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Aleksandar Hrubenja

Professor Zoran Paunović

Roman Vladimira Nabokova


Pale Fire: Themes and Symbols- Satire, Madness and


The novel Pale Fire has served as an enigma to many readers for some time. At the

surface level, the work may seem as a simple satire of literary scholarship and analysis.

However, calling it just a work of satire does the novel, and Nabokov, a great disservice.

The novel’s narrative structure and form may serve as simply a parody of scholarly analysis.

But, it can also be quite postmodern in the sense of deconstructing deconstruction. Pale

Fire’s presentation of the insane narrator may serve to highlight the idea of the author being

dead and non-existent after a literary work is finished, as well as making light of this notion

at the same time.

The eccentric (and most probably insane) scholar Charles Kinbote (i.e. Charles

Botkin) is analyzing a poem written by the (fictional) poet John Shade. Writing a foreword

to his recently deceased “friend”, we see all of Kinbote’s eccentricities and delusions rise to

the surface. The satire and parody here is that Kinbote comically misses the point, analyzing

the poem, but spending much more time focusing on himself. He inserts himself directly

into the work. Kinbote tells stories completely unrelated to the poem, his narcissism not
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allowing him to focus on the poem in front of him. The man mentions his homeland, his life,

his needs, comically missing the point. A true example of a talentless and self-obsessed

literary scholar putting himself before the actual literary work. However, that’s one level.

Another level is Kinbote as an unreliable narrator and an unreliable reader.

The essay Death of the Author, penned by Roland Barthes in 1967, is quite relevant

to this work, even though Pale fire has been published in 1963. While Nabokov may not

have had much use of it, this ground-breaking essay is quite relevant when analysing Pale


The essay centres around the idea of the author being dead, or rather, not important

when analysing a work of fiction. Barthes claims that focusing solely on the author

diminishes a text. Trying to decipher what an author wished to say is folly, Barthes believed.

Using an authors identity – his wishes, wants, political views, ideologies, is useless, he

believed. The author is inconsequential once he finishes writing his work, or rather, he will

begin “diminishing like a tiny figure at the far end of the literary stage” (Barthes 3).

And from this, we get that what matters are the infinite interpretations that can arise

from reading a text. Authorial intent doesn’t matter, what does matter is the reader. He

observed that a text does not:

...consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological”

meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many

dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one

of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand

sources of culture.. (Barthes 5)

In a way, Nabokov has preceded and made fun of the theory surrounding the death

of the author. Preceding it by over ten years, we can look at Kinbote as a person truly
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focusing on the death of the author. Literally even, when we take into account John Shade’s

death. Since the author is dead (literally), the reader (Kinbote) is given authority. As Roland

Barthes has stated himself - “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the

author” (Barthes 6). However, since we see Kinbote as a tragic joke at best, or a narcissistic

crazed madman at worst, it’s safe to say that Nabokov is deconstructing this deconstruction,

over a decade in advance. And Kinbote is as good a representation of this notion as any.

Satire and the Death of the Author

Now, Pale Fire can be seen as a satire on two levels. First, it makes light of

academia. We have Charles Kinbote, the absolute narcissist, who has taken upon himself to

analyse and deconstruct his “friend’s” poem, has done so in a strange way. This satiric

element is quite direct when looking at Kinbote as a character. Instead of actually focusing

on the poem when speaking about in the foreword dedicated to said poem, he digresses. He

speaks about himself, about his and John Shade’s relationship. Through the analysis of the

poem, there are some elements where he actually tries to do a good job, but these are few

and far between. He becomes completely immersed into talking about his own delusions and

manic memories. Instead of actually focusing on the work, he speaks of Zembla, the product

of his madness, his so-called homeland. Here we essentially see the self-obsessed academic,

pushed to the extreme. A man who has let his own subjectivity and narcissism overtake his

analysis. There is no objectivity or work here (or rather, there is very little). What we do see,

is his own personal ramblings interspersed with a few drops of literary analysis. A literary

critic in way over his head.

