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ClassicNote on Pale Fire

ClassicNote on Pale Fire

ClassicNote on Pale Fire
ClassicNote on Pale Fire
Table of Contents Biography of Nabokov, Vladimir (1899−1977) i About Pale Fire 3 Character List

Table of Contents

Biography of Nabokov, Vladimir (1899−1977)

i

About Pale Fire

3

Character List

4

Charles Kinbote/King Charles of Zembla

4

John Shade

4

Gradus

4

Aunt Maud

4

Hazel Shade

5

Sybil Shade

5

Odon

5

Disa

5

Professor Pnin

5

Major Themes

6

The Artist, Art, and Criticism

6

Reality, Disguise, and Delusion

6

Exile and Memory

7

Fate and Destiny

7

Short Summary

8

Summary and Analysis of Foreword to Canto 2

9

Summary and Analysis of Cantos 3−4

13

Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 1−2

16

Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 3−4

21

Related Links

24

Author of ClassicNote and Sources

25

and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 3−4 21 Related Links 24 Author of ClassicNote and Sources
Table of Contents Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire 26 Quiz 28 Quiz Answer Key 33

Table of Contents

Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire

26

Quiz

28

Quiz Answer Key

33

Copyright Notice

34

Table of Contents Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire 26 Quiz 28 Quiz Answer Key 33 Copyright
Biography of Nabokov, Vladimir (1899−1977) Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, most famous as the author of Lolita,

Biography of Nabokov, Vladimir (1899−1977)

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, most famous as the author of Lolita, was born on or about April 23, 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The eldest of five children, he grew up with his wealthy and aristocratic family, moving between the family's two homes (one in St. Petersburg, and an estate fifty miles to the south in the countryside). He enjoyed playing tennis and soccer in his youth, but also spent many hours chasing and collecting butterflies, a passion he apparently learned from his father.

Russia was under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II at this time. Nabokov's father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, was a known and respected, and at times controversial, liberal politician. He was imprisoned in 1908 for ninety days because he signed a political manifesto. Nabokov's mother, Elena Ivanova, raised the three boys and two girls in aristocratic fashion, using several governesses and tutors who taught the children French and English, along with Russian.

In 1911 Nabokov entered the highly regarded Tenishev School. He was described as an arrogant and conceited student who came to school each day in the family's Rolls−Royce. He wrote his first poem at the age of 15 and privately published two books of poetry before leaving the school. This amazing childhood ended with the Bolshevik revolution and the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Political unrest forced the Nabokov family to leave Russia for England in 1919. Nabokov and his brother subsequently enrolled at Cambridge University, where Nabokov majored in French and Russian literature.

Nabokov's father chose to move the family to Berlin in order to settle down. However, in 1922 he was murdered while attempting to stop an assassination attempt on the politician Pavel Miliukov. Nabokov returned to school and graduated later that year, and decided to move to Berlin in 1923. He spent his time writing poetry and short stories for "The Rudder," a Russian newspaper his father founded. Known as VN, he developed a following with fellow Russian emigres for his writings. He also met his future wife, Vera Slonim, a Russian emigre, whom he married in 1925.

Nabokov's first Russian novel, "Mary," was published that year, but received little attention. However, the rise of the Nazi's interrupted his growing literary career and forced him to move to Paris. He continued to write, publishing the novels King, Queen, Knave in 1928 and The Defense in 1930. He soon developed a Russian and French reader base that hailed his genius. The eruption of the war soon caused him to flee Paris for New York in 1940, along with his son Dmitri who had been born in 1934. Nabokov was age 41 by this point, and although known among Russian writers, he had not yet reached an English audience. Money was not a major issue due to his inheritance, but he nonetheless chose to work. Returning to his hobby of butterfly collecting, he succeeded in getting a position at the Museum of Natural History in New York. He was rather successful in his Lepidoptera studies, and his work includes the naming of several butterflies and the publication of scientific studies.

the naming of several butterflies and the publication of scientific studies. Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver LLC
In 1941 Nabokov published his first English novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, full

In 1941 Nabokov published his first English novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, full of references to chess, a trademark that Nabokov used in his writing. He was also published in "The New Yorker" and other respected magazines, helping him to gain a reputation. During this time he continued collecting butterflies during visits to the Rocky Mountains. While on one of these trips in the early 1950s Nabokov composed his masterpiece, Lolita. The book proved initially difficult to sell to publishers, but within a decade it was such a success that the novel sales, movie rights and screenplay allowed Nabokov to focus exclusively on his writing.

In 1961 he moved to Montreux, Switzerland, in an effort to escape American publicity. He spent his last years publishing several novels, including Pale Fire in 1962. The book left his readers shaking their heads in confusion; it is a 999−line poem written by assassinated American poet John Shade, a poem which is then analyzed by the narrator. His work peaked in 1969 with the publication of Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, the book he considered his best. He and his son also spent time translating his Russian works into English and his English work into Russian. Nabokov remained in Switzerland until his death in 1977 of a viral infection, leaving an unfinished manuscript, The Original of Laura. During his life he had published eighteen novels, eight books of short stories, seven books of poetry and nine plays.

of short stories, seven books of poetry and nine plays. Biography of Nabokov, Vladimir (1899−1977) Copyright
About Pale Fire There is a major political context to Nabokov's novel Pale Fire. Within

About Pale Fire

There is a major political context to Nabokov's novel Pale Fire. Within the chronology of Nabokov's works, Pale Fire was published in 1962, years after Lolita and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Pale Fire conjures up the unreal world of Zembla, and one can't help but consider Zembla in terms of the transformation of Russia into the Soviet Union. Certainly, the theme of exile is autobiographical, and it is also worth noting that politically, Nabokov remained a Tsarist. He never condoned the Russian Revolution that forced his family into exile, and he dreaded the Soviet Union. It is no stretch of the imagination, to conclude that Nabokov's sympathy for King Charles stems from his own experiences of exile. His contempt for Gradus (who is assisted by the Soviets) is based upon his own political stance in favor of enlightened monarchy and entirely opposed to Soviet−style one−party rule.

By 1962, the Soviet Union was only growing in power and ascendancy, and its political hold on Eastern Europe grew only tighter. The triangular relations between the U.S., U.S.S.R. and Cuba only further dramatized the political structure that Nabokov describes. Politics never comes to the foreground of the novel; rather, the consequences of politics on the private lives of Charles remain the primary focus. Exile produces a sort of nostalgia that becomes a form of dementia. Stranded on an alien and bitter continent, Kinbote admits at one point: "Solitude is the playground of Satan," essentially arguing that his intense loneliness has moved him to madness.

Besides the political context, the literary context of Pale Fire is also well worth mentioning. Pale Fire is considered to be one of the antecedents to Post−modernism. This is mainly because of the focus on narrative structure. There is a willingness to interrogate the narrator and expose the inherent fallibility of human record. There is also the tendency to expose the vulnerability and changeability of pre−recorded texts, whether they are the poems of a next−door neighbor or allusions to Classical Greek mythology. The instability of the text forces us to continually question truth vs. falsehood and exposes the hazy, shady lines that traditionally divide fiction from non−fiction. Perhaps for this feature alone, Pale Fire enjoys a prominent status on college reading lists devoted to "Post−modernism." The novel also appeared as number 53 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century (Lolita was #4).

of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century (Lolita was #4). About Pale Fire Copyright
Character List Charles Kinbote/King Charles of Zembla Kinbote is the major character of the work.

Character List

Charles Kinbote/King Charles of Zembla

Kinbote is the major character of the work. He is an exiled literature Professor in a small New England college town called New Wye. He is originally from a country called Zembla. Kinbote is a deranged liar and his loose grip on the truth makes the novel interesting. The novel Pale Fire is composed of John Shade's poem of the same name and a largely inaccurate commentary composed by Kinbote. Throughout the novel, Kinbote drops hints that he is the exiled king of Zembla, King Charles the Beloved. To the extent that Kinbote actually is the king of Zembla, it is well worth remembering that there is no king of Zembla.

John Shade

John Shade is the poet−professor who wrote the poem "Pale Fire." He is the next door neighbor of Prof. Charles Kinbote, who writes the commentary and introduction to the published version of the poem "Pale Fire." We know very little about John Shade besides the biographical information that is provided in his poem. Kinbote's commentary offers information about Shade that is questionable at best. What do know about Shade is mostly information that is skeletal in structure: we know that he is married to Sybil, that his parents died when he was young, that he was raised by Aunt Maud, and that his daughter committed suicide midway through her troubled adolescence. Shade is accidentally killed by the assassin Gradus, who intended to kill Charles Kinbote.

