Vladimir Nabokov

Maud Bodkin& Northrop Frye in PF

By MARYROSS, 7 April, 2020

I posted the other day about how I think Northrop Frye’s  Jungian based “Archetypal Literary Criticism” may actually be more the target of VN’s parody in Pale Fire than Jung himself.


I’ve gone back into the Listserve archives and found some interesting notes on Maud Bodkin, who’s preceded Frye with Jungian based literary criticism.


Gennady Barabtarlo wrote in 1998 (!):

Professor Omry Ronen of Michigan, a Nabokov eridute who does not take part in this forum, drew my attention to a book by Maud Bodkin, "Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination" (Oxford UP,1934). I haven't read it, but doesn't almost every word and number in this citation seems to fit various sides of Pale Fire so well as to preclude the possibility of an accidental coincidence?



Jansy Mello references Ronen’s paper also in 2013:

The fallacy of the Jungian psychology as applied to literary criticism by Maud Bodkin in her once popular book appears to be spoofed in Pale Fire, especially in the "white fountain/white mountain" episode, as well as in the names of characters (aunt Maud, Dr. Botkin).



Unfortunately, only the first page summary of Ronen’s paper is available in English. (Sadly both Ronen and Barabtalo have passed.) Here is the salient part of the summary:


“It is an established fact that among modern writers of the West Nabokov most preferred Kafka, Joyce and Proust (in that order). Of the heritage of modernism, he rejected and consistently parodied and compromised in his own art not merely some of its specific artistic errors, but above all the general and typical fault of its approach to certain types of subject matter, most significantly, the forced mythological attitude toward poetic imagery, narrative motifs, and thematic inventory. In Joyce, Nabokov rejected the early, consistently mythologized versions of Ulysses and the final result of Work in Progress/Finnegans Wake. He expressed his rejection of its pointless paronomasia, a contagious disease in the world of words, in his introduction to Bend Sinister in the same terms as Max Müller had applied to mythology, “an illness of language”.

Nabokov’s contempt for the myth of the 20th century was both artistic and moral. He found tasteless Thomas Mann’s image of Hetaera esmeralda in Doctor Faustus as part of Mann’s myth of the diabolic nature of modernism, based on false racial and aesthetic presuppositions (cf. Lines Written in Oregon and the title of Vadim Vadimovich’s novel in Look at the Harlequins!Esmeralda and her Parandrus). The fallacy of the Jungian psychology as applied to literary criticism by Maud Bodkin in her once popular book appears to be spoofed in Pale Fire, especially in the “white fountain/white mountain” episode, as well as in the names of characters (aunt Maud, Dr. Botkin).

Most consistently Nabokov de-mythologized the most universal of mythological themes, the theme of death, as he detached the problem of immortality from the problem of the existence of gods, ‘including the big G.’”


Certainly, if VN is spoofing Maud Bodkin as progenitor of Archetypal Literary Criticism, it should not be surprising that he also intended to parody Northop Frye’s extension of ALC into a ‘scientific’ and encyclopedic study. It tidies up the whole reason for PF’s allusions to the Western literary canon and makes the suggestion of Jungian archetypes and alchemy as parodic substrate feasible as a tie into the literary references.



3 years 10 months ago

J. G. Frazer (an influence on T.S. Elliot’s New Criticism) is perhaps implicit in the many mythological allusions in Pale Fire. Critic Haki Antonsson asserts that there is a “Frazerian sub-text” to Pale Fire’s antecedent Solus Rex:

“The cycle of death and renewal, so central to the overarching concept The Golden Bough, is imprinted into the fabric of Nabokov’s abortive novel. Thus the allusion to Freyr not only attests to Nabokov’s awareness of Old Norse mythology but also serves as a portal, albeit by no means the sole one, to the Frazerian sub-text of Solus Rex.”

Haki Antonsson, Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. X–XI (2016/2017), p.30.

Northop Frye held that the basic myth of Western literature was death and renewal. This is the concept of Jung's "individuation" and Campbell's "Hero's Journey." Frye believed that ironic literature returned to this theme, most evident in James Joyce. It is clearly evident in PF and in Vera Nabokov's now well-known statement that potustoronnost’ (afterlife, beyond) was VN's consuming theme.