Pale Fire | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Pale Fire | Lines 62–121 | Summary



Commenting on the word "often," Kinbote reveals how lonely and "distressed" he was, living in New Wye in the spring of 1959. He took in a "dissipated young roomer," Bob, in order to feel less lonely. But Bob betrayed him by bringing a woman home. Kinbote also feared for his life that spring, in addition to feeling lonely. He imagined "jittery revolutionists" might burst into his New Wye house and "hustle [him] off to a moonlit wall" (where he would be shot). Kinbote also seems to have had "persecution mania" or "hallucinations." At his rented house he always finds a door, shutter, or window ajar, the trace of some clumsy intruder.

A draft of Shade's poem, Kinbote claims, recounts how King Charles escaped Zembla. He was wearing a red sweater and red cap at the time he fled. His "secret supporters," who were "romantic, heroic daredevils," also wore red. The horde of look-alikes wasted police time.

Kinbote says "a Commentary [is a place] where placid scholarship should reign." Nonetheless, he takes time to harshly criticize "the preposterous defects" of an essay about Shade by Professor Hurley. Among the essay's failings, there is "not one reference to the glorious friendship that brightened the last months of John's life."

Kinbote traces John Shade's life, including mention of Shade's father, an ornithologist. But Kinbote soon turns to the topic of King Charles and his father, Alfin the Vague. King Alfin was fond of "flying apparatuses" and was killed in an airplane accident. Kinbote recounts the king's youth in Zembla.

Then Kinbote turns to a more present concern. He gave Shade a "drawn plan of the chambers, terraces, bastions and pleasure grounds of [King Charles's] Onhava Palace" in Zembla, so Shade could better understand Kinbote's stories. Now Kinbote wants Sybil to mail the drawing to him in Cedarn. Finally, he remarks Gradus was preparing to leave Zembla while Shade wrote this canto.


Kinbote's situation in New Wye contrasts sharply with that of King Charles. (Kinbote and Charles are the same person, but Kinbote speaks of them separately.) Hordes of Zemblans demonstrate their loyalty to the king by wearing red. Kinbote is lonely and afraid. Not only is he friendless in New Wye, but he is also intellectually alone, sharply disagreeing with other scholars. He attacks Professor Hurley (also known in this book as Professor H.) for leaving out any mention of his "glorious friendship" with Shade. Kinbote forcefully argues with scholars about the fact he had a friend, precisely because he did not.

Nabokov continues to use dramatic irony to reveal things about Kinbote. For example, after demonstrating some wrestling moves, Kinbote receives "a brutal anonymous note." The note says, "You have hal..... s real bad, chum." He mentions the anonymous note in connection with having called emergency services. He "telephoned 11111" because the Goldsworths' black cat "suddenly reappeared on the threshold of the music room." The policeman who responds talks to him about "whoever had broken in." Kinbote says other, less kind responders would have let Kinbote believe he has "persecution mania, or is really being stalked by a killer, or is suffering from hallucinations." These are the readers' options for understanding the story of Gradus and Charles. Either Kinbote has persecution mania, or he is hallucinating, or he really is being stalked by the killer Kinbote says departed Zembla at this time.

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