Gradus

Gradus is an assassin hired by the anti−Karlist movement of Zembla; he is assigned the task of finding and killing the exiled King. Gradus has several aliases (Jacques D'Argus, Gradus, Jack Degre, etc.) but little professional ability. As assassins go, Gradus is extremely incompetent. With the help of a few Soviet spies, Gradus is able to locate the exiled king, but when the moment of assassination comes, Gradus accidentally shoots at the wrong person. He is apprehended by authorities and soon after, he commits suicide in a psychiatric facility.

Aunt Maud

The aunt of John Shade, she raises him into adulthood after his parents died very early in his childhood.

into adulthood after his parents died very early in his childhood. Character List Copyright (C) 2002
Hazel Shade The daughter of Sybil and John Shade, she was both highly unattractive and

Hazel Shade

The daughter of Sybil and John Shade, she was both highly unattractive and depressed. She committed suicide

as a teenager.

Sybil Shade

Sybil is the wife of the poet, John Shade. While John Shade's poem suggests that their marital relationship was vibrant and full of love, Kinbote's commentary suggests that John is unhappy with Sybil.

Odon

Odon is King Charles' bodyguard and right−hand man. He assists in Charles' escape from the palace and joins him, for a time, in France.

Disa

Disa is the princess that King Charles is supposed to marry. She remains largely spurned by him however, as he has little sexual interest in women.

Professor Pnin

A colleague of John Shade and Charles Kinbote who has contempt for Charles Kinbote.

John Shade and Charles Kinbote who has contempt for Charles Kinbote. Hazel Shade Copyright (C) 2002
Major Themes The Artist, Art, and Criticism Perhaps even more dynamic than the conflict between

Major Themes

The Artist, Art, and Criticism

Perhaps even more dynamic than the conflict between Gradus and King Charles is the inherent conflict between John Shade, the author of the poem "Pale Fire," and Charles Kinbote, the expert who writes extensive commentary on the poem. In terms of volume, it is immediately obvious to the reader that the critic's commentary is far longer and far more involved than the actual poem. Kinbote really ceases to be a critic and he creates his own work of creative literature, presenting a romantic portrait of an exiled king and a crystal land. The question remains as to which work of art is true; this is complicated because both the poem and the commentary follow the conventions of their respective genre. The poem "Pale Fire" is a work of ekphrasis, in that it is "art about art." We find that the artist John Shade primarily defines himself in terms of his artistic and aesthetic experiences. Likewise, the use of the written text in Kinbote's hands is much like Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita, who writes as a means of immortalizing himself and his love. If there is any tragedy on display in the creative lives of the novel's characters, it is the sad unhappy fact of too much artistic passion exceeding artistic capability. One can't help but genuinely pity John Shade at the beginning of his Canto IV, when he stresses "Now I will do that none has done before." His repetitive strains ("Now I willŠ") produce the effect of someone trying to get out of a rut.

Reality, Disguise, and Delusion

Charles Kinbote is really at the center of this theme, as one of the novel's plot elements forces the question of whether or not Charles Kinbote is really King Charles the Beloved of Zembla. Either reality has been seriously disrupted and Kinbote is the exiled king of Zembla, or else Kinbote is dangerously delusional. Kinbote's descriptions of his rival critics and professors have a way of making him seem less honest and less professional. For that matter, Sybil explicitly states that Kinbote is deranged. The difference between the poem and the biography that Kinbote produces also suggests that reality is difficult to understand and "know" in a comprehensive, satisfying way.

Besides the disguise of Charles the Beloved as Charles Kinbote of New Wye, there is the red−clad escape from the Zemblan palace and the one hundred look−alike Royalists. Gradus, the incompetent assassin is nonetheless, a man full of disguises and pseudonyms. D'Argus, Gradus, Degre becomes disguises that also refer to the meaning of disguise. Not mere pseudonyms, D'Argus and Gradus are anagrams. Gradus and Degre refer to gradations of change, from one identity to another. Gradus' disguises meet with varying degrees of success in New Wye. The irony of all of the efforts to disguise oneself is the fact that Gradus makes his way to New Wye quite by accident. When Gradus has the opportunity to kill Charles Kinbote (who may or may not be the exiled king of Zembla), he accidentally kills John Shade (who is definitely not the exiled king of Zembla). In the end, none of Kinbote's commentary can be assumed to be "true."

none of Kinbote's commentary can be assumed to be "true." Major Themes Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver
Exile and Memory Exile is one of the autobiographical themes that dominate the body of

Exile and Memory

Exile is one of the autobiographical themes that dominate the body of Nabokov's major work. There is, of course, a major parallel between Nabokov (who fled the Soviet Union and eventually ended up teaching in New England) and Charles the Beloved/Charles Kinbote, who flees Zembla (a Russia−like place, whose name is, in fact, derived from that of a Russian island Novaya Zemlya). There is generally a combination of nostalgia and memory−loss in addressing ones homeland. Kinbote remains full of nostalgia to the point that he sees Zembla, his "crystal land" in John Shade's descriptions of the wintry New England landscape. It is also worth noting that Kinbote is double−exiled, for after leaving Zembla, he moves to New Wye only to be ostracized after the events surrounding John Shade's death. He is literally writing the commentary form some hideout among the desolate caves of the American West.

Charles the Beloved's exile is described as far more political, while the cultural displacement experienced by Charles Kinbote is much like Humbert Humbert's bewildering experiences in Lolita as a continental European in 1950s America. The exiled individual in this novel however is less of a participant than Humbert was. Instead of trying to get away from the Americans, Kinbote is trying to get join their midst. He remains disconnected from the larger community and he does not participate in the family−centered activities that dominate the lives of the people around him.

Fate and Destiny

The idea of fate and destiny is challenged throughout Nabokov's novel. The underlying argument that Nabokov essentially makes is that there are so many accidents (so much chaos) that it is difficult to thread a direct connection between "act" and "consequence." The most dramatic example of this is the murder of John Shade by Gradus, an assassin who intended to kill the disguised exiled king of Zembla. If fate does exist, Nabokov shows that it is not determined by intention, but can be foiled by disguises and by human error. The idea of destiny is related to "purpose." In one sense, the exiled king represents the idea of destiny (dynasty) gone awry; on the other hand, Gradus, the assassin, is described as a man who is inept but full of purpose. His trajectory goes from Zembla, through Europe, across the Atlantic and deep into New England, and it is described as the workings of fate to bring murderer to victim. Logically, the concept of "fate" cannot really be proven or denied.

the concept of "fate" cannot really be proven or denied. Exile and Memory Copyright (C) 2002
Short Summary Pale Fire has two story−lines. One story takes place in New Wye, a

Short Summary

Pale Fire has two story−lines. One story takes place in New Wye, a small New England town, and the other takes place in a foreign land called Zembla. John Shade is a poet and professor who lives in New Wye. Shade is regarded as a success within literary circles. Shade's final work is a poem called "Pale Fire." It is divided into four cantos, and Shade dies before he writes the final line (Line 1000) of the poem.

The novel, Pale Fire, includes a foreword, the text of Shade's poem, extensive commentary, and a table of contents. Charles Kinbote is the author of the foreword and commentary. Kinbote tells us that he is a literature professor. He was also Shade's next door neighbor. Kinbote comes from a country called Zembla, and he is rather lonely in the United States. Despite the mounting criticism of his peers, Kinbote has decided to edit Shade's poem and publish his commentary as well. Kinbote's detractors suggest that he is without sufficient academic qualifications, and too psychologically unstable to complete the work.

Kinbote tells us that he was very close to Shade and knows more about the poem than anybody else. In fact, Shade's poem is largely inspired by Kinbote's stories about his life in Zembla. Throughout the commentary, Kinbote explains how Zembla fits into Shade's autobiographical poem. Kinbote alleges many details that hilarious because they are bizarre and obviously false. One wonders whether Zembla even exists.

Kinbote's ultimate argument is that he is actually Charles the Beloved, the exiled king of Zembla. In the commentary, Kinbote uncovers many of the intricacies and details of court life. Kinbote expresses the frustration of having to choose a spouse (he strongly dislikes both women and politics), and he longs for the luxuries of the royal life. A coup has forced Charles to escape the palace and he has eventually arrived incognito in New Wye.

Unfortunately, a man named Gradus has the task of finding and assassinating the exiled king. Kinbote explains Gradus' unsuccessful maneuvers. As secret assassins go, Gradus is a very poor one, but he inches closer and closer to the king.

