Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015639, Thu, 1 Nov 2007 22:27:32 -0400

Re: QUERY: Hodge
Dear List,

The relationship between Johnson and Hodge is analogous to the
relationship between author and character or, more to the point, the
relationship between Nabokov and Shade AND/OR the relationship between
Shade’s fictional creator, Botkinbote,* and Shade.

In Johnson's day (so like our own, granting differences in technology,
technique and style) a young fool goes about town shooting cats. "But
Hodge shall not be shot." Of course Johnson cannot guarantee this. And,
in any case, Hodge cannot understand much less be either comforted or
resentful of his friend’s fatuous assurance.

The analogy lies in Shade’s creator — as unknowable to Shade as Johnson
is to Hodge — offering or implying a similarly empty assurance against a
meaningless, arbitrary, therefore usual sort of death. A death that will
give the lie to the last lines the old poet has just jotted.

Shade is shot. Johnson had no power to protect Hodge, who may still be
prowling the Great Wen for all we know. Could Shade’s creator have
protected Shade? We know that Nabokov claimed (Strong Opinions) that his
characters “worked like galley slaves,” with neither free will nor any
direction other than that provided by their taskmaster author. No
conscientious author can, in my opinion (my way of saying the matter is
beyond dispute) recast the fate of characters whose destiny’s have a
structural logic that literary integrity, the fundamental reconciliation
or juxtaposition of perception and imagination the author has
established with readers, must observe.

Despite Hazel’s flutterby of warning, Shade walks into the path of a
deranged criminal who had once been sentenced to hard time by the
vacationing Judge whose home Botkin* is currently renting. Shade has to
die. VN didn’t give Shade a resemblance to the judge for no reason. It
wasn’t an accident or a case of VN running out of ways to depict the
appearance of his characters. Besides, Shade’s work as a living
character is finished. It’s time for his equally important role as a
dead guy, to begin.

So, Johnson, Hodge’s affectionate but powerless friend, makes Hodge an
offhand promise.

So, an affectionate but ultimately powerless creator makes his creation
an offhand promise. creator, Kinbote (aka Botkin) is most certainly
Botkin’s creation. Which is why

Best wishes and many thanks for
such erudition, such penetration and,
gratifyingly often,
such chortle-inducing goofiness,

Andrew Brown

*As a Botkinite (but strongly in favor of B. Boyd’s recent responses in
this List — I mean, VN was a very humorous writer, the sure sign of a
higher intelligence, and not a scribbler of puzzles or brain teasers. In
short, a writer of novels, not a mere maker of novelties) I believe that
Charles Kinbote is Botkin’s delusionary alter identity.

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