he does not, there is no sense in writing poems, or notes to poems, or anything at all.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Sybil Shade, Queen Disa
Page Number: 206-207
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 469-629 Quotes

With this divine mist of utter dependence permeating one’s being, no wonder one is tempted, no wonder one weighs on one’s palm with a dreamy smile the compact firearm in its case of suede leather hardly bigger than a castlegate key or a boy’s seamed purse, no wonder one peers over the parapet into an inviting abyss.

I am choosing these images rather casually. There are purists who maintain that a gentleman should use a brace of pistols, one for each temple, or a bare botkin (note the correct spelling), and that ladies should either swallow a lethal dose or drown with clumsy Ophelia.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Hazel Shade, Professor V. Botkin
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

KINBOTE: But who instilled it in us, John? Who is the Judge of life, and the Designer of death?

SHADE: Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.

KINBOTE: Now I have caught you, John: once we deny a Higher Intelligence that plans and administrates our individual hereafters we are bound to accept the unspeakably dreadful notion of Chance reaching into eternity. Consider the situation, Throughout eternity our poor ghosts are exposed to nameless vicissitudes. There is no appeal, no advice, no support, no protection, nothing. Poor Kinbote’s ghost, poor Shade's shade, may have blundered, may have taken the wrong turn somewhere—oh, from sheer absent-mindedness, or simply through ignorance of a trivial rule in the preposterous game of nature—if there be any rules.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade (speaker)
Page Number: 225-226
Explanation and Analysis:

“That is the wrong word,” he said. “One should not apply it to a person who deliberately peels off a drab and unhappy past and replaces it with a brilliant invention. That’s merely turning a new leaf with the left hand.”

I patted my friend on the head and bowed slightly to Eberthella H. The poet looked at me with glazed eyes. She said:

“You must help us, Mr. Kinbote: I maintain that what’s his name, old—the old man, you know, at the Exton railway station, who thought he was God and began redirecting the trains, was technically a loony, but John calls him a fellow poet.”

“We all are, in a sense, poets, Madam,” I replied, and offered a lighted match to my friend who had his pipe in his teeth and was beating himself with both hands on various parts of his torso.

Related Characters: John Shade (speaker), Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker)
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 662-872 Quotes

Lines 734-735: probably…wobble…limp blimp…unstable

A third burst of contrapuntal pyrotechnics. The poet’s plan is to display in the very texture of his text the intricacies of the “game” in which he sees the key to life and death (see lines 808-829).

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 873-1000 Quotes

Lines 939-940: Man’s life, etc.

If I correctly understand the sense of this succinct observation, our poet suggests here that human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable (so I used to tell my students). Although I am capable, through long dabbling in blue magic, of imitating any prose in the world (but singularly enough not verse—I am a miserable rhymester), I do not consider myself a true artist, save in one matter: I can do what only a true artist can do—pounce upon the forgotten butterfly of revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things, see the web of the world, and the warp and the weft of that web. Solemnly I weighed in my hand what I was carrying under my left armpit, and for a moment, I found myself enriched with an indescribable amazement as if informed that fireflies were making decodable signals on behalf of stranded spirits, or that a bat was writing a legible tale of torture in the bruised and branded sky.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), John Shade
Related Symbols: Birds and Butterflies
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:
Index Quotes

Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, 894; kingbot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, 247; bottekin-maker, 71; bot, plop, and boteliy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a, Danish stiletto.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Professor V. Botkin
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
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Pale Fire PDF