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Of course, this can be seen as a representation of not only a scholar, but of a

literary critic as well. Kinbote’s excentricities are a source of comedy in this work. His

neuroses and egoism give rise to what Martine Hannard noticed often happens in Nabokov’s

work – a situation where “posture becomes imposture (pseudo-scholarly, pseudo literary,

pseudo-apologetic)” (Hannard 1). As she said, characters take on “pretences of

intellectuality”. They seem, and often are, eloquent and well read. They are formally

educated, and even work and are involved in the arts, or academia. Take Lolita’s Humber

Humbert for example. A professor of French literature and a failed poet, who posits himself

as above the lowly dregs of all American society due to his upbringing and culture. Kimbote

is no exception, although, he may be less charming, but also perhaps more likable, than

Humbert Humbert. Of course, this sympathy towards Kinbote may arise more out of pity,

than actual affability.

These characters have little in the way of actual accomplishments, but are

nonetheless quite haughty. As Hannard puts it, we can look at this in a “formative, meta

level”, because we take these characters as narrators. It is through their pretentious and

insane eyes that we look at these novels. She also stated that even when they attempt to be

objective, these characters are still “improper and fake” (Hannard 3). One can take a step

further and say that this may be the ultimate posturing, a lie concerning the world and the

reality contained in their respective novels.

(ovo se poveze dalje sa teorijom o dekonstrukciji – prvo kao ludi akademik,

koji uopste ne dolazi do analize pesme tj sta je pisac hteo da kaze, do toga da ako je vec to

nebitno, evo, gledajte sta dobijete – ludaka

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Dissenting in an age of frenzied heterosexualism

“recent years: never as a nexus of experience, a materi al reality, a specific subject position,

but always as a "metaphor" for something else, a signifier for more compelling signifieds, a

place marker occupied by nothing and no one of conse quence. „

around the gradual revelation of its narrator's insanity, and seems to invite us to link his

sexual with his mental "deviance." „

however, perhaps it just showcases kimbote as a pathethic character, as well as making his

obsession a bit depeer and more relasitic. Having a female protagonist could maket this

easier, but carries extra baggage -. This is easier – influences characterization. Also, a bit

saucy and what (though homophobic) – gets more people to buy his shit

Little by little, he discloses his "royal past" to John Shade, in the hopes that Shade will

immortalize it in the poem he is writing. Inadvertently, Kinbote reveals to us that his

delusions of royalty make him an object of ridicule and pity in the New Wye community.
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So why does he have a connection to SHade? Attraction – both intelectual and physical.

Again, force down he fact that he is pathethic.

story helps to articulate the subject-position of the gendered subaltern in India. Similarly, I

shall explore the ways in which readings of Kinbote have depended for their validity on

such a "too neat" metaphorization of his character, and a refusal to consider how he

functions as another kind of gendered

The writer of the thing states and makes herc ase that he is more than homosexual.

Kinbote is marginalized both becuase of his insanity, and his homosexuality. And even,

perhaps, by his origin.

to contextualize that state within the over-arching cultural apparatuses that produce and

punish it. To say, as Roth does, that Kinbote cannot "approve of himself is to say, surely,

that he has internalized his culture's homophobia.

Some, like Roth (ubaci link) have stated that he hates himself, that this is all oedipal. Its

nonsense, since the writer dismantled it lovely.

a paradigm of a perfect and symmetrical inversion of the norm, which is useful in producing

comic literary effects

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While this may be cruel, especially by our modern standards, it may be true, especially for

those times. Indeed, there role reversal gives some dramatic irony to the whole ordeal. Many

times its pervasive how much of kind of omedy is present.

gloss over the specificity of Kinbote's sexuality

And this may be the entire point actually. Still, he is hyperfocused on the male body, (nadji

citate iz knjige),

for him, homosexuality is a sexuality "arrested at the adolescent stage," and can only give

rise to tedious and repe titious jokes at Kinbote's expense "every time a male character is

mentioned" (151

stavi citat

And this is way it may seem that the point was obsession. Maybe even an obsession so deep

it changed his very nature.

the painful dynamics of this marriage look uncannily like those of the closeted gay man's

marriage of con venience in contemporary America.

And so his marriage with Disa is quite problematic. He even uses terms like “ubaci quotes,

like mnaly customs zembla”

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Some, though, steer away from these comical ideas. In fact, while Kinbotes (homosexual?)

attraction to Shade may seem obvious, some see it in another way. There are fragmatenst

and echos of just prolonging the pathethinces and comedy of kinbote by making him a foil

to shade. Shade is macho, manly, robust, healthy, successful. Kinbote is a lauhing stock. So

his obsession with shade may seem like homosexual adoration. IT can also be seen as

simple obsession and

Shade's heterosexual presence in the poem, since his life, as Rampton puts it, "simply blows

Kinbote's away. . . . [Shade's] earthy humour and robust physical presence break the

Kinbote spell and leave him and his paranoid patterns spinning in a self-contained void"


Still, Kinbotes behaviour to his wife is strange. It is apparent, and evident, that he is gay,

and that he has no interest in her physically or even emotionally. In fact, it seems he even

despises her.

