Samuel and Vladimir

One of the surprising and pleasing things I’ve discovered so far in the course of my research for the book is that one of my favourite 20th-century authors was also a fan of Johnson. Or perhaps not a fan – especially when you are talking about Vladimir Nabokov and his attitude toward literature, you shouldn’t make any facile conclusions or assumptions. The fact is though that in Pale Fire, Nabokov makes extensive allusions to Johnson and his work, even to the extent of using a quote from Johnson (via Boswell) for the epigraph:

This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.”

Jeffrey Meyers has written about these allusions in “Shade’s Shadow,” The New Criterion, 24:9 (May 2006), p. 31-35.

One further thing about Nabokov, Johnson, and me. Again, there are nuances about the issue, which I will cover in my book, but neither of the authors was a particular fan of music. Nabokov famously said in Strong Opinions that “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.” And Johnson is quoted as saying, perhaps less famously and, some scholars assert, less categorically than it would appear: “All animated nature loves music – except myself,” and: music “excites in my mind no ideas, and hinders me from contemplating my own.” (I’m also not much of a fan of music.)

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