Narrator/Charles Kinbote Character Timeline in Pale Fire

The timeline below shows where the character Narrator/Charles Kinbote appears in Pale Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Foreword
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...neatly penned. Canto One takes up 13 cards, while Canto Two (“your favorite,” the unnamed narrator writes) and Canto Three take up 27 cards each, and Canto Four (like Canto One)... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
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...he always dated the cards with the date of their creation, not the revision. The narrator notes that the amusement park outside his window is very loud. Because of Shade’s dating... (full context)
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...death suggesting that the poem is merely a draft, rather than a definitive text. The narrator believes this to be a personal insult to his own competence and honesty. Right after... (full context)
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The narrator believes that only one line of the poem is missing—the thousandth line—which is meant to... (full context)
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The narrator also has a dozen index cards containing drafts of couplets that don’t appear in the... (full context)
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...wife. Perhaps, “in all modesty,” Shade saved the variants because he meant to ask the narrator’s advice. In the Commentary, the narrator will indicate where these unused variants—which are sometimes better... (full context)
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The narrator became the editor of “Pale Fire” because, after Shade’s death, fearing the petty academic dramas... (full context)
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The aftermath of Shade’s death revealed some secrets that forced the narrator to leave New Wye just after interviewing Shade’s killer in jail. He wrote the Commentary... (full context)
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The narrator was a dear friend of Shade’s, even though they’d known each other only a few... (full context)
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Soon, though, fellow academics became envious that Shade preferred the narrator to anyone else. The narrator once overheard a young professor in a green velvet jacket,... (full context)
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The narrator’s friendship with Shade, though, was worth all this jealousy, and the friendship was even more... (full context)
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Shade inspired a kind of awe in the narrator, as he could watch Shade taking the world in and transforming its elements into poetry.... (full context)
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While the Commentary comes after the text of the poem (as is customary), the narrator hopes that the reader will look at the Commentary first and then decipher the poem... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 1-48
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Lines 1-4: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain. Kinbote writes that this opening image describes a bird that dies smacking into the reflection of... (full context)
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Kinbote had previously only known about northern European birds, but his gardener in New Wye—a young... (full context)
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...just after midnight on July 1st—the exact middle of the year—and Shade would certainly understand Kinbote’s desire to synchronize the start of the poem with the departure of the “would-be regicide”... (full context)
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Line 12: that crystal land. This may be a reference to Kinbote’s homeland of Zembla. In a particularly disorganized draft that didn’t make it into the final... (full context)
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...got richer as the rich got a bit poorer (which might someday be known as “Kinbote’s Law”). Influenced by his uncle Conmal (a Shakespeare translator), Charles the Beloved developed a passion... (full context)
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...on the same day that Shade began Canto Two of “Pale Fire.” Throughout the Commentary, Kinbote will analyze the poem and simultaneously follow Gradus’s journey to New Wye as he walks... (full context)
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Line 27: Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a detective in Conan Doyle stories, although Kinbote does not know which story is referenced here—he suspects that Shade made the reversed footprints... (full context)
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...frozen stillicide. Shade often uses wintry imagery, even though he wrote the poem in summer. Kinbote is “too modest to suppose” that the winter imagery comes from the fact that he... (full context)
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Lines 39-40: Was close my eyes, etc. Kinbote points to an abandoned draft of this passage, which seems similar to a passage from... (full context)
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Line 42: I could make out. In early summer, Kinbote began to see how Shade would describe Zembla in his poem. Kinbote had been relentlessly... (full context)
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...the three references to royalty and the “Popian ‘Zembla’ in line 937,” it seems that Kinbote’s stories were deliberately eliminated from “Pale Fire.” Nonetheless, the poem’s abandoned drafts are full of... (full context)
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Lines 47-48: the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith. “Goldsworth” refers to Kinbote’s landlord, Judge Goldsworth (whom Kinbote never met, because he was abroad during Kinbote’s time in... (full context)
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Kinbote struggles to describe the architecture of Shade’s house, particularly because—as summer approached—the leaves of a... (full context)
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As a boy, Kinbote once saw a man communing with God. It was at court in Onhava, the Zemblan... (full context)
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Kinbote snuck behind their house where he found one small window illuminated. Through the window, he... (full context)
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A few days later, when Shade missed an appointment to take a walk with Kinbote, Kinbote walked behind Shade’s house and saw John and Sybil sitting at the kitchen table.... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 49-98