As far as their wedding and marital life is concerned, he pretenses, disclosures, denials,

subterfuges, and recriminations is set in motion. At the beginning, he still tries "strenuously

to possess her but to no avail" (207). His explanations that he is inexperienced, or that he is

incapacitated by "an old riding accident" serve temporarily to keep Disa in the dark about

his sexuality, but only until

Still, what is interesting is Kinbotes insanity. As the iiiiiweiterwriteriiii put it nicely,

Kinbote's secret is not that he is gay (in fact, he frequently refers to events in his erotic life
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as though he assumes our prior knowledge of, and perhaps even that we share, his sexual

orientation. Never does anxiety circulate around the question of whether someone knows he

is gay, at least not in his post-Zembla existence) but that he is the deposed and exiled king of

Zembla. S

As well as stating that . Since the veracity of that secret is put into question, what is both

hidden and displayed by the closet is Kinbote's madness.

And while there are shades of Kinbotes foil having pity and friendly feeligns fro him, we are

still left with the idea: He is ridiculous because he is the one who does not know. And as

inhabitant of the transparent closet, he can only be condescended to, never communicated

with. But

Gerald emerald - The episode in the Faculty Common Room, when a German visitor

unwittingly remarks on Kinbote's resemblance to Zembla's King Charles, c

. Here he is being bullyied by people from New Wye. Tormented and annoyed. They are

bating him, and are quite aware of his delusion. And then this leads us to Shade again.

Shade has power and influence and popularity. Respected matieraily and in academic

circles, he may help him out. Is this perhaps one of his reasons for his obsession? A need to

be validated – having zembla and his psychosis present in Shades poem? A mano f shades

stature, as popular (almost) as robert frost?

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When Kinbote laughs at this "in sheer relief and promises to "never be naughty again," -----

now, kinbote may be bulshiting, but Nabokov has a nasty sense of humor. We may take this

at face value. We may take it as a cheap joke. We may dig into it and simpyl state – well,

kinbote is of a nervous temperament. Or, we may see Nabokov as an asshole with a dark

sense of humor.

suspected, and what only three people (two trustees and the president of the college)

definitely knew"

sexuality or idenity? Madness?

Oleg scence – quite explicit

Jean calls upon the metaphor of Kinbotes homosexuality being an anchor, a porch upon

which „It could be argued as well that heterosexual identity is similarly anchored, via the

deployment of the "homosexual" as the "ground" of novelistic postmodern representation “

as well as of the "homosexual" as the "ground" of novelistic postmodern representation. In

this sense, both Kinbote's homosexually desiring body and his deluded psyche become the

territory across which we are invited to plea sure in Nabokov's ludic postmodernism. „ “

This very idea just adds to his supposed „deppravity“, or perhaps the humor and the

dramatic irony of the book. In fact, Jean herself says thet the novel is ineresting becuase

„impossible to determine the register at which it is operating. “

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As parody and Satire

Notes as Debts in Vladimir Nabokov’s PALE FIRE

Pale fire hinges on the idea of kinbote anaylizing a work of art. A poem. However, it

quickly devolves into his own musings and obsession. The analysis and introduction is

much, much longer than the work itself. Now, this may be ok sometimes, but not always. It

is even a parody (both lighthearted and not) of scholarship. Especially if we take into

account that Nabokov is himself a scolar and a teacher of Russian litearature. It has even

been called a “ parody of scholarship that, as Beverly Lyon

Clark argues, in the process of admitting “the unreliability of particular

variants,” a very scholarly admission, the narrator “may undermine our

faith” in all of the details (n.p.).”

“ Kinbote’s presumptuous

task is . . . to rewrite ‘Pale Fire,’ not as the swan song of Shade’s tragically

short life, but as the proof and formal opening of his own reverie” (257).”