In New Wye, Kinbote experiences university politics first hand. Many of his colleagues envy the close personal relationship Kinbote shares with Shade. In the end, Gradus makes his way to New Wye, though he ends up shooting (fatally) John Shade‹this, of course, was not his intention. Kinbote's gardener is on hand to swiftly beat Gradus into unconsciousness. Kinbote takes advantage of the opportunity and he hides Shade's manuscript in his house. Kinbote then returns to the scene to wait for the police and authorities to arrive. Gradus soon commits suicide while under psychiatric watch. Kinbote remains confident, however, that it is only a matter of time before a "bigger, more competent Gradus" will continue the mission.

a "bigger, more competent Gradus" will continue the mission. Short Summary Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver LLC
Summary and Analysis of Foreword to Canto 2 Foreword: Summary: The foreword is written by

Summary and Analysis of Foreword to Canto 2

Foreword: Summary:

The foreword is written by Charles Kinbote. In the foreword, Kinbote discusses a poem written by John Shade, a friend who has recently died. John Shade's poem is called "Pale Fire." It is divided into four cantos and Kinbote offers extensive commentary on the poem later on. Most of the novel is composed of Kinbote's commentary.

Kinbote is the sole "editor" of John Shade's poem "Pale Fire." Kinbote notes that this has caused some problems among his jealous academic colleagues. Though Kinbote is a literature professor, his colleagues don't believe that he is academically qualified or emotionally stable enough to function as sole editor. John Shade's widow, Sybil, is also concerned about Kinbote.

Analysis:

The narrative structure of Nabokov's novel Pale Fire is complicated from the beginning. Two of the central characters are writers: John Shade, a poet; and Charles Kinbote, a literary critic. Following Kinbote's "Foreword" is John Shade's poem. Shade's poem is followed by Kinbote's long, extensive commentary on the poem.

In several key ways, Charles Kinbote will become a parallel to Humbert Humbert, the character/narrator of Nabokov's novel Lolita. Humbert and Kinbote are both foreigners who are unaccustomed to living in 'Smalltown, U.S.A.' The theme of exile permeates both novels. Pale Fire is considered one of the early novels of postmodernism because of the complicated narrative structure. Parody adds to the complicated roles of author/writer, and in the end, the novel questions our understanding of what is "real" and "true." Within the fictional world of the novel, we are asked to determine what is true or false. The name of the poet‹"Shade"‹ultimately parallels the name "Haze" (from Lolita) as a symbol of confusion. The details of what is true and false, of what actually happened and what is imagined become shady and hazy.

Canto One: Summary:

Shade's poem, "Pale Fire," is an autobiographical narrative. As a child, Shade enjoyed investigating nature, especially birds, trees and their shadows. His early life is marked by tragedy. Both of Shade's parents died when he was young and so his eccentric Aunt Maud raised him. Shade remembers his childhood well. As he is writing the poem, he is in his early sixties. Shade is both a poet and a professor of renown and he is happily married.

Besides giving autobiographical detail, the poem also dabbles in philosophical commentary. Shade tells us that he does not believe in God and that he is generally skeptical of most schools of thought.

that he is generally skeptical of most schools of thought. Summary and Analysis of Foreword to
Analysis: John Shade's poem continues in the tradition of James Joyce's famous novella Portrait of

Analysis:

John Shade's poem continues in the tradition of James Joyce's famous novella Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As in Joyce's work, Canto One focuses on the budding artist and tries to explain how Shade formed himself into a poet. The death motif is pervasive in Canto One: Shade's parents die when he is very young and the images of "snow" and "shadows" sustain a somber tone. This tone is balanced by the idea of nature as a life−giving force. The excess of verdant images, variety of trees and insects keep life going on a smaller level, in between the discussions of death and mortality.

There are a few puns and literary references in Canto One: Shade refers to two literary figures called "Goldsworth" and "Wordsmith" and this is a revision of the names "Goldsmith" and "Wordsworth." Oliver Goldsmith (1730?−1774) was the author of The Vicar of Wakefield. William Wordsworth (1770−1850) is a far more famous Romantic poet. In a sense, Shade becomes a "wordsmith" by inventing these new names.

There is also a reference to "Chapman's Homer" and this combines popular and literary culture. The newspaper headline refers to a home run scored by Ben Chapman, a player for the Boston Red Sox. The literary reference is John Keats' poem entitled "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer." In this poem, Keats discusses his impressions while reading Chapman's translation of Homer's great works. The importance here is that the process of reading and interpretation is confused. Names have been conflated and references crisscross. Later on, Kinbote's reading of Shade's poem will make gross errors of interpretation. This theme of reading and "misreading" is introduced early on. Behind this theme, there are larger aesthetic questions that we can ask: Is there a right way and a wrong way to interpret a literary work? How important is the author's intention? How do we know what the author intended? These questions lead to considerations of the proper relationship between a literary work and literary criticism.

Canto Two: Summary:

In Canto Two, Shade focuses less on his personal history and focuses more on his ideas and their formation. He is in his early sixties as he recalls his "demented youth." As a young man, Shade believed in God and he believed that the "truth" could be found in books. However, he soon became a skeptic and as a questioner, Shade saw nature as something worth investigating. Shade believed that by paying attention to small details in nature, he might understand larger, cosmic issues.

Shade remembers when his ailing Aunt Maud was struck by paralysis. One day Shade watched a bug land on Aunt Maud's arm‹and yet, Aunt Maud didn't even move or seem to notice the presence of the bug. Shade wondered: Did Aunt Maud still "think?" His conclusion was that Aunt Maud was trapped in a cycle of trying to think: "she sought in vain/To reason with the monsters in her brain." Shade feels compassion for Aunt Maud, even after she has died. Perhaps feeling guilty for disclosing this information about Aunt Maud, Shade takes a step back from his poem. He asks the question of whether poetry is an appropriate way to balance "private" images and "public" ideas.

balance "private" images and "public" ideas. Summary and Analysis of Foreword to Canto 2 Copyright (C)
For a brief moment, the poem focuses on pleasantries, namely Shade's long standing marriage to

For a brief moment, the poem focuses on pleasantries, namely Shade's long standing marriage to his high school sweetheart, Sybil. The happiness of their marriage, however, is blunted by the tragedy they suffered as parents. Their daughter was highly unattractive, non−social, and tormented. Despite John and Sybil's best efforts to help their daughter, the teen ultimately drowned in a frozen lake at Lochan Neck. Shade has little doubt that this "accident" was really suicide.

Analysis:

One of the main questions that John Shade asks himself deals with poetry: Is poetry an appropriate medium for philosophical discussion, for remembering the past, and for grappling with grief? We might ask whether Shade's poem still seems like a poem‹considering the fact that it is part of a larger novel. There is tension between Shade's arguments on poetry and the poem's narrative role as part of the novel. We can understand this as a tension between the inner and outer structures of the poem. Within the poem, Shade discusses the functions of poetry as a genre. But as a whole, the poem functions in a narrative way: it becomes an early chapter in a longer story. Of course, if Shade's poem was more lyrical (complicated rhyme scheme, rhythm, poetic devices) it would read more like an individual poem and less like a part of the bigger story.

The death motif continues in Canto Two. The reader should note that death has claimed both the young and the old: Shade's parents, Aunt Maud, and Shade's daughter. Shade tries to discuss life and the afterlife in a theoretical philosophical way, but these actual deaths in the family force Shade to come up with a theory. Shade isn't just philosophizing; rather, he is trying to deal with details of his personal life. Philosophy and poetry are therapy for John Shade‹these aren't mental or artistic exercises.

Charles Kinbote mentions Sybil Shade in his Foreword, but Canto Two is the first time that John Shade mentions his wife. Sybil's name is derived from the "sibyl" of Greek and Near Eastern mythology. The sibyls were female prophets with divinely bestowed abilities to foresee the future. Sybil Shade is a reversal of this mythological archetype. By the end of the four cantos, it will be clear that John Shade's life is full of tragedy. At no point does Sybil become a "Sibyl" who foresees tragedy (for example, the suicide of the daughter). Because there is so much tragedy in John's life, Sybil's inability to prophecy stands out. Of course, this isn't actually a character flaw on her part and we can't rationally hold this against her. Nabokov's argument is that in the modern era, "Sybil" is just a name. The Greeks could use sibyls as a way to get through life, get advance notice on death, and prepare for the afterlife. In the modern era, John Shade doesn't have access to the Greek sibyls. He is forced to look elsewhere.

In terms of female mythological archetypes, Sybil/sibyl provides insight into another trend in Shade's poetry. In the Greek tradition, there were many prophetesses (like Cassandra), oracles and sibyls. The male prophet (like blind Tiresias) seldom appears in Greek myth: this vocation was almost exclusively female.