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...a passage of a John Shade poem that compares a gingko leaf to a butterfly. Kinbote quotes the passage (from a letter he received in April). On the Wordsmith campus, there’s... (full context)
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Line 62: often. Throughout 1959, Kinbote was desperately lonely and “often” feared for his life. Loneliness is hard for an expat,... (full context)
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...in [his] pulse, in [his] skull.” Once, when the cat appeared in the music room, Kinbote called the police. It’s quite easy for mean people to make their victims believe that... (full context)
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Among several young professors “whose advances [Kinbote] rejected,” there was one who played jokes. Once, after an “enjoyable and successful” meeting in... (full context)
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...“northern king” who escaped from prison because his supporters impersonated him to assist his escape. Kinbote writes that Charles the Beloved only escaped because his supporters dressed like him and spread... (full context)
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...mediocre journal. While bashing an obituary isn’t fit for the “placid scholarship” of a Commentary, Kinbote mentions it because he learned some information about Shade’s parents from this document. His father,... (full context)
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...for political reasons. The most bizarre part of the obituary is that it never mentions Kinbote’s close friendship with Shade. (full context)
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It’s hard to describe the geography of the Zemblan palace, so Kinbote drew a map of the grounds and the building, hoping this would help Shade understand... (full context)
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...Shade (John’s daughter) was a baby when Aunt Maud died, Hazel was actually a teenager. Kinbote finds Maud’s paintings “unpleasant but interesting” and her eccentricities must have shocked New Wye. (full context)
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...the draft, there are lines about Maud’s room containing the cocoon of a Luna moth. Kinbote’s dictionary says that the Luna is a large pale moth whose caterpillar eats hickory. Shade... (full context)
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...room include a scrapbook where she pasted funny or gross news clippings. Once, Shade showed Kinbote the first and last clippings in the book, both from Life magazine, which is known... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 101-143
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...margin of a draft, Shade wrote the measurements of an hour in sand and atoms. Kinbote isn’t able to check this, but the division seems off. On the day Shade wrote... (full context)
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Line 130: I never bounced a ball or swung a bat. Kinbote was also bad at soccer and cricket, although he’s good at skiing and riding horses.... (full context)
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Line 137: lemniscate. Kinbote’s dictionary says this is a “unicursal bicircular quartic,” which seems to have nothing to do... (full context)
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Line 143: a clockwork toy. Kinbote has actually seen this toy. Once, he dropped by Shade’s house asking after some pamphlets... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 149-214
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...of the nerves…on the same curve of the tracks, every day…until nature repaired the damage.” Kinbote cannot forget the sweaty faces of railway workers watching the windows of trains passing by. (full context)
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Line 169: survival after death. Kinbote directs the reader to his note to line 549. (full context)
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Line 172: books and people. In a notebook, Kinbote has transcribed a few conversations between himself and Shade. In one, Shade says that he... (full context)
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...had a get-together at his house and then returned to work after his guests left. Kinbote watched him from the window. On that same day, Gradus departed Zembla for Copenhagen, and... (full context)
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...while back, after noticing Shade’s birthdate on a book jacket and seeing his shabby pajamas, Kinbote bought him a silk dressing gown, which he’d wrapped and placed in the hall. He... (full context)
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The next morning, after seeing Sybil leave, Kinbote walked over with his gift, but when he arrived at the door, Sybil returned. He... (full context)
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Lines 181-182: waxwings…cicadas. Kinbote directs readers to other lines in which waxwings appear, including the poem’s last line. He... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 230-348
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Line 230: a domestic ghost. Jane Provost, who was John Shade’s secretary, told Kinbote more about Hazel than John did, as he didn’t want to talk about his dead... (full context)
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Kinbote suspects that Shade associated these occurrences with his own boyhood fits, wondering whether he’d passed... (full context)
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Line 231: How ludicrous, etc. Kinbote points to an unused draft passage following this line. It’s about an “Other World” where... (full context)
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...refers to the shell of a cicada, left behind when it molts. Whenever Shade and Kinbote would walk together at sunset, Shade would relentlessly talk about the natural world, not realizing... (full context)
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...valley full of iron ore, but rather comes from the French word for “Swallow.” While Kinbote tried so hard to be nice to Sybil, she never liked him. He heard she... (full context)
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Line 270: My dark Vanessa. This reference reminds Kinbote of a couple lines from a Swift poem (they contain the words “Vanessa” and “Atalanta”),... (full context)
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...humming as you pack. This line was written on July 7th, the same day that Kinbote bumped into the Shades buying luggage. Upset to think that they might be going on... (full context)
