Jack Hodgins Essay - Critical Essays

Hodgins, Jack


Jack Hodgins 1938–

Canadian novelist, short story writer, and editor.

Critics laud Hodgins as a bold and talented new writer. He reveals his literary ambitions in the title of his first novel, The Invention of the World, in which he examines the role of history, myth, and legend in the creation of contemporary society. Although his fiction usually centers on his native Vancouver Island and he explores what David L. Jeffreys terms the "Island Mind," his vivid imagination makes him more than a regional writer.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96.)


[Jack Hodgin's] first book, Spit Delaney's Island, was a collection of compassionate and gracefully crafted stories set in his native Vancouver Island. This also serves as the setting for The Invention of the World, Hodgins' first novel.

In style and sensibility, both books radiate a jubilant confidence that derives from the author's subtle, bone-deep knowledge of his island. Hodgins is young, and his talent is still coltish, capable of bolting in any number of directions. The Invention of the World suggests a broadening and deepening of his artistic resources; nevertheless, by its own standards it's not as successful as some of the individual stories in the earlier book, being simultaneously more ambitious, more crazy, and more hazardous to write.

The Invention of the World weaves the tale of a bizarre religious colony, which immigrates to Vancouver Island from Ireland at the turn of the century, together with the fates of latter-day characters who inhabit the same space in a different time. It sets up correspondences between past and present, Old World and New, myth and reality, man and woman, and examines them in extraordinary detail at considerable length, requiring stamina on the author's part and even more on the reader's. Eventually one's patience is at least partially rewarded as layers of truth are peeled away to reveal a more satisfying reality than is apparent in the novel's...

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Barbara Amiel

[In The Invention of the World] Hodgins has produced a work of ambitious scope that should entertain, if not fully satisfy, both readers and critics. (p. 76)

Hodgins' book makes liberal use of symbolism, elements of the grotesque, and most especially the folk myth that infuses the work of certain writers ranging from Italy's D'Annunzio to Ireland's Yeats. (Unlike either, however, Hodgins doesn't flirt with the fascist impulse.) His narrative has a built-in richness: when a writer adopts the regional cadences of Irish prose, as Hodgins does in much of this book, his story benefits from the boisterous lush rhythms that go hand in hand with the Irish bent for rambling tales inspired by mist, marshes and, less happily, alcohol. At the same time Hodgins' account of contemporary life in a small BC logging and fishing community glows with authenticity…. Like it or not, this is … marvelously captured—a slice of humanity that is as Canadian as the shiny faces at the CNE or the backgammon existence of highrise tenants. Of course, so long as a writer is neither an incompetent nor an absolute genius, whether or not readers will like the world he creates will be a murky matter of personal taste…. The sign of real power in a writer is to carry the reader who hates fishing stories but is transported by The Old Man And The Sea. Hodgins cannot quite do that yet.

Still, he is a man of substantial talent. He sweeps the reader away on great waves of storytelling that disappoint only when the craftsman's strings are too visible, the tales too unfocused. True to its title, his book attempts to invent the world. That may be too big a thing to invent with one's first novel. It would be a great pity if the understandable competitiveness and hype of the publishing world convinced such a talented new writer that now, like God, he can rest. (pp. 76-7)

Barbara Amiel, "A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp, or What's a Second Novel For?" in Maclean's Magazine (© 1977 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 9, No. 5, March 7, 1977, pp. 76-7.

George Woodcock

I read The Invention of the World with part of my mind wandering through the world that had seemed so strange to me when I entered it half a life ago—the world of the loggers and their whores and the stump farmers and the Anglo-Irish eccentrics and millenarian communities, and I was delighted with the felicity of observation that had enabled Hodgins to catch so well the look and mood of the wild sea-forest-and-mountain landscape, and the speech and mannerism of its inhabitants. These aspects satisfied my nostalgia and at the same time pleased me with the thought that such a strange and undoubtedly transient world had not gone uncelebrated.