Besides the role of the prophetess, the role of the "Muse" is the only other place where we find an "exclusively female" group making philosophical or intellectual contributions. The idea of the female muse (usually a love

contributions. The idea of the female muse (usually a love Summary and Analysis of Foreword to
interest) recurs throughout western literature, but Shade's poem discards the traditional muse (he presents an

interest) recurs throughout western literature, but Shade's poem discards the traditional muse (he presents an alternative in Canto Four). Much later, Kinbote will argue in the "Commentary" that he was Shade's muse.

Canto Two focuses on the strategies of poetry of philosophy, but the canto also provides indirect commentary on "translation." When Shade tries to turn his private drama into a publishable work of art, he admits: "How ludicrous these efforts to translate/ Into one's private tongue a public fate." Shade's private tongue includes words like "Aunt Maud" and "Lochan Head." This personal information makes it more difficult for the "public" to read Shade's argument as a broader commentary that discusses human "fate" in general. At this moment in Shade's poem, "translation" refers to the difficulty of translating poetry into philosophy. The word "translate," however, should provoke thoughts on Nabokov's own literary situation: Nabokov began writing in Russian (and French) well before he began writing novels in English. Part of the exile experience is literary, what is "lost in translation." Of course, Shade's use of the word "translate" doesn't carry this significance. However, later passages of the Commentary will extensively discuss translation between three languages (English, Russian, and Zemblan). In retrospect, these lines of the poem will become important.

Finally, a literary allusion to T.S. Eliot is set within an ironic context. Shade's daughter asks the question: "What does sempiternal mean?" T.S. Eliot is so famous (perhaps, infamous) for his deliberately obscure vocabulary, and Nabokov takes a jab at Eliot here. "Sempiternal" simply means "eternal." The word appears in the poem "Little Gidding," the fourth of Eliot's Four Quartets. The opening lines of the poem read: "Midwinter spring is its own season/ Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown, / Suspended in time, between pole and tropic."

One of the ironies here is that Eliot's concept of an eternal season is sharply different from Shade's abundance of death and snow, shadows and ice. The more violent irony here is that a teenage girl who later drowns herself in

a frozen lake poses the question "What does sempiternal mean?" The suicide of youth (in winter) can be read as

condemning‹or at least, exposing a flaw of modern poetry. Eliot's "sempiternal" poetry fails to communicate in

a necessary way here.

poetry fails to communicate in a necessary way here. Summary and Analysis of Foreword to Canto
Summary and Analysis of Cantos 3−4 Canto Three: Summary: John Shade continues his philosophical reflection

Summary and Analysis of Cantos 3−4

Canto Three: Summary:

John Shade continues his philosophical reflection on the word "if." The word "if" leads to the idea of a group called IPH, the Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter. This is an academic or at least intellectual hangout, and in his young adulthood, Shade enjoys the group. As a newlywed, Shade was an itinerant. Sybil accompanied John as his career took him from lecture to teaching stint to book reading. Later on in the marriage, the Shades eventually settled down in New Wye, where John is a highly respected professor with tenure.

Shade enjoys remembering these happy, unblighted years. This sparks Shade's realization that he does not object to death. Rather, Shade does not want to forget the details of life, even after he dies. "I'm ready to become a floweret," he states, but he refuses to "forgetŠthe melancholy and the tenderness of mortal life." Shade wants to keep the memory of the good as well as the bad.

At the same time, Shade does not confuse this fantasy with his actual philosophy. Shade is conservative in his assessment of the afterlife, concluding that one should not go into death with too many expectations. Such expectations are likely to be disappointed.

The Shades travel to Italy after their daughter's death. After the return home, John Shade goes on a book tour promoting his new collection of poetry. At one of these readings, John suffers some sort of spasm, a heart irregularity. He falls and loses consciousness, but soon recovers. Despite the doctor's explanation of what actually happened (a minor irregularity in heart beat), Shade is convinced that he died. During his few minutes in the afterlife, Shade saw a "white fountain." Some time later, Shade reads a magazine article examining a woman who was dead for a few minutes and saw a "white fountain." Eagerly, Shade makes contact with both the journalist who covered the story and the woman who was featured. Much to his consternation, Shade learns that there was a typographical error in the printed article. The woman didn't see a "white fountain;" she saw a "white mountain."

Analysis:

The typographical error, confusing "fountain" and "mountain," adds to the theme of reading and misreading. Shade is reading properly here; the problem is that the wrong word is written down. Looking at John Shade as a character within the novel, we can see two characteristics that are uncommonly paired. On one hand, Shade is not a social conservative by any means. In fact, he is somewhat eccentric and is willing to hold unpopular views that go against longstanding public opinion. For example, Shade does not believe in God; moreover, Shade believes that he saw a "white fountain" in the afterlife. On the other hand, Shade has very high demands for accuracy and precision. Shade's ideas may not be conservative, but Shade is conservative in his dismissal of slight "error" and his demands to have a precise answer. The fact the woman claimed to see a mountain, does

answer. The fact the woman claimed to see a mountain, does Summary and Analysis of Cantos
not change the fact that she claims to have seen something. Nevertheless, Shade rejects this

not change the fact that she claims to have seen something. Nevertheless, Shade rejects this potential commonality because they have not seen the same exact thing. It is important to understand how Shade is averse to error, inaccuracy and ambiguity. In the "Commentary," Kinbote will significantly alter Shade's poem, but his arguments about Shade's errors and ambiguities won't ring true given what we know about John Shade.

Canto III does more with the death motif than the previous cantos did. We can see the irony of falling down (and into unconsciousness) at the pinnacle of ones literary success (the book reading). At this point, it is worth noting that the name SHADE is an anagram of HADES, the underworld of Greek mythology. The phrase "Elysian life" alludes to Elysium (or the Elysian Fields), a region of Hades where dead heroes lived a peaceful afterlife. Specifically, the blessing of Elysium is that the dead have no memory or recollection of life on earth. This is in direct opposition to Shade's demand to "never to forget."

Shade agrees to the idea of death as a form of metamorphosis (changing into "a floweret /or a fat fly"). This is closer to Eastern philosophies of unity and reincarnation, as opposed to the more thorough physical death described in Greek and Christian traditions. Shade doesn't want his death to interrupt his earthly life. As the Foreword explained, however, Shade dies soon after he completes a draft of the poem. Shade's own use of the word "newlydead" (in opposition to "newlywed") doesn't foreshadow his death. It reminds us of what we already learned.

"Hesperus" was the name that the Greeks gave to the Straits of Gibraltar. The Greeks believed Hesperus to be the edge of the known world. The metaphor of Hesperus, as the edge of the known, is presented in IPH. IPH seeks to investigate and explore what lies beyond the Hereafter/Hesperus. "Fra Karamazov" is final literary allusion of different extraction. Shade's poem refers to "Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept/ All is allowed." In Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters essentially claims that if God does not exist, "all is allowed." Shade is hardly focused on the implications of the hereafter on morality. Further, Shade does not believe that God exists, though he does not express anything close to Fra Karamazov's amorality. Nabokov's works frequently criticize traditional social institutions, and Nabokov was hardly a fan of organized religion. The character of John Shade proposes Nabokov's idea of religion and morality as discrete and potentially separable: without believing in God, Shade is able to reject the claim that "Šall is permitted."

Canto Four: Summary:

In this final section of the poem, Shade interprets his task as a poet. He aims to "spy on beauty" and "try what none has tried." Shade's writing process takes two forms. "Method A" is when Shade thinks about his ideas and finds the central words and phrases. This is a mental, unwritten process. "Method A is agony." Method B is when the writing takes place. Shade sees his pen as a sort of muse or "prop." The physical implement makes it easier to think. Shade enjoys a routine of writing at his desk, in a structured and traditional way. Method A, on the other hand, occurs randomly, often during mundane tasks like shaving.

occurs randomly, often during mundane tasks like shaving. Summary and Analysis of Cantos 3−4 Copyright (C)
Shaving makes Shade think about advertisements for razors and shaving cream. He despises them because

Shaving makes Shade think about advertisements for razors and shaving cream. He despises them because they deceitfully portray shaving as an easy, simple process. Shade then gives a long list of what he "loathes," jazz, bullfighting, bric−a−brac, primitivist art, supermarket music, swimming pools, Freud, Marx, and "puffed−up poets" among others.

In the end, Shade claims that he needs poetry in order to understand life. Poetry is not one of several methods; it is the "only" option.