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An interesting inversion regarding his homosexuality, and the role of society here, is the

idea of , as belleto says, “narrative that functions, in part, to

manage the open secret of Kinbote'so wn homosexualityT. his secret

makes him the object of persecution by a Cold War community that

displaces a patriotism based on anti-Communism with a patriotism

based on something equally pernicious-homophobia”

We can begin with this by Zembla. It can serve as a stand in for a soviet Satalite State.




Martine Hennard

So here we have an analysis, or a view of Pale fire as a satire, combined wit intertext

and the death of te writer. All these otions are here. It is seen trough the plot and the

writing. So, lets start with satire. Satire here becomes and arises from this idea and

point that kinbote is approaching shades poem as a scholar or critic.

posture becomes imposture (pseudo-scholarly, pseudoliterary,

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As hannard so interestingly puts it. In all of Nabokovs work, the profesional, the comical

character takes on a pretence of intelaectuallity. Seen, for example, with Humbert Humbert

in Lolita. He i an intelectual, a well read person. And yet, posture becomes imposture. Why

– because they are labeled pretentious and annoying. While thinking hihgly of their intelect,

being pompous and snobish, they have no work or really, meaning or accomplihsments to

speak of. THis can be seen in a more formative, meta level by looking at this pompous

character as a narrator. So even his posturing as an objective individual is improper, and


„Pale Fire problematizes the distinction between

critical and creative writing“ – an interesting notion. And it is seen througought the novel.

Nabokov makes fun of his critiscs. Seen through kinbote who is analysing a poem, but who

becomse self obssesed and strays from the course. Again this distinction between the critical

evaluation, and the actual art. Still, he pokes fun of it, and even does so tongue in chee. He

let his mind and ideas wander.

„In its superposition of a poem

in heroic couplets and a mock-heroic fantasy masquerading as commentary,

it may however suggest that postmodernism differs from

modernism by inscribing the postal supplement which reveals (and

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revels in the recognition) that meaning never arrives except as a

distorted, misread message.“

Nabokov pokes fun at Kinbotes analysis and pushes it to the extreme. Kinbote, a critic

analyisng a work of art, has a tendency to invlve himself too much into the work. He ses and

places a lot of himself, egoistically into the work. Many critics do. But, kinbote does it too

much. Not only does he do it too much, but he overthinks it. He is also quite insane.

„“As a consequence, the

interaction between Shade's poem and Kinbote's commentary can

be viewed (that is, interpreted in its turn) as an allegory of reading:

no longer authorized, meaning ceases to be original, definite and

definitive, and starts "wandering." „“

And there we see this wandering.

Infinite drift.

This is a postmodernian idea. The idea that once we have cut off the original work from the

source, that it drifts, derives its own meaning and function. A life of its own. Howver, it also

„wanders“, goes mad and self obsessed. Again, emphasisesd by the ramblings of an insande


„If Pale Fire anticipates a deconstructive stance in

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its privileging of the reader over the author and his text (that is,

reversing the traditional priority of the text over its critic), it points

out both the creative potential and the lethal consequences of a

deviant reading.“

This ideao f subtext, of reading a book. OF the authoer being dead. Of the reader mattering,

and of not mattering.

„Literalizing Barthes' celebration of the death of the

author, Pale Fire can be read as both an anticipation and a biting

satire of a deconstructive critical strategy—whereby "misreading"

becomes the criterion of any interpretative act. Ultimately, the irony

which suffuses the text prevents any definitive assessment of its

lesson—which in turn enables our critical speculations and the differential

process of our readings.“

And so we can loo at this work as a regular post-structuralist novel, and a satire of a

decsontructive work * bot all at once. Takes misreading as beinga normal state of things, as

expected. But also makes fun of it, and shows how silly and inasane it can get.

„the dangers of texts: the fact that they eventually get out of the

hands of the writer and come to be misinterpreted“

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Indeed, the critic himself is paradoxical. A zemblan king, a fialed academic, a spurned

homosexual lover, a failure in alsmot any way.

„a hyperbolic and humeristic treatmed of the syndrome of the critic“. He plays and dances

around eveyrghing. He is elusive and playful.

Kinbote essenitally turns Pale fire the poem, into pale fire the novel. This is done in a way,

through the act of criticisim, by the act of critical anaylsis. But also letting the critics ego get

the better of him.


The title , shakespeare, kinbotes translation

"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"

----pale fire qoute – should start his chapter with this.

