The motive of Exile: Liabilities and possibilities in Vladimir Nabokovs "Pale Fire"

Seminar Paper, 2009

4 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Vladimir Nabokov: “Pale Fire”

The motive of Exile: Liabilities and possibilities


Vladimir Nabokov once stated that he considered all literature as fiction, thus regarding fiction and reality as two separate spheres.[1] He is right with this assumption when it comes to regard a piece of literature as art and not as a reflection of its author’s life, however, somehow every author leaves his fingerprints on his or her work. It is therefore very interesting to closely watch the various resemblances between Vladimir Nabokov and his novel's characters. Actually, Nabokov employs his own life as a source for his stories, for example is his passion for chess reflected in The Defense, as his love of butterflies results in their pervasive occurence in his books.

The motive of exile

Yet there is another thing many of his novel’s heroes have in common with him – many share his fate of being an expatriate. Most notably, these are Sebastian Knight (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight), Humbert Humbert (Lolita), Fyodor (The Gift) and, ultimately, Charles Kinbote (Pale Fire). Nabokov is in one way and another a double exiled. First did his family flee from Russia to Prag (later to Berlin) when the Bolsheviks took over and, when the situation in Germany got evil, Nabokov was forced to leave to the US. Having this in mind, it is not hard to imagine that he took up this fate in his writing. Because it has a big impact on so many aspects of life, exile is indeed a powerful theme. At the surface exile seems to be nothing more than what dictionaries call it:

„the state or a period of forced or voluntary absence from one's country or home“[2]

„prolonged absence from ones country“[3]

But the implications of being absent from one‘s own country are not so harmless and go deeper than the image of prolongued holidays. Exile conveyes the idea of an intended return to a homeland, nevertheless, the time of return is indefinable. Expatriates might suffer various losses, like loss of home culture, loss of friends and milieu, loss of status and money. One of the leading researchers on migration literature, Edward Said, therefore calls exile as “terrible to experience” due to a “unhealable rift between individual and native place.” On the other hand, says Said, being in exile has some positive side effects such as an awareness of at least two cultures.

The characters in Nabokov's novels reflect Said's thoughts about exile in both ways. Nabokov employs this fascinating issue for his writing. In his novels the characters deal with exile in different ways. The most obvious one is Pale Fire. This novel's narrator is Charles Kinbote, an expatriate from the fictitious country of Zembla, a country that strongly parallels Nabokov's homeland Russia. The revolution in Zembla resembles the overthrow of monarchy there and the installment of Bolshevik rule. As Kinbote describes, Zembla is also located somewhere in Eastern Europe, just like Russia. Furthermore, the language spoken in Zembla sounds much like Russian:

“On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana

Verbalala wod gev ut tri phantana”[4]


[1] cf. Nabokov: Lectures on Literature: Literature is invention. Fiction is fiction. To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.

[2] cf.: Merriam-Websters (

[3] cf.: Encyclopedia Britannica (

[4] Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire, p.108

Excerpt out of 4 pages


The motive of Exile: Liabilities and possibilities in Vladimir Nabokovs "Pale Fire"
Oglethorpe University Atlanta
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ISBN (eBook)
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Nabokov, Pale Fire, Exile, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Lolita, The Gift, Anglistik, Literatur, Exil
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Anonymous, 2009, The motive of Exile: Liabilities and possibilities in Vladimir Nabokovs "Pale Fire", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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