Analysis:

As poets go, Shade is not the best. Canto Four promises to "try what none has tried"‹but this is probably more true of Nabokov than John Shade. In terms of structure, Shade's poem is incredibly simplistic. Shade's discussion of the "vital rhythm" ironically occurs in an irregularly stressed line. Like Shade's ailing heart, Shade's poem keeps an irregular, erratic beat.

Several literary critics have addressed the idea of "authorship" in dividing Shade from Nabokov. On one hand, Shade is a character within a fictional work‹but "Pale Fire" is the poem that Shade wrote. Plenty of books feature writers as characters, but in Pale Fire we happen to read what the character wrote. On the other hand, Nabokov is the author of Pale Fire, and the poem "Pale Fire" as well. For whatever reasons, the structure that Nabokov has put in place certainly disadvantages John Shade. Shade seeks to explain to us why he writes. He is a writer writing about writing. Kinbote's Commentary, as we will soon see, undoes all of Shade's work. In Line 937, Shade refers to "Old Zembla." As Kinbote takes the reins from Shade, the story sharply veers towards "Zembla" and Shade's poetic concerns become irrelevant.

and Shade's poetic concerns become irrelevant. Summary and Analysis of Cantos 3−4 Copyright (C) 2002
Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 1−2 Commentary/Canto One: Summary: Charles Kinbote does not

Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 1−2

Commentary/Canto One: Summary:

Charles Kinbote does not offer commentary on Shade's poem as a whole. Instead, Kinbote adds notes of clarification for specific words and phrases that appear in the poem. The reader quickly realizes, however, that these clarifications are not very relevant to Shade's poem. In fact, many of these comments may seem to be chosen at random. It would be hasty to characterize the commentary as random, though. These notes do evolve into a pattern: Kinbote is telling us a story that he believes to be of vital importance. For better or worse, he has hijacked Shade's poem in order to do this.

Kinbote's efforts are pretty hilarious when we consider what an actual "commentary" might have been. Kinbote's commentary tells us less about New Wye, John Shade, and poetry. Instead, we read about a land called Zembla, learn a good deal about Charles Kinbote, and get some classified information regarding political intrigue in the land of Zembla.

Kinbote does occasionally make reference to John Shade. In discussing one of the poem's early lines, Kinbote describes the birds that held Shade's childhood fascination. The discussion of the bird then shifts to a discussion of Zemblan birds, and then proceeds to other Zemblan topics.

Kinbote argues that he is Shade's muse: he has taught the poet much about Zembla and, as a result, Shade has written "Pale Fire"‹a poem that is largely about Zembla. Because Kinbote sees "Pale Fire" as an inspired poem about Zembla, he sees his discursive commentary on Zembla as relevant and perhaps even necessary information. Kinbote helped John Shade to write about Zembla. So it makes sense that Kinbote is especially (uniquely) qualified to give us the definitive commentary on the poem.

In terms of Zembla, a few main "facts" of the story are established in the commentary on Canto One. The later commentary proceeds from these main facts to fill in the details‹but the skeleton of the plot is presented early on:

King Charles of Zembla was the last of the royal line, having fled into exile when revolutionaries captured the government. Charles is a quirky, enigmatic‹but likeable character who never really enjoyed the politics and strictures of the monarchy. One gets the sense that Charles is almost relieved to be rid of the obligations (though he misses the palace and its perks). Furthermore, the king's life is in danger. Though they have captured the Zemblan government, the revolutionaries (Kinbote calls them "The Shadows") are intent upon assassinating King Charles. A man called Gradus (one of several aliases) must fulfill this mission.

Analysis:

of several aliases) must fulfill this mission. Analysis: Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 1−2
As fictional characters go, Charles Kinbote is rather unique in terms of psychological complexity. From

As fictional characters go, Charles Kinbote is rather unique in terms of psychological complexity. From the beginning, Kinbote's sanity and reason are called into question. At this juncture in the novel, our estimation of Kinbote's sanity depends upon whether or not we think Zembla is an actual place (within the fictional world). Of course, there is no country called Zembla on our map, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a Zembla within the novel Pale Fire. However, if Kinbote has invented Zembla, he is not merely dishonest‹he is delusional and probably a little dangerous as well. As the novel progresses, Kinbote gives us more information about his personal history. And it shouldn't take the reader too long to catch on to Kinbote's heavy−handed hints that he, Charles Kinbote, is in fact the Zemblan King Charles in disguise.

Though there is no actual nation called Zembla, Zembla does bear strong parallels to Russia, which is Nabokov's homeland. The overthrow of the monarchy parallels the Bolsheviks' termination of the Romanov dynasty. As described, the language, climate and geographic location of Zembla also bear strong correlation to Russia: The Zemblan phrases sound like Russian, or another Slavic language. Zembla is capable of producing Russian winters. Zembla is at the eastern edge of the European continent.

Nabokov took the name "Zembla" from a poem by Alexander Pope; Pope's "Zembla" is an imprecise reference to Novaya Zemlya, an Arctic Russian island. In terms of narrative structure, Zembla represents one of the "post−modern" features of Pale Fire. Nabokov has taken details of the actual world and created a duplicate. The humorous references to Zemblan literature and translation are parody. In post−modern circles, Nabokov's compilation of these "Zemblan" details (Russian sounds, Russian winter, Russian geography, Russian names, and Russian political history) is described as "pastiche"‹a collage.

This doesn't suggest that all Zemblan details correspond to Russia. Nabokov's diverse academic interests (for example: Alpine butterflies, American media, British poetry) prevent Russian−ness from being a totalizing theme. Zembla's "Charles the Beloved," for example, is the namesake of France's similarly polarizing King Charles VI (1368−1422). Charles VI had two nicknames: "Le Bien−Aimé" ("The Well−beloved") or "Le Fol" ("The Insane") and both are applicable to the Zemblan King Charles.

Ironically, Kinbote tells us that Charles the Beloved's reign from 1936−1958 was a "reign of peace." The facts of Nazi aggression, World War Two and its horrors, and the friction of the Cold War make it difficult for us to imagine 1936−1958 as a "reign of peace." Zembla seems believable as a "pastiche" or illustration of Russia‹but if Zembla is like Russia, how was this a time of peace?

Pale Fire borrows the motif of "synchronicity" from James Joyce's works. For the duration of the commentary, Gradus' travels are synchronized with Shade's writing. As the assassin travels westward, the poet moves closer to completing his final work. The synchronicity motif foreshadows Shade's death: Gradus arrives in New Wye as Shade is completing his poem, and soon after Shade stops writing, Gradus unintentionally kills the poet.

Kinbote describes the long course that will take Gradus "from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia." This speaks to theme of exile. In Pale Fire and Lolita, Nabokov illustrates how the barriers of memory and language

Nabokov illustrates how the barriers of memory and language Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos
complicate distances of time and space. "[D]istant dim Zembla" becomes increasingly difficult to remember and

complicate distances of time and space. "[D]istant dim Zembla" becomes increasingly difficult to remember and describe. Furthermore, as Gradus leaves Zembla for America, he comes into the light. Zembla remains vague and mysterious, but mysteries unravel in America. Aliases and motives are revealed.

As an exile, Charles Kinbote is a parallel character to Lolita's Humbert Humbert (though Humbert is not Russian, but French−Swiss). Both Humbert and Kinbote are "unreliable narrators." In part, language barriers complicate communication between the narrator and the reader, but both men are psychologically unsteady. Over the course of the novel, unfolding details about Kinbote will strengthen the parallel: Both men are continental Europeans and social/political conservatives. They are both writer−teachers on the fringes of the university establishment, but their academic efforts are complicated by insanity, and are pseudo−intellectual at best. Trapped in a New England small town, neither man can play a sustained role within a traditional family structure, but both men have nontraditional sexual interests. Both exiles become itinerant and go into hiding at some point: Humbert hides because he is a murderer, but Kinbote is hiding from a murderer.

Kinbote and Humbert's similarities emphasize the moral confines of small town provinciality; the psychological complications of immigration and exile; and the proven vulnerability of social structures, like marriage or monarchy that once seemed durable. In sum, both men are unsuccessful in their attempts to integrate the mainstream society. One ends up in prison, and the other in a cave.

There are a few literary references worth noting. The word "stillicide" alludes to "Friends Beyond," an 1898 poem by Thomas Hardy. Lines 6−8 of the poem read:

"They've a way of whispering to me‹ fellow−wight who yet abide−

In the muted, measured note

Of a ripple under archways, or a lone cave's stillicide."