Indeed, Kinbote completely projects himself into this work. He projects himslef into Shade

by finishing the 1000th line for him. He has a fragmented idenity – an exile, a critic, a

homosexual, a madman. And this all influences him as a critic. So much so that he does not
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have a trace of objectivity – something that may be driving him mad and making him define

the work poorly.

IDea and theme of exile, of fragmentation, of loss, of Uniqueness

Kinbote as an exile, or a parody of an exile. Parody as in – living in a new country, not

being to obad off – he is an acadmeic, has money, even assitance from shade. However, sees

zembla as perfect, he was respected there (a KING) , and now just a regular man.

„—Kinbote's enterprise intimately ties up with

an attempt to recover a sense of identity“

- Perhaps this may be a ess psychological/mental instittuaton option of explaining his

behavior. Less clinical and less psychentifically valid perhaps, but intersting none

the same.

His escape from Zembla ends up as a jail of his own mind, of langauge. He estranges and

turns away and runs away from he worldand of reality

He has no identity. Completely fragmented and lost, he tries and fights and scrounges and

claws his way into reality. He is a homosexual, an exile, an escapee. His madness may then

be just a way to create something. This book is, as Hannard says, him “writing himself into

being”. He tries to justify and create his existence, to do something. He tries to be real.
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He is Charles Xavier Vseslav, king of Zembla, the veloved. He is dr Charles Kinbote, the

awkward and distasteful American New Wye Academic. He could also be V. Botkin, a

Russian emigrant.

Idenitity of Kinbote

He is constalnty somewhere inbetween. He is neither here, nor there. He is in-between

reality and fiction thourhg his madness, but also reality and fiction via the book. He adds

another layer of fiction to everything. We have us, the readers. Then Kinbote, the narrator of

pale fire. Then Charles Vseslav, the king who is hiding in America. And finally, the mad V.

Botking, hiding behind the identity of said Zemlban king.

“Kinbote desperately seeks to recover a lost sense of self through

his reading of Shade's poem,“

An interesting idea, and an interesting point. Kinbote indeed seems framgented and ruined

by his reality. TO him, Shade seems like a lifeline, a cross to hold onto. He hinges his

idenity and reality onto Pale fire, the poem.

„Kinbote goes as far as literalizing the metaphor by

declaring, near the end of his last footnote: "My notes and self are

petering out"“
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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 I. 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

Here he forces reality to follow his own premonitions and deformations. Gradus, Shades

murderer, has been followed and placed not only into the novel by Nabokov, but into Pale

fire the poem, via Kinbote. And, Gradus, as part of the poem created by John SHade, kills

John shade, killing the author, as Hannard put sit.

“Pale Fire is also a detective story, the epistemological genre

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par excellence. Yet again, the conventions of the genre are undermined,

since the reconstruction of the crime brings alternative and

equally valid solutions, yet no resolution: Shade is either the victim


of Gradus, out to kill Kinbote, ex-king of Zembla, or the mistaken

target of Jack Grey, out for revenge on Judge Goldsworth who

sentenced him to the Institute for the Criminally Insane, or even the

not so accidental victim of Charles Kinbote, whose monomaniac

passion for Shade's poem may have driven him to murder the poet

In order to appropriate his manuscript”

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“ ---cool quote, using it for something, from pale fire

JAMES F. ENGLISH Modernist Joke-Work: Pale Fire and the Mock Transcendence of

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Some, would beg to differ. James F English starts his article right out by saying that

“justification for labeling Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire a "postmodernist" novel, as so

many commen- tators have done, would be its publication date: 1962. If „

His theory hinges on the idea of Nabokov “of this modernist doctrine of art for life's sake.

He frequently and notoriously expressed his disdain for "the group, the community, the

masses, and so forth," arguing that "what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust

is not its social importance but its art, only its art.or the "dainty poets" who were its

"promoters" (Strong Opin- ions 33). For Nabokov the "refuge of art" (Lolita 311) finally

justified itself in social terms, as a realm in which expressions of tenderness, pity, and

fellowship could be freely exchanged " „

„a "happy commu- nicative experience" is impeded by deep contradictions. What I propose

to do in this essay is to approach those contradictions by way of the humor in Nabokov's

texts, particularly in Pale Fire. I take this approach not only because humor figures quite

prominently and explicitly in Nabokov's project (the whole of which has been described

even by admiring critics as "a joke" [Lilly 88] and "a kind of joke" [Kermode 76]), but

because I believe that the study of modernist literature generally has suffered from „

Taken the theory of joke work here, is essenitally …. His definition – kind of pointless.

