Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Charles Kinbote

Charles Kinbote or Charles II, known as Charles Xavier the Beloved, the last king of Zembla. As Kinbote, he is the author of the critical notes to Pale Fire, a 999-line autobiographical poem written by John Shade. Kinbote, a visiting professor at Wordsmith University, befriends Shade, hoping to induce the poet to write a great poem about Zembla and its kings. Toward the end of the book, the reader discovers that Kinbote is the exiled king Charles Xavier, driven from his throne by revolution. Kinbote’s character develops in parallel stories, one taking place in New Wye and the other in Zembla, from the time he was a boy until his escape in 1958. In Zembla, Charles enjoys a luxurious life, indulging his passion for young boys while dodging the attempts of his queen mother to have him marry and produce an heir. Kinbote goes to New Wye in the hope of inducing John Shade to write the history of Zembla, the symbol of his lost youth, wealth, and eminence. His life is devoted to providing Shade with the material needed to write the history. Thinking all the while that Shade is cooperating, yet prevented by his wife from seeing the poem in development, Kinbote is shocked and dismayed to discover that Pale Fire is not about Zembla but about Shade’s own life. Kinbote retreats to a mountain cabin in Cedarn, where he madly writes his critical edition of the poem. The result is a parody of critical commentary in which Pale Fire is all but forgotten. In his commentary, Kinbote is given to elaborate wordplay that enables him both to conceal and to reveal the truth; it also causes him to see sinister connections, resemblances, and coincidences. He uses language to create reality, as he creates a new identity in New Wye (“New I”), but what he creates with language may finally be only a figment of his imagination. In the end, he says that he will continue to exist, write a play perhaps, join...

(The entire section is 793 words.)

Social Concerns / Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Pale Fire is set in the world of academia (Wordsmith College, New Wye, Appalachia) and on one level is a satire of that environment....

(The entire section is 184 words.)