Hardy's "stillicide" refers to a cave's silence (a death to noise), but Kinbote's stillicide refers to Gradus' murderous intentions.

As indicated in the text, the phrase "Pale Fire" does in fact come from Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens. In an English−Zemblan−English translation exercise, Kinbote re−writes Shakespeare's phrase "pale fire" as "silvery light." The implications of such an error are vast. This error speaks to the theme of translation, and more specifically, what is lost in translation. Shakespeare uses the word "resolves" but Kinbote replaces it with "dissolves." Kinbote's translation of Shakespeare "dissolves" the original intent. This is a parallel to how Kinbote "dissolves" Shade's "Pale Fire" into something different. In this passage of Timon of Athens, Shakespeare's "pale fire" is moonlight, light that the moon has stolen from the sun. We might ask ourselves whether the relationship between Kinbote's criticism and the original texts (Shade's and Shakespeare's) is similarly thieving.

(Shade's and Shakespeare's) is similarly thieving. Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 1−2
Literary criticism often enlists actual psychological terms and theories as a means of better understanding

Literary criticism often enlists actual psychological terms and theories as a means of better understanding fictional human characters. The term "cathexis" is defined as a relationship where one person "binds" another person to himself, and then defines that person by their relationship with and utility to him. Consistently, literary critics have used the term "cathexis" to describe Kinbote's relationship with John Shade. (Sybil Shade later uses the words "parasite" and "tick"). Kinbote is not mentioned anywhere in Shade's poem; for all of Kinbote's protestations, it is doubtful that the two men were friends. Kinbote claims that he and Shade were neighbors, but Shade gives no evidence to substantiate this claim. Kinbote "binds" Shade to himself as friend and neighbor. Having done this, Kinbote tells us that he has inspired Shade to write "Pale Fire." Kinbote only focuses on the pieces of the poem that are useful and interesting to him. Kinbote makes a motif out of the poem's phrase "I could make out" and writes:

"By the end of May I could make out the outlines of some of my images in the shape his [Shade's] genius might give themŠ"

Kinbote is only interested in what Shade's poem can be made to say about Zembla. Substantially portions of the poem's "Fair Copy" are deleted and rewritten. Additionally, numerous passages are added on to the 999−lined poem‹which Kinbote's claims is unfinished. Unsurprisingly, Kinbote will give himself permission to finish the poem once he reaches the end of the commentary.

Commentary/Canto Two: Summary:

King Charles makes a breathtaking, narrow escape from the Zemblan palace. By the time the king is in France,

a group of "anti−Carlists" called the Shadows is plotting assassination. The Shadows are bumbling and

ineffectual, however. Gradus, the chosen assassin, is particularly dense and inept. Again, Kinbote reminds us that Gradus' westward travels (to find the king) are synchronized with John Shade's writing schedule.

Back in New Wye, John Shade celebrates his July birthday. Kinbote is sure that Shade would have invited him, but Sybil ostracizes Kinbote. Because Sybil is jealous of Kinbote's relationship with John, Sybil has prevented

Kinbote from attending the party. Over time, Kinbote has learned that Sybil would call him "an elephantine tick;

a king−sized botfly; a macao worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." Kinbote expresses sympathy for his

dead friend. Kinbote saw that John Shade was both "capricious and henpecked." Shade couldn't stand up to Sybil, as she tyrannical determined who his friends would be.

Kinbote also mentions "Hazel Shade," the daughter of John and Sybil. Kinbote describes the daughter as a

"poltergeist" who haunts the house. Hazel tries very hard to become an intellectual. At one point, she discovers

a "talking light" in a barn, but this episode brings only embarrassment. When Hazel brings her parents to witness the scene, the "talking light" fails to show up.

Gradus spends some time in Copenhagen before leaving for Paris. By chance, Gradus meets a man named Bretwit. Bretwit is an old Royalist but not a very smart one. He talks freely with Gradus and confirms that the

smart one. He talks freely with Gradus and confirms that the Summary and Analysis of Commentary
king has, in fact, left Zembla. Midway into the conversation, Bretwit discovers that Gradus is

king has, in fact, left Zembla. Midway into the conversation, Bretwit discovers that Gradus is not a Royalist and refuses to say anything more. Bretwit does not know that Gradus is an assassin, instead accusing him of being a tabloid reporter.

Analysis:

This commentary section takes the motif of synchronicity and incorporates it as part of the narrative structure. Kinbote tells us that the story will "become gradually clearer as gradual Gradus approaches in space and time." This indicates that the relationship between Gradus and Shade is neither minor nor coincidental. This synchronicity gives structure to the plot. Like other characters in Nabokov's novels, Gradus has a name with a meaning. The alias "Gradus" suggests obscurity: the presentation of Gradus is "gradual." Another alias, "Le Degre," suggests that Gradus will emerge by degrees.

Gradus/Le Degre suggests an obscurity or mystery that is gradually explained over time. On the other hand, the name "Shade" is like the name "Haze" in Lolita. "Shade" suggests an obscurity that remains obscure. "Shade" does not emerge nor become clearer by degrees. Kinbote's commentary fails to illuminate Shade's poem in a significant way. The suicidal daughter is doubly mysterious as "Hazel" ("Haze") and "Shade." Indeed, the reader should note that Kinbote tells us Hazel's name‹John Shade never names Hazel in his poem.

The commentary alludes to Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson. Boswell's work is the definitive prototype of modern biography. Boswell is renowned for his accurate recollection and attention to close detail. Kinbote's depiction of John Shade is less balanced than Boswell's depiction of Dr. Johnson. Much unlike Boswell, Kinbote seeks to integrate himself within near every aspect of Shade's life. Kinbote lacks the personal distance that worked towards Boswell's credibility as a fair observer.

Kinbote injects so much of his personal life into the commentary that the lines between literary criticism, biography, and autobiography are blurred. For example, Kinbote offers a biography of the exiled king. Whenever Kinbote suggests that he is, in fact, the exiled king, the commentary becomes more autobiographical.

The commentary also mentions Professor Pnin, the main character of Nabokov's novel Pnin. Pnin blocks Kinbote's chance of becoming a tenured professor. Here, Nabokov refers to his own ill fated though highly publicized attempt to become a tenured professor at Harvard. Nabokov's chief adversary famously argued that having Nabokov teach Russian literature simply because he was a Russian writer, would be like having "an elephant teach biology." In Pnin, Nabokov's bitterness is on full display.

Again, the text alludes to the literature of Pope and Shakespeare. Kinbote cites lines that refer both to "Zembla" and a "king." Asking if the reader has "guessed my secret," Kinbote suggests that he is the exiled king of Zembla.

Kinbote suggests that he is the exiled king of Zembla. Summary and Analysis of Commentary on
Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 3−4 Commentary/Canto Three: Summary: Shade and Kinbote discuss

Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 3−4

Commentary/Canto Three: Summary:

Shade and Kinbote discuss philosophical issues but they don't usually agree with each other. Shade does not believe in God, but Kinbote does. Kinbote also believes in organized religion, much to Shade's chagrin. Shade believes in moral relativism, that standards of wrong and right are truly different in different societies. On the other hand, Kinbote believes that a universal standard of wrong and right can be applied to every society.

Shade and Kinbote also disagree on aesthetic questions. Specifically, Shade makes two arguments that stand out. First, he argues that there is no such thing as "original sin." In place of the "original sin" of the Garden of Eden, Shade contends that "L'homme est né bon" (Man is born good). Shade's second main argument is that "sin" is necessary for art, and the finest works of art tend to celebrate and illustrate sinful activities. Overall, Shade is a Romantic and Kinbote is a Conservative.

Gradus spends some time in central Europe, eventually leaving Geneva for Nice, a small resort city on the French Riviera. By this time, the king is long gone, having parachuted from an airplane and disappeared. Gradus senses that time is not on his side. He considers continuing on his trail without waiting for instructions. Gradus comes into contact with two Soviet agents named Andronnikov and Niagarin. Gradus is friendly with the Soviets and he is put in contact with a man called Izumrudov. Izumrudov gives Gradus a piece of paper with classified information. The paper confirms that the exiled king is in New England, teaching literature under an assumed name. Gradus then eats the paper to hide the evidence.

Analysis:

The interactions between Gradus and the quirky Soviet agents are a farce. Extremely important affairs have been placed in the hands of extremely incompetent men. Andronnikov is a name that alludes to Russian history. Andronnikov was a man rumored to be involved with Rasputin, a famous enigmatic figure in late Tsarist Russia. Nabokov's political views are not well hidden here. Nabokov's father was very involved in reform movements during the rule of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. A desire for parliamentary reform is not the same thing as a desire for revolution‹and certainly not communism. Nabokov held sympathies for monarchy, despite its flaws. This sympathy is matched with a contempt for the Soviet regime. At one point, Kinbote (the king in disguise) says that "the one who kills is always his victim's inferior." While Nabokov can't argue that the Tsarist rule was bloodless, the Communist coup and subsequent regime was far bloodier.

