A Guide to Kinbote's Commentary
by Brian Walter

This guide accompanies the author's article on Pale Fire. The diagrams described below and available as a PDF file plot the reference-patterns in Kinbote's notes.

* The numbers in the upper left corners of the diagrams track the order of the 131 individual notes comprising Kinbote's commentary.
* The diagrams of the 23 'special-case' notes (explained in detail at the end of the guide) contain a second number in their upper right corners.
* All other numbers refer to the lines from Shade's poem which Kinbote chooses to comment upon.
* Underlined numbers indicate notes that branch off to other notes.
* Numbers in enlarged script indicate 'dead-end' notes – notes that do not direct the reader to any other part of the text.
* Diagrams with inverted coloring – white lettering on a black background – indicate patterns in which the notes refer to each other in a potentially endless loop.

For example, the eighth note of Kinbote's commentary – which refers to ll. 47-48 of Shade's poem – branches to two other notes, those to l. 691 and to l. 62. The first branch – to the note to l. 691 – is a dead end, returning the reader directly to the original note (to ll. 47-48). Resuming then from the point of the first branch, the reader proceeds to the second branch – to the note to l. 62. The note to l. 62 eventually refers the reader directly to the note to ll. 47-48, forming a closed loop of references between the two notes. Also, as noted in the upper right corner, the note to ll. 47-48 is the third special-case note.

Special-Case Notes

Notes with unusual features are designated 'special-case' notes. Unusual features include references to Kinbote's Foreword, references to lines from sundry passages of Shade's poem, suggestive but non-imperative allusions to other notes, and a reference to a note that does not exist.

All quotations are cited within by page number from the Vintage International edition of Pale Fire (New York: Random House, 1989).

1. (1-4): Directs reader to Foreword and to ll. 181-182.

2. 42: Technically does not direct reader to any other notes, instead referring suggestively to the "superb singing verses . . . in note[s] to lines 70, 79, and 130, all in Canto One, which [Shade] obviously worked at with a greater degree of creative freedom than he enjoyed afterwards" (pp. 81-2). Earlier in the same note, Kinbote has plugged his notes to Canto One as containing the bulk of the "few fragments" of his Zemblan narrative.

3. (47-48): Directs reader to Foreword.

4. 71: Directs reader to "see eventually my ultimate note" (p. 101).

5. 80: Technically does not direct reader to any other notes, instead hinting broadly: "[Charles] was to go through a far more dramatic ordeal thirteen years later with Disa, Duchess of Payn, whom he married in 1949, as described in the notes to lines 275 and 433-434, which the student of Shade's poem will reach in due time; there is no hurry" (p. 112).
Also mentions – but does not explicitly direct the reader to – the note to l. 130.

6. 109: Directs reader to l. 634.

7. 189: "Branches" at the end to the very next note (to l. 209).

8. 230: Directs reader to ll. 90-98.

9. 90: Could refer to one of two notes, either the 18th (to ll. 86-90) or the 19th (to ll. 90-93).

10. 238: Directs reader to ll. 233-234. Also, branches insistently to the note to l. 181 – a note the reader should "see, frequently see" (p. 169).

11. (376-377): Directs reader to "Forward" [sic] (p. 194).

12. (433-434): Directs reader to l. 240.

13. 470: Directs reader to Foreword.

14. 549: Directs reader to l. 517.

15. 550: Comprises Kinbote's recantation of the fabricated variant in note to l. 12. Hence, technically only mentions – without explicitly directing reader to – earlier note.

16. 579: Directs reader to Foreword.

17. 584: Technically directs reader to non-existent note, to line 664 (p. 231); quite possibly a misprint for ‘662,’ the note to which line deals with resonant parent-child imagery from Goethe’s poem Erlkönig and quotes l. 664 (p. 239).

18. 619: Directs reader to l. 502.

19. 681: Mentions – but does not explicitly direct reader to – note to line 130.

20. (734-735): Directs reader to ll. 808-829.

21. 802: Directs reader to Foreword.

22. 949.2: Mentions – but does not explicitly direct reader to – note to line 171.

23. 991: Mentions – but does not explicitly direct reader to – note to ll. 47-48.

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