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MonkeyNotes-Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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SECTION Summaries With Notes

SECTION ONE

"Foreword"

Summary

In this short introduction (twelve pages), Charles Kinbote writes directly to the reader about the poem he is about to annotate, the last long poem by his favorite poet and good friend, John Shade. He explains that the poem is written in heroic couplets, nine- hundred and ninety-nine lines, in four Cantos. The poem is not entirely finished, for the last line is missing; but Charles believes that the missing last line is merely supposed to be a repeat of the first line: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain."

The entire poem was written in the month of July, 1959 and exists on eighty index cards, carefully organized by the poet before his untimely death. Charles describes the qualities of each canto, mentions the existence of alternate sections (pieces the poet had not quite discarded), and complains about the amusement park next door that is very loud. Charles then describes the fight over the publishing rights to the poem. Shade's wife, Sybil, is very angry that Charles is editing the poem; but he defends his own right to be the one to do the commentary. After all, he had Sybil Shade sign an agreement immediately after John's death, giving him the right to edit the manuscript. Charles feels that Sybil's concern is misguided and misled by other would-be editors. He knows that she does not care for him; neither did she under his friendship with Shade, which was brief, but deep. Even though other people may try to defame his effort, Charles considers his attachment to this masterpiece "overwhelming."


Charles explains that he is from a place called "Zembla," which he left due to political unrest. Settling in the United States, he becomes a temporary professor at Wordsmith College, where Shade also teaches. He describes his first meeting with the poet at a faculty club lunch. Charles tells that he offered Shade a ride home from school a few days after the lunch, and when Charles stops to buy caviar and cookies, John sneaks off to buy some alcohol. When they arrive home, Sybil asks Charles to have a drink with her, because John is not allowed to touch alcohol. Charles declines and says he is expecting some boys over at his house, for a "little seminar" and some table tennis.

Charles also describes the house he rented, next door to the Shades. It is a cold and drafty place, especially since the winter is the worst in years. He admits that he often watches Shade's house, staring through their windows to observe what is going on. He also states that he is a vegetarian, cooks his own meals, enjoys his young male students, and keeps two ping-pong tables in his basement.

Sybil frowned upon Charles' attentions towards her husband, and it's clear that Charles and Sybil were not friends. Certainly, all John Shade's friends were envious of the friendship between Charles and John!

Charles discovers that other professors at the college ridicule him. He thinks they are jealous of him because of his friendship with Shade. He also scorns their pettiness and zeal for stupidly mundane academics. Charles also admits that the students get their digs in, too, portraying him in a school skit as a woman-hater with a German accent. Charles was even called in by the department head because of a student complaint.

It is obvious that Charles is attracted to Shade and other men. Charles expresses his wonder at his divine friendship with Shade, the marvelous and magical poet. When he looks at Shade, he perceives him transforming the world in wonderful poetic order; he considers Shade an organic miracle at work. He carefully describes the poet's physical appearance, his awkward, but adorable gait, his gray hair, and his stooped shoulders. Charles lauds Shade's imperfections and poetically states: "He was his own cancellation." He treasures the picture of Shade and himself, taken by a young man staying with him. He remembers how the young man had taken advantage of him, bringing a red-haired whore to the house. Charles could not forgive the treason.

Charles next asks the reader to turn to the poem. He states that his extensive notes on the poem should satisfy any curious reader. Charles suggests reading the notes first, then reading the poem. He even suggests buying two copies of the book, in order to cut the notes and paste them in the appropriate place in the poem. Such cutting and pasting would prevent the reader from having to flip back and forth between the notes and the poem. Finally, he states that the poem has no "human reality" without his notes. It is too big to contain a single life, and too much has been carelessly thrown out. Charles claims that he, the commentator, has the last word anyway.

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MonkeyNotes-Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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