The argument about whether sin is necessary for art is important to our considerations of Nabokov's collected work. Nabokov consistently exposes the taboos and subjectivity of American small towns and totalitarian state regimes alike. Nabokov's novel Lolita suffered censorship, even in a democratic nation like the United States. Here, Nabokov's response to censorship is that the body of sin includes many things worth writing about.

the body of sin includes many things worth writing about. Summary and Analysis of Commentary on
Kinbote draws a parallel between God and the Artist when he describes the artist as

Kinbote draws a parallel between God and the Artist when he describes the artist as a God−like "Judge of life andŠDesigner of Death." This serves to emphasize the number of editorial decisions required of a writer, once the characters are in place. Kinbote draws criticism for his abuse of his position, however. As a writer, Kinbote has the ability to "judge" and "design" as he pleases, but he has been arbitrary and dishonest. Kinbote admits that at one point he found himself at the "brink of falsification" because he did not like a section of Shade's poetry. Of course, Kinbote has already falsified much the story. Kinbote consistently refers to the "Fair Copy" of Shade's poem but as a critic, Kinbote has been consistently unfair.

Throughout this section, there is a balance between the comic and the tragic. This balance is maintained even in the literary allusions. Kinbote's term, "Hudibrastic," is a word that refers to a poem by Samuel Butler called "Hudibras." "Hudibras" was a parody of Professor Hudibras, written in doggerel verse. "Hudibras" fits well within the context of Nabokov's parody of Professor Pnin and mainly Professor Kinbote.

The allusion to "Arcadia" is more tragic in significance. Kinbote borrows the ideas of "Arcadia" and "Dementia" from Greek Mythology. Arcadia was a town that represented the perfection of nature. To this day, the phrases "Arcadian" and "Arcadian rhythm" describe a natural utopia. Dementia was a personality of characteristic insanity and delusion (dementia). Like Humbert in Lolita, Kinbote is a demented man who has found his way into Arcadia. Kinbote writes: "ŒEven in Arcady am I,' says Dementia, chained to her gray column." This sinister combination of opposing images is a pollution. In terms of the plot, this phrase foreshadows the arrival of Gradus in Arcadian New Wye. In terms of character development, Kinbote's personification of Dementia (as a chained woman who speaks) alerts us to Kinbote's own pain and suffering.

Commentary/Canto Four: Summary:

The last section of commentary brings the novel to its swift conclusion. Gradus leaves Nice for Orly Airport in Paris. From Paris, Gradus flies to New York City, and from New York, the assassin heads for New Wye. In New Wye, Shade and Kinbote are unaware of the impending danger. In a dining hall conversation, someone asks Kinbote about his history in Zembla. When Kinbote is vague about Zembla, the person raises the issue of Kinbote's strong resemblance to the exiled king, also named Charles. At this point, Shade steps in and dismisses these ideas. Much later, Kinbote is now looking over the dead man's annotations. Kinbote describes himself as a "weary and sad commentator" because some of Shade's notes reveal that the reference to Zembla is casual: "At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where."

When Gradus arrives in New Wye, he travels under the alias Jacques d'Argus. Jacques is focused and determined to fulfill his mission. A torrential downpour makes it difficult for d'Argus to get around. Also, something he has eaten has given him a horrible stomachache and diarrhea.

Once d'Argus gets to New Wye, it is not difficult for him to track Kinbote to Shade's house. Shade has just completed his draft of "Pale Fire" and he is now sharing it with Kinbote. D'Argus gets his gun, takes aim and fires‹but he shoots Shade instead of Kinbote. Kinbote's gardener rushes to the scene and knocks the gunman

gardener rushes to the scene and knocks the gunman Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos
down. The gardener then takes the gun. Kinbote looks at Shade's body and sees that

down. The gardener then takes the gun.

Kinbote looks at Shade's body and sees that he is dead. Kinbote then goes to his house (next door) and hides the poem for safekeeping. He returns to wait with the gardener for the authorities to arrive.

Gradus is placed under psychological observation. Kinbote tells us that he went to see Gradus and the assassin made a full confession. Not long after this, Gradus killed himself. Thus, no one can substantiate this part of Kinbote's story. Kinbote has gone into hiding. At present, he sits in a cave composing this commentary. While he is secure for the moment, Kinbote does not doubt that the Shadows will send a "bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus" to complete the mission.

Analysis:

Kinbote shows us that he was more interested in the manuscript of "Pale Fire" than he was concerned about his dying friend. This character development explains Kinbote's indifference to Shade's poetic concerns.

The motif of synchronicity is resolved in this final section. Certainly, it is ironic that the deliberate "interlinking" of "time zones" would result in an accidental death. One could make the argument that Shade's fate was to die. At the same time though, if accidental death is fate, there is little difference between fate and chance, predestination and chaos.

Another major irony involves Gradus' alias "Jacques D'Argus." The name "D'Argus" is hardly a disguise as it is an anagram of "Gradus." The name "Argus" alludes to Greek mythology. Argus was a watchman‹not an assassin, and another anagram of the name "Gradus" is GUARDS. The earlier commentary foreshadowed the arrival of "Dementia" in "Arcadia." In Greek mythology, Argus was the watchman for the town of Arcadia, ridding the utopia of pests, giants, and monsters. Argus was an ideal watchman because he had one hundred eyes; while some eyes slept, others remained vigilant. D'Argus is a double reversal of Argus then: He is not a watchman, but an assassin. Further, he is not perceptive but blind: D'argus shoots the wrong person.

The distinction between the person who guards and the person who destroys should not be lost. Kinbote physically possesses the one "Fair Copy" of Shade's final poem. Instead of serving as a guardian, Kinbote has taken excessive liberties.

Finally, some literary critics look at Kinbote's name (which means "king−destroyer) and take it as evidence that he is actually the assassin, and that John Shade was actually the king. The mystery of the novel is never resolved, but this shouldn't spoil the book. It is likely that the reader doesn't actually believe that there is a Zembla, a Zemblan king, or a king's assassin. In this novel, the likelihood of Kinbote's dementia removes the burden of solving his mystery.

dementia removes the burden of solving his mystery. Summary and Analysis of Commentary on Cantos 3−4
Related Links http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02/lifetimes/nab−r−palefire.html This is the link to the original New

Related Links

This is the link to the original New York Times review of the novel, entitled "In an Elaborate Spoof, Nabokov Takes Us to the Never−Never Land of Zembla."

This is a short essay on Pale Fire in terms of the post−modernist movement that it immediately preceded.

of the post−modernist movement that it immediately preceded. Related Links Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver LLC 24
Author of ClassicNote and Sources John Burton, author of ClassicNote. Completed on September 07, 2002,

Author of ClassicNote and Sources

John Burton, author of ClassicNote. Completed on September 07, 2002, copyright held by GradeSaver.

Meyer, Priscilla. Find What the Sailor Has Hidden: Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire University Press, 1988.

Middletown, CT: Wesleyan

Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire in Nabokov: Novels 1955−1962 (New York: The Library of America, 1996), pp. 437−667. orig. pub. 1962.

Boyd, Brian. "Pale Fire" in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 424−456.

Kernan, Alvin B. "The Audience Disappears in Nabokov's Pale Fire". In Modern Critical Views: Vladimir Nabokov (ed. Harold Bloom). New York: Chelsea House, 1987, pp. 101−126

Seidel, Michael. "Stereoscope: Nabokov's Ada and Pale Fire". In Modern Critical Views: Vladimir Nabokov (ed. Harold Bloom). New York: Chelsea House, 1987, pp. 235−258

Harold Bloom). New York: Chelsea House, 1987, pp. 235−258 Author of ClassicNote and Sources Copyright (C)
Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire by Theoderek Wayne December 02, 2001 Nabokov's "Pale Fire" fractures

Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire

by Theoderek Wayne December 02, 2001

Nabokov's "Pale Fire" fractures the traditional doppelganger story (as do other novels of his, such as "Despair," "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," and "Lolita"), which often relies on clear black−and−white doubles (Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" comes to mind), by coloring in the nuanced tones between the aptly named John Shade and his commentator, Charles Kinbote. Several instances blur the line between the two men; perhaps one invented the other, perhaps they are one and the same, perhaps they invented each other. This is somewhat irrelevant, as there is enough conflicting evidence for all cases to be made in Nabokov's detective story. What is important, rather, is that "Pale Fire," the poem, ties to the commentary − neither of these could

exist without the other. In the end it is art that carries through, not any man's personality; as Kinbote concludes,

"Yes, better stop. My notes and self are petering out

My

work is finished. My poet is dead" (300).

