Shade’s shadow

Jeffrey Meyers in The New Criterion:

Samuel Johnson and Vladimir Nabokov seem diametrically opposed. The quintessential Englishman, the epitome of the eighteenth-century “Age of Johnson,” favored lofty abstractions, moralistic content and elaborate Latinate style. Modern readers often assume that his works are impenetrable: his criticism misguided, his poetry prosaic, his essays didactic. Nabokov, by contrast, is the embodiment of the witty, urbane, and cosmopolitan modern writer. An uprooted victim of violent revolution, a scientist and scholar, he wandered across two continents and wrote, in two languages, subtly sophisticated, exquisitely stylish, and teasingly elusive books. Yet Nabokov perceived the greatness of and was strange- ly drawn to Johnson, whose appearance, character, and writings profoundly influenced the creation of his tragi-comic masterpiece, Pale Fire (1962). Nabokov’s cunningly covert allusions to Johnson provide an intellectual context for John Shade’s life and art, make the vague outlines of his character more vivid and distinct, and add depths of interest and meaning to the novel.

More here.