At the same time, I developed reservations about the fictional structure of the book. In the central strand of the plot—the career of Maggie Kyle from logger's moll to proprietor of a trailer park on the site of the Revelations Colony and eventually, after a desperate search for impossible salvations, to marriage with her hollow man of a cousin, Wade Powers, I found nothing to criticize; I have known such a loud, leggy blonde from northern Vancouver Island whose career and character were not much different from Maggie's. Around this main plot the minor fates of island oddities like Madmother Thomas, Julius Champney, Danny Holland and Becker (who in his curiosity over human motives becomes the narrator of much of the book) weave their appropriate patterns, and even the material side of the...

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Denis Salter

The Invention of the World is informed with the messianic spirit of the Irishman Donal Keneally, whose birth in County Cork around 1860 is predicted by Cathleen ni Houlihan. His mother, though a simple-minded peasant, is perhaps descended from the warrior-king Brian Boru; his father, we are exhorted to believe, is a "bull-god from the sky". With such auspicious parentage, Keneally is of course a boy wonder…. The hand of destiny singles him out as a Moses who must make his mythical journey to the Promised Land, and this turns out to be Vancouver Island where in 1899 with a band of bedraggled Irishmen (and women too needless to say) he founds the Revelations Colony of Truth. At the dedication ceremony, he uses his preternatural gift for mesmeric oratory …, he confirms himself as the colony's Father and Saviour. Yet as the subtitle, "The Eden Swindle", suggests, Keneally's paradisiacal vision is possibly spurious and he is not a demi-god, but a human megalomaniac with a Svengali-like aptitude for compelling theatrical illusion. Eventually the colony sees through the subterfuge and he loses his hold over it. The apocalyptic nature of his death, however, seems to vindicate his right to mythical stature.

When the novel opens we are given an overview of the present day inhabitants of the vestigial colony; the retrospective information about Keneally comes later. Each inhabitant is, like Keneally, a quest figure, though without his...

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Michael Mewshaw

The title of his novel alone—"The Invention of the World"—indicates the extent of Jack Hodgins's ambition. Like Faulkner he wants to create an imaginary precinct within a real place. Like Márquez, he populates it with characters of mythic proportions—a 130-year-old visionary crone, a man sired by a black bull upon a crazy woman. Then like Joyce he sets about forging the uncreated conscience of the race he has conjured.

Conventional storytelling is of secondary, even tertiary importance. Using an impressive array of narrative techniques—soliloquies, interior monologues, taped conversations, letters and newspaper articles—Hodgins is more interested in exploring the nature of reality and truth….

Not surprisingly, the mystery about [Donal Keneally, the legendary founder of the Colony,] is never resolved to everybody's satisfaction, for Truth is not One. It is multitudinous. And, at times, platitudinous….

Given the magnitude of Hodgins's risk-taking, it also shouldn't be surprising that he sometimes falls short of fulfilling his aspirations. Unlike the world of classical myth, the world he invents lacks an omphalos—a focal point around which the disparate elements of his book might successfully coalesce—and Keneally and his Colony can't bear quite so much prolonged scrutiny. But Jack Hodgins seems to have some of the same qualities he gives Keneally—galvanic energy, a powerful, idiosyncratic vision, and a command of language that is nearly equal to the stringent and varied demands he makes upon it. "The Invention of the World" may be flawed, but then so is the world itself.

Michael Mewshaw, "Three Novels: 'The Invention of the World'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 5, 1978, p. 32.

Laurence Ricou

Hodgins' collection of ten stories [Spit Delaney's Island] takes Vancouver Island as its centre and the personalities of its apparently ordinary, usually rural, people as its interest. This focus doesn't make the book as explicitly regional as might be expected, although there are carefully observed details … [and] some amusing speculations on the Island identity. Hodgins shares Spit Delaney's taste for "a bit of excitement," and his stories often depend on an incongruity slipping into the grotesque. In "Every Day of His Life" Mr. Swingler's courtship of Big Glad takes place on her roof while he paints mountain vistas and she drinks dandelion wine; in "Three Women of the Country" Mrs. Starbuck kills her calf...

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David L. Jeffrey

Jack Hodgins is possibly the most important new talent to emerge in English Canadian writing during the last several years….

His work has color and humor. It has a rich literacy and intellectual depth, and yet it is uncluttered by the pretentiousness of compulsive and overbearing credential-mongering which so often accompanies straining attempts at those qualities. Hodgins is both a good craftsman and a gifted stylist. (p. 70)

In these respects it is not without significance that Hodgins [in Spit Delaney's Island] served his apprenticeship as a short story writer, and that even in The Invention of the World he develops his novel almost as if it, too, were a...