Nabokov immediately paints his convoluted double theme with a favorite pigment, numbers. Kinbote tells us that Shade was "born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959" − he was alive for 61 years and 16 days (13). Furthermore, the second and third canto's 334 lines double (plus two more) the 166−lined first and fourth cantos. Kinbote, too, has an affinity for doubles, as revealed in the foreword: "nother tormentor inquired if it was true that I had installed two ping−pong tables in my basement. I asked, was it a crime? No, he said, but why two? 'Is that a crime?' I countered, and they all laughed" (21−2). Nabakov is known for his distaste of doppelgangers; "The doppelganger is a great bore," he once lamented. Much of his fiction is devoted to

advancing the doppelganger past the relatively simplistic clash of the superego and the id in previous literature. His wordplay − even "ping−pong" sounds like the same word repeated, is often ironic and self−conscious of its

mystery novel intents: "

with two charming identical twins and another boy, another boy" (23).

I

was about to have a kind of little seminar at home followed by some table tennis,

Kinbote explains his purpose, even his existence, by arguing that authorial intent is meaningless without a

guiding hand: "

such a poem as his

forth, a reality that only my notes can provide

(28−9). Shade's "attachments" seems an oblique reference to Kinbote himself, adding to Kinbote's presumption that not only is an author's work incomprehensible without adding a critic's eye, but that the author's life was, too, tempered by Kinbote's presence. Whether this is Nabakov's view is difficult to ascertain; given his mockery of Kinbote's commentary − on why Shade gave a hurricane the name Lolita: "Why our poet chose to hive his 1958 hurricane a little−used Spanish name (sometimes given to parrots) instead of Linda or Lois, is not clear" − it seems more feasible that Nabakov believed the original body of art, and not its layers of skin, should stand the test of time.

without

has

my notes Shade's text simply has no human reality at all since the human reality of

to depend entirely on the reality of its author and surroundings, attachments and so

for

better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word"

or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word" Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire
With its multiple pairings and confusions (one of Gradus's alias is Jacques de Grey, pointing

With its multiple pairings and confusions (one of Gradus's alias is Jacques de Grey, pointing to a possible alliance to Shade; Kinbote's identity complex with Zemblan King Charles II), "Pale Fire" can be read as a detective novel of misplaced identity; allegorically, it seeks to answer the question of what gives art its artistry − here, it is not the poem, nor the commentary, but overall Nabakov's novel that provides the final synthesis. After all, regardless of inner machinations, Nabakov ultimately invented all of the characters.

Nabakov ultimately invented all of the characters. Essay: Pale Fire Pale Fire Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver
Quiz 1. Where is Charles Kinbote when he writes his commentary to "Pale Fire"? A.

Quiz

1. Where is Charles Kinbote when he writes his commentary to "Pale Fire"?

A. Zembla

B. New Wye

C. Harvard

D. Cedarn

2. What is the "crystal land"?

A. Zembla

B. New Wye

C. Russia

D. Appalachia

3. When does Charles the Beloved's rule as king end?

A. 1936

B. 1939

C. 1945

D. 1958

4. What is Charles Kinbote's other identity?

A. Gradus

B. Charles X

C. John Shade

D. Pius X

5. When is John Shade's birthday?

A. August 7

B. December 24

C. July 4

D. July 5

6. Which of the following characters lives in exile?

A. Gradus

B. Jacques D'Argus

C. Charles Kinbote

D. Sybil Shade

in exile? A. Gradus B. Jacques D'Argus C. Charles Kinbote D. Sybil Shade Quiz Copyright (C)
7. Who allegedly stars in "The Case of the Reversed Footprints"? A. Hercule Poirot B.

7.

Who allegedly stars in "The Case of the Reversed Footprints"?

A. Hercule Poirot

B. Sherlock Holmes

C. John Shade

D. Alfred Hitchcock

8.

Who attempts to commit "a frozen stillicide?"

A. Gradus

B. Charles X

C. Aunt Maud

D. Sybil Shade

9.

Who wrote "Friends Beyond"?

A. Charles Kinbote

B. John Shade

C. Thomas Hardy

D. Christina Rossetti

10.

From what text is the title of John Shade's poem, "Pale Fire," derived?

A. Timon of Athens

B. Man and Superman

C. Damnum Infectum

D. Two Gentlemen of Verona

11.

How does Sybil describe Kinbote's relationship with John?

A. "parasitic"

B. "symbiotic"

C. "cute"

D. "nauseating"

12.

Who lives in "the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith"?

A. Gradus

B. Princess Disa

C. Charles Kinbote

D. Shade

and Wordsmith"? A. Gradus B. Princess Disa C. Charles Kinbote D. Shade Quiz Copyright (C) 2002
13. What does the Zemblan word "raghdirst" mean? A. "thirst for vengeance" B. "from here

13. What does the Zemblan word "raghdirst" mean?

A. "thirst for vengeance"

B. "from here to eternity"

C. "done anonymously"

D. "crystal land"

14. How does John Shade's daughter die?

A. She swallows sleeping pills.

B. She is hit by a car.

C. She drowns.

D. It is unknown.

15. Who raises John Shade into adulthood?

A. Aunt Maud

B. Constance

C. Disa

D. Sybil

16. What does Kinbote describe as "the playfield of Satan"?

A. "Zembla"

B. "New Wye"

C. "Romance"

D. "Solitude"

17. What is Charles Kinbote's profession?

A. Poetry expert

B. Boatsman

C. Shakespearean scholar

D. Physics professor

18. What color does Charles X wear when he escapes from the palace?

A. Red

B. Blue

C. Black

D. White

X wear when he escapes from the palace? A. Red B. Blue C. Black D. White
19. Who offers primary assistance to Charles X during his escape? A. Gradus B. Kinbote

19. Who offers primary assistance to Charles X during his escape?

A. Gradus

B. Kinbote

C. Disa

D. Odon

20. What is the "real−life" version of Zembla?

A. Czechoslovakia

B. Nazi Germany

C. Soviet Union

D. France

21. What is Gradus' profession?

A. Janitor

B. Revolutionary

C. Assassin

D. Professor

22. Who kills Gradus?

A. Gradus

B. Charles Kinbote

C. John Shade

D. Disa

23. Where did the "Edda" originate?

A. Zembla

B. New Wye

C. Iceland

D. Greece

24. The reference to "Chapman's Homer" refers to which poet?

A. Keats

B. Yeats

C. Swift

D. Hardy

Homer" refers to which poet? A. Keats B. Yeats C. Swift D. Hardy Quiz Copyright (C)
25. Who argues that "No free man needs a God"? A. Gradus B. Fra Karamazov

25. Who argues that "No free man needs a God"?

A. Gradus

B. Fra Karamazov

C. Charles Kinbote

D. John Shade

a God"? A. Gradus B. Fra Karamazov C. Charles Kinbote D. John Shade Quiz Copyright (C)
Quiz Answer Key 1. (D) Cedarn 2. (A) Zembla 3. (D) 1958 4. (B) Charles

Quiz Answer Key

1.

(D) Cedarn

2.

(A) Zembla

3.

(D) 1958

4.

(B) Charles X

5.

(D) July 5

6.

(C) Charles Kinbote

7.

(B) Sherlock Holmes

8.

(A) Gradus

9.

(C) Thomas Hardy

10.

(A) Timon of Athens

11.

(A) "parasitic"

12.

(D) Shade

13.

(A) "thirst for vengeance"

14.

(C) She drowns.

15.

(A) Aunt Maud

16.

(D) "Solitude"

17.

(C) Shakespearean scholar

18.

(A) Red

19.

(D) Odon

20.

(C) Soviet Union

21.

(C) Assassin

22.

(A) Gradus

23.

(C) Iceland

24.

(A) Keats

25.

(D) John Shade

(C) Iceland 24. (A) Keats 25. (D) John Shade Quiz Answer Key Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver
Copyright Notice Copyright (c) 2002 by GradeSaver LLC All rights reserved. No part of this

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2002 by GradeSaver LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, any file sharing system, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of GradeSaver LLC.

system, without the prior written permission of GradeSaver LLC. Copyright Notice Copyright (C) 2002 GradeSaver LLC