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Line 316: The Toothwort White haunted our woods in May. Kinbote isn’t sure about this reference—his dictionary appears to suggest that it’s some kind of white... (full context)
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Line 334: Would never come for her. At twilight, Kinbote would often wonder whether Shade—or one of his “ping-pong friends”—would ever come for him. (full context)
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From Jane (Shade’s former secretary), however, Kinbote learned that Hazel herself went to the barn to investigate the phenomena as the subject... (full context)
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Kinbote would have abandoned the nonsense syllables altogether, except for the lines of Shade’s poem “Some... (full context)
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...brought Sybil, John, and Hazel to the barn together. Nobody took notes on this, but Kinbote has constructed the following scene, which he believes is essentially the truth.  (full context)
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Kinbote writes “The Haunted Barn” in the form of a play. Sitting together in awkward silence,... (full context)
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Lines 347-348: She twisted words. Kinbote is pretty sure that he is the one who told Shade that, when reversed, “spider”... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 367-434
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Line 376: poem. Kinbote has a guess about what poem Shade is referencing here, but he doesn’t have any... (full context)
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...the current head, a professor Paul H., Jr. who is a terrible scholar. He and Kinbote sometimes interacted, but not often. Once, due to a migraine, Kinbote had to leave a... (full context)
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...wrote a book on Pope titled Supremely Blest, which is a phrase from Pope that Kinbote only sort of remembers and cannot quote exactly. (full context)
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Lines 385-386: Jane Dean, Pete Dean. These are obviously pseudonyms. Kinbote met Jane right after John Shade’s death, and she explained that Pete was perhaps exaggerating... (full context)
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...variant that includes a quotation from Pope’s “Essay on Man,” referring to a “lunatic king.” Kinbote criticizes Pope for his meter and Shade for not including this part of the Pope... (full context)
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...To the…sea Which we had visited in thirty-three. The Shades visited Nice that year, but Kinbote doesn’t know the particulars of the trip (which is Sybil’s fault), and so he can’t... (full context)
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As she aged, Disa became even more lovely, and Kinbote thinks it’s strange that there’s a passage of “Pale Fire”—lines 261-267—in which Shade’s description of... (full context)
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When Kinbote told all this to Shade, he wondered how Kinbote could know so much about this... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 469-629
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Line 470: Negro. After one of their colleagues made an anti-Semitic remark, Shade and Kinbote discussed prejudice, with Shade saying he hated “vulgarity and brutality,” which are both at the... (full context)
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...one might be tempted by the weight of a gun in its suede leather case. Kinbote has chosen these images “rather casually.” Some people believe that a man should put one... (full context)
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...potato. This is a bad pun meant to express Shade’s lack of respect for death. Kinbote remembers learning Rabelais’s last words in French class: Je m’en vais chercher le grand peut-être. (full context)
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Line 502: IPH. While Kinbote cannot (for reasons of law and taste) reveal the real name of the institute that... (full context)
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Turning to original sin, Kinbote stressed its importance while Shade insisted that he never understood it and believed that people... (full context)
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Kinbote hates the notion of the soul “plunging into limitless and chaotic afterlife with no Providence... (full context)
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Line 550: debris. Kinbote needs to say something about his note to line 12. His conscience has led him... (full context)
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Line 579: the other. Kinbote doesn’t wish to insinuate that Shade was seeing another woman. Of course, some gossips said... (full context)
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...make the word “gradus”—Shade’s murderer. While an average reader might chalk this up to coincidence, Kinbote can hardly find many instances in which “Gradus” would appear across two words. These draft... (full context)
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...we should roll-call, etc. King Charles would have been executed if he hadn’t escaped, but Kinbote knows that, had Charles been caught, he would have gone to his death just as... (full context)
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...etc. In his draft, Shade wrote this slightly differently, capturing well the “chance inn” where Kinbote is writing this commentary. At first, he hated the music from what he thought was... (full context)
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Kinbote has never known a madman himself, but there were some good stories in New Wye.... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 662-872
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...678: into French. A couple of Sybil’s translations referenced here appeared in a journal that Kinbote read during the last week of July. Out of tact, he did not send his... (full context)
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Sylvia was Wordsmith’s primary trustee, and she arranged for Kinbote’s job there. When Charles arrived at her house, she informed him that Shade would be... (full context)
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...was half himself and half a ghost. But knowing the doctor who treated him there, Kinbote believes he’s not clever enough to have actually said that. (full context)
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...home a letter with the King’s new address. Izumrudov then left, probably to continue “whoring.” Kinbote hates men like him. (full context)