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Robert Harlow

Jack Hodgins is an author whose mind has an innocent eye. You might say that it launders everything that comes into view. The world it sees is one we're familiar with—full of fears, ambitions, sicknesses, oppressions, obsessions, degradations, tragedies, and disasters—but we see them from that distance innocence keeps—must keep—if it is to remain unadulterated by any head-on reactions to the evils around us….

The information Hodgins gathers from his universe is different absolutely from the kind gleaned by [Zola, Dreiser, or even Dickens]. We are not far into The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne before we begin to understand that Bourne's world requires artlessness and naiveté...

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George Woodcock

My doubts [about The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne] come from a feeling that, while Hodgins sustains the vividness of his writing and the surreal wildness of his humour, he seems already to be settling into a kind of high-grade fictional formula. In a disquieting way, The Resurrection reads like The Invention's non-identical twin or—paying due attention to Hodgins' choice of titles—its reincarnation in another year and place.

The echoes from one book to the other depend on far more than the fact that Jack Hodgins has chosen to place his novel once again in the Vancouver Island world of frontier eccentrics whose feeling and spirit he renders so well. They are echoes of...

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Rupert Schieder

[The] themes that occupy Hodgins are [not] specifically Canadian: the question of identity, the isolation of the individual and the seeming impossibility of communication, the initiation into reality….

If Hodgins concentrates on a seemingly narrow field, his own people and place, his fertile imagination and his technical dexterity present these materials in an impressive variety of forms. Spit Delaney's Island is, in itself, a fine collection of stories, and an illuminating introduction to Hodgins' two novels.

The Invention of the World … seems the result of a long period of organizing and writing. Once more, except for two sections set in southwestern Ireland,...

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Robert Lecker

The Invention of the World is about the process of uninventing narrative worlds. I want to show how that process of uninvention undermines the assumption that the recovery of myth engenders the discovery of identity. Jack Hodgins establishes blatant connections between mythical structure and self awareness in order to purposefully break them down…. [Through parody and burlesque, Hodgins undercuts] a view shared by several Canadian novelists today: that the meaning of the moment is part and parcel of a myth-ridden past, and that, in order to understand personal experience, one must become conversant with, and indeed participant in, the historical traditions, documents, and artifacts which combine to form...

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Susan Beckmann

There are two distinct tones discernible in The Invention of the World: one results in a powerful and apparently serious examination of history, legend, and myth in both Old World and New World contexts, a consideration of the physical, psychological, and spiritual problems of the immigrant and contemporary Canadian as types of nineteenth- and twentieth-century man; the other amounts to a burlesquing of Old and New World conventions, traditions, legends, and myths, and is satiric of the very things that in other parts of the book are looked at in a seemingly serious fashion.

Undeniably, mythic stories and archetypal patterns are a primary focus of interest in Hodgins' novel. The tale of Donal...

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J. R. (Tim) Struthers

As in The Tempest, the action of Jack Hodgins' second novel originates in a giant wave, which shipwrecks characters on an island of romance and is followed by a series of magical transformations. The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne takes place on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island in the flooded and rain-drenched pulp town of Port Annie—"the end of the world" …, that is, "the edge of nothingness" … as it is perceived by Joseph Bourne in a mood of despair and disbelief, but also "the brink of eternity" … when seen from a visionary perspective. Nearly all of Port Annie's inhabitants have come from somewhere else which they would prefer to forget and, like the characters in Hodgins' first novel,...

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Rupert Schieder

There is nothing in [The Barclay Family Theatre] that I'd rather [Hodgins] hadn't included, unlike one or two of the collected stories in Spit Delaney's Island (1976). It attests, with The Invention of the World (1977) and The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne (1979), to the fundamental consistency of Hodgins's writing…. [There] are signs of additional interests, partly perhaps the result of Hodgins's time in other parts of the country, such as Ottawa, and other parts of the world, including Japan. Ireland and Bantry Bay are here again and of course Vancouver Island. There are a number of immediate reminiscences: Jacob Weins, a minor figure in the last novel, has grown prodigiously here, and...

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