He takes into account these theories and boundaries of difference, of ideas, of work.
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„“social competencies which include not only the ability to make sense but also the abil- ity

to make appropriate or acceptable nonsense. When we laugh, some part of our laughter is

always directed at the group comprised of real and imagined nonlaughers, at those who

aren't "in on it." „“

Ping pong table scene. Jokes, faculty, pain. Interpretations. Kinbote made a joke and poeple

lauhged. However, he is an unreliable narraotr, and so his probalby misreadin the whole

situation. Making us in on the joke.


Autobiography as Alchemy in Pale Fire

Robert Alter

University of California, Berkeley

Another interesting approach to the novel can be Nabokovs own approach to books. He has

insisted, manz and manz times, that there is no connection between his life and the fiction

that he writes. Many times Nabokov actuallz expressed annoyance with these ideas, with

people connecting a writer with his work. He insisted on having distance and range between

himself and his protagonists.

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It had been Nabokov's idea and thoughts that all the characters are in their own worl,

with their own reality, within their own reality. His novels are new realities and worlds,

devoid of oter poeple and things. As Robert Alter mentioned, „Purposeful, exquisite design,


“self-expression,” is the watermark on every page he published“ .

„Nabokov certainly was, as David Bethea has put it in contemporary American idiom, “a

control freak” — and this is the ultimate source of his detestation of Freud, who wanted to


an essential connection between unconscious mental processes and artistic creativity“

„Brian Boyd, in the only paragraph of strictly

biographical criticism, the penultimate one of the chapter, in his fine analysis of the novel,

notes that July 21, the day John Shade is cut down by an assassin’s bullet, is the birthday of


D. Nabokov, the writer’s fatherAs Boyd goes on to observe, V. D. Nabokov was killed in

Berlin in 1922 precisely as Shade is killed at the end of the novel, when his body intercepted

bullet aimed by a political terrorist at another man. This private calendric allusion to the


traumatic event of Nabokov’s life is gratuitous to the artistic design of the novel but


the extent to which the imagining of the death of John Shade — and perhaps, as Boyd has
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argued, his actual survival of his own fictional demise — was a way of mastering the horror

of his father’s death. Shade, of course, is in no way a father-figure for the author but more


an American alter ego..“

So do we have some autobiographical elements here? Not a joke, not at all. Quite serios in


Shade’s unfortunate ugly-duckling daughter, Hazel, who

commits suicide at the age of 23, is born in 1934, the same year as Dmitri Nabokov, the

author’s only child. In

Another autobiographical element. However, we must not forget the differences. Not only

that, but the main part of te whole thing is actually her. The point of the poem pale fire may

very well be this poor girl who comited suicide.

As journal guy has said, Dmitri’s two favorite leisure activities — mountain-climbing and

racing sport cars.““

„“How does a figure so spectacularly different from its author end up speaking —

resonantly if

intermittently — in its author’s voice?“““

So, how much of Nabokov is in Kinbote, and how much in Shade? Kinbote is a an exile

from a land, most probably Russia, just like Nabokov. He could have chosen many other
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places, but no, he opted for this one. However, in all other ways he is he opposite from him.

A failure, loser, madman. Yet, he speaks like him, he uses the same language.

"CombinationaDl elight":

The Uses of the Story Within a Story

in Pale Fire

Peggy Ward Corn

Perhaps one of the most clear narrative techniques used here is the story within a story

framework. Paggy ward corn gives three types of tehcniques used here. One where the

frame introduces the actual story, and soon disingitgrates. The other is the outer story that

one is important, while the inner one falls apart. She also emphasises the third type, called

Russian doll stories, or russian doll ficitons. We have two narrative planes, two distinct

stories, like the first. However, the difference here is that both of these stories work. Both

stories are important, but still one is nested inside the other.

„qualitatived ifferencew hen the readerc omes to

understand that the meaning of the work as a whole resides in transactions

betweenn arrativele ve“

novel:W hatd oes Kinbote'Cs ommentary

add to Shade's poem? What does our reading of Shade's poem bring

to our response to Kinbote's creation? How do they combine to produce a

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work whose meaning arises from that combination?