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Line 768: address. In April, Kinbote wrote a letter to someone in the South of France that alluded to Shade. Luckily,... (full context)
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Line 802: mountain. The morning Shade wrote these lines, Kinbote went to church and felt, because of the cloudless sky, that he might actually be... (full context)
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That night, Kinbote asked Shade what he was writing about that day, and he simply replied “mountains.” Of... (full context)
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...by changing one letter. It can’t be done in several languages, including Zemblan. This reminds Kinbote of a strange coincidental mix-up in which a Russian newspaper twice misprinted by one letter... (full context)
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Line 810: a web of sense. The other day, the owner of the motel where Kinbote is staying loaned him a book, the Letters of Franklin Lane. Inside, Kinbote found a... (full context)
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...Shade loved word games, particularly “word golf.” Sometimes he would interrupt conversations to play, and Kinbote remembers one instance where Shade got from “live” to “dead” in five moves, one of... (full context)
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Line 822: killing a Balkan king. Kinbote wishes he could say that, in the draft, the line was “killing a Zemblan king,”... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 873-1000
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...my biographer may be too staid or know too little. If Shade had known that Kinbote would be the commentator, he would not have presumed this. In fact, Kinbote once saw... (full context)
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...pictures of Charles the Beloved circulated in America. Sometimes, people in New Wye would tell Kinbote how much he looked like King Charles. Once, at a Faculty Club event, a visiting... (full context)
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A professor then told Kinbote that he’d heard Kinbote was born in Russia and his name was an “anagram of... (full context)
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...to show everyone a picture of young Charles in uniform, calling him a “fancy pansy.” Kinbote then insulted Emerald, who tried to make up with a handshake that Kinbote did not... (full context)
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Line 929: Freud. Kinbote can still see Shade literally falling down in laughter as Kinbote read to him from... (full context)
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Line 937: Old Zembla. Kinbote is tired and sad today. In a draft of these lines, Shade quoted Pope’s “Essay... (full context)
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Lines 939-940: Man’s life, etc. If Kinbote is interpreting this correctly, Shade is trying to say that life is essentially a series... (full context)
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...odd that he ate such a meal when he was about to commit murder, but Kinbote thinks it’s fair to assume that he couldn’t imagine anything beyond the murder itself. He... (full context)
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...was checking out a bestseller—came up beside him and offered to drive him to Professor Kinbote’s house. Gradus told Kinbote all this when Kinbote visited him in jail—quite a divergence from... (full context)
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...It’s not clear where Shade got this, though—readers need to do their own research, because Kinbote only has his Zemblan edition of Timon of Athens, which doesn’t have anything in it... (full context)
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Line 991: horseshoes. It was never clear to Shade or to Kinbote which neighbor was playing horseshoes in the evenings, but they heard the clanging sound often.... (full context)
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Kinbote suggested going to his house for dinner and wine, promising that if Shade showed him... (full context)
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As he held the poem, Kinbote reflected that people find language bizarrely normal—the “miracle of a few written signs being able... (full context)
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...dark Vanessa, etc. Right before Shade died, as they crossed the road between his and Kinbote’s house, a Red Admirable butterfly flitted between them in a “frightening imitation of conscious play”... (full context)
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...Some neighbor’s gardener. It’s weird that Shade is vague about this, since he often saw Kinbote’s gardener. Kinbote must pay tribute to his gardener because he saved Kinbote’s life. The gardener... (full context)
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Line 1000: [=Line 1: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain]. As Shade and Kinbote crossed the road, they noticed a visitor on Kinbote’s porch who had just rung the... (full context)
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...laying on the ground bleeding. Dazed, Gradus sat on the porch holding his bloody head. Kinbote ran inside and hid the poem in a closet before calling the police. Outside, Shade’s... (full context)
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Later that night, Kinbote was able to read “Pale Fire,” and the reader knows the disappointment that awaited him.... (full context)
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...“wavelets of fire, and pale phosphorescent hints, and all the many subliminal debts to me.” Kinbote has tried not to be vindictive, despite everything that reporters and Shade’s so-called friends made... (full context)
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Still, Kinbote has had a “little revenge,” since his gardener skewed the story of Shade’s death a... (full context)
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It was so difficult for Kinbote to make people see that he was not an accidental witness to a tragedy, but... (full context)
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Kinbote will stop there, since his “notes and self are petering out.” Moving forward, he hopes... (full context)
Index
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...Commentary. Mostly, the index lists Zemblan people, words, and places—but it also has entries for Kinbote, each member of the Shade family, and V. Botkin, the Russian scholar at Wordsmith. Hazel... (full context)