Now, as we have mentioned above, it can and does serve as a parody. Kinbote is a man who

serves as a parody of Nabokovs cirtis (or any cirtics). It even serves as a parody of himself,

since he himself is a literary scholar. Still, if we keep with this idea of Pale fire having this

Russian doll structure, then we can continue in other ways.

As we read this as a parody of the poem, we also read and find ou about the poem and


So the answer here is something aleady mentioned often. Namelly, Nabokov’s novel is just

a parody of all the annoted and over-analyzed texts seen everywhere. Made by annotators

and academics to self obsessed and self involved to actually notice what they are doing.

Their own egos come into the way, and burden their analysis. However, this may be a bit

too cheap of an analysis. It is, simply put, a bit too easy.

Its important to note and to point out what Nabokov did here. As the journal writer points

out, we get a foreword where we see glimpses (and more) of just how eccentric Kinbote

actually is. However, its also important to point out another thing. Namely, that there are

very little interuptions at the beginning of the reading. Perhaps Nabokov did this

intentionally, to reel us in as it were. TO help us forget just how made Kinbote is, just how

parodic and funny he is. This may help us understand the poemt better, and will help us

immerse ourselves into the work. Kinbotes madness and eccentricities are parodic and

funny. They are also plainly exaggerated, and can be immersion breaking.
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So sticking to this Russian doll analysis theory, Kinbote, one story interrupts the other. We

have Kinbotes story of Zemlba (or, if we go a bit back, story of kinbote himself and his

madness) and the story of John Shade in the poem – i.e. the suicide of his daughter. We,

through the poem, learn about Shade, is life, but aslo about his daughter. Her character, her

suicide, her unhappiness.

He also fills in the background behind Shade’s life, his child, and

his death. Even gives information on his murderer. He is essentially one of the ultimate, and

strange, unreliable narrators. Kinbote is insane, this is true. He is also the narrator of this


Once we comprehend

Kinbote'sp eculiarp erspectiveo n Shade'sp oem, we begin to read the story

of Charlest he Beloveda nd his kingdoma s a literaryc reationi n its own right.

The storyh as romance,s uspense,a dventurea, nd sceneso f beauty-as when

Fleur stands before the magic mirror“

THer are also comparisons between the two. They are both creators. Kinbote even invented

a language fo his stuff. Also, like Shades work, there are also autobiographical elements

here, behind the fiction and te fantasy.

“One important difference between a poet like Shade and a madman like

Kinbote concerns their degree of control over their stories.“

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Shade sees reality, and turns i tinto art, he changes it. But he knows the difference between

the two. Kinbote, on the other hand, is not so lucky.

„Kinboted istortsr eality

to reveal his own delusions. He cannot make us see things his way, as Shade

can. We are always standing back, being reminded that Kinbote is a lunatic.

Shade's poem is under his control; he is the god of his literary creation“

„We read Kinbote's work differently from Shade's; Shade

constructs an artifice to reveal the truth of his existence, whereas Kinbote's

artificialc onstructi s a means of escape from inconvenientt ruths about his


These are important points, as their motivations for constructing and creating their own

realities are quite different. Shade may use it as a way to face reality, to accept it. For

example, a means of dealing with teh suicide of his daughter. Kinbote uses it as an escape.

He speaks no truth, at least not directly.

Kinbote, or Botking – An American scholar of Russian descent (citat iz knjige nadji),

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Shade and Kinbote in their different ways respond to the same

humani mpulset o makes enseo f things.K inbote'sb elief in his secreti dentity

allows him to resist despair. Shade is too sane to invent a country and an

identity, but he needs to believe that when he invents a poem, he is reflecting

the harmony of the universe:

I feel I understand

Existenceo,r at leasta minutep art

Of my existence, only through my art,

In terms of combinational delight;

And if my private universe scans right,

So does the verse of galaxies divine

Which I suspect is an iambic line. (11. 971-77)

The coincidencesc ontinuea s Kinbotef inishest he story.S haded ies because

of a case of mistaken identity. We have been informed in passing that Shade

resemblesJ udgeG oldsworth,t he assassin'si ntendedv ictim. Shadej ust happens

to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for Nabokov's purposes

they are the right place and the right time. The killing even makes a kind
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of sensei n Kinbote'ste rms,a s it happens.K inbote'sim agineda ssassinG radus

wants to kill King Charles to settle a score, to punish him for escaping from

Zembla alive.