Jack Hodgins Biography
Jack Hodgins comments:
Nationality: Canadian. Born: John Stanley Hodgins in Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, 1938. Education: Tsolum School, Courtenay, British Columbia; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1956-61, B.Ed. 1961. Career: Teacher, Nanaimo District Senior Secondary School, British Columbia, 1961-80; visiting professor, University of Ottawa, 1981-83; visiting professor, 1983-85, and currently professor of creative writing, University of Victoria, British Columbia. Writer-in-residence, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, 1977, and University of Ottawa, 1979; Canadian Department of External Affairs lecturer, Japan, 1979. Awards: University of Western Ontario President's medal, for short story, 1973; Canada Council award, 1980; Governor-General's award, 1980; Canada-Australia award, 1986. D. Litt., University of British Columbia, 1995. Agent: Bella Pomer Agency, 22 Shallmar Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario M5N 2Z8.
The Invention of the World. Toronto, Macmillan, 1977; New York, Harcourt Brace, 1978.
The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne; or, A Word or Two on Those Port Annie Miracles. Toronto, Macmillan, 1979.
The Honorary Patron. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1987.
Innocent Cities. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1990.
The Macken Charm. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1995.
Broken Ground. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Spit Delaney's Island: Selected Stories. Toronto, Macmillan, 1976.
The Barclay Family Theatre. Toronto, Macmillan, 1981.
Beginnings: Samplings from a Long Apprenticeship: Novels Which Were Imagined, Written, Re-Written, Submitted, Rejected, Abandoned, and Supplanted. Toronto, Grand Union, 1983.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The God of Happiness," in Westerly, (Nedlands, Australia) 4, 1968.
"Promise of Peace," in The North American Review, New Ser. 6(4), 1969.
"A Matter of Necessity," in The Canadian Forum, January 1970.
"The Graveyard Man," in Descant (Fort Worth, Texas) 15(4), 1971.
"Witness," in Alphabet 18-19, 1971.
"Edna Pike, on the Day of the Prime Minister's Wedding," in Event: Journal of the Contemporary Arts, 2(1), 1972.
"Open Line," in The Antigonish Review 9, 1972.
"Passing by the Dragon," in Island: Vancouver Island's Quarterly Review of Poetry and Fiction, (Nanaimo, British Columbia), 2, 1972.
"The Importance of Patsy McLean," in Journal of Canadian Fiction, 2(1), 1973.
"In the Museum of Evil," in Journal of Canadian Fiction, 3(1), 1974.
"Silverthorn," in Forum (Houston) 12(1), 1974.
"Great Blue Heron," in Prism International, 14(2), 1975.
"A Conversation in the Kick-and-Kill: July," in Sound Heritage,(Victoria, British Columbia), 6(3), 1977.
"The Invention of the World," in Viva, February 1978.
"Spit Delaney's Nightmare," in Toronto Life, January 1978.
"Miss Schussnigg's First Spring," in Peter Gzowski's Spring Tonic, edited by Peter Gzowski. Edmonton, Alberta, Hurtig, 1979.
"Victims of the Masquerade," in Interface, 4(8), 1981.
"Change of Scenery," in Small Wonders: New Stories by Twelve Distinguished Canadian Writers, edited by Robert Weaver. Toronto, CBC, 1982.
"The Day of the Stranger," in Chatelaine, December 1982.
"Faller Topolski's Arrival," in True North/Down Under (Lantzville, British Columbia), 1, 1983.
"The Crossing," in Vancouver Magazine, February 1985.
"Earthquake," in The Canadian Forum, March 1986.
"Loved Forever," in Books in Canada, August-September 1988.
"Balance," in Paris Transcontinental: A Magazine of Short Stories7, 1993.
"Galleries," in O Canada 2, edited by Cassandra Pybus, Meanjin(Parkville, Victoria), 54, 1995.
"In the Forest of Discarded Pasts," in Paris Transcontinental: A Magazine of Short Stories, 11, c. 1995.
"Over Here," in Prism International, 33(3), 1995.
Teachers' Resource Book to Transition II: Short Fiction, with BruceNesbitt. Vancouver, CommCept, 1978.
Teaching Short Fiction, with Bruce Nesbitt. Vancouver, CommCept, 1981.
Left Behind in Squabble Bay (for children), illustrated by Victor Gad. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1988.
Over Forty in Broken Hill: Unusual Encounters Outback and Beyond. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1992.
A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1993; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Editor, with W.H. New, Voice and Vision. Toronto, McClelland andStewart, 1972. Editor,
The Frontier Experience. Toronto, Macmillan, 1975.
Editor, The West Coast Experience. Toronto, Macmillan, 1976.
Editor, with Bruce Nesbitt, Teaching Short Fiction; A Resource Book to "Transitions II: Short Fiction." Vancouver, CommCept, 1978.
"Jack Hodgins," in The Writers' Union of Canada: A Directory of Members, edited by Ted Whittaker, Toronto, The Writers' Union of Canada, 1981; "Hodgins, Jack (1938-)" by Helen Hoy, in her Modern English-Canadian Prose: A Guide to Information Sources, Detroit, Gale Research, 1983; "Hodgins, Jack (1938-)" by Allan Weiss, in his A Comprehensive Bibliography of English-Canadian Short Stories, 1950-1983, Toronto, ECW Press, 1988; "Selected Bibliography" by David [L.] Jeffrey, in his Jack Hodgins and His Works, Toronto, ECW Press, 1989.
The National Library of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
"The Mind of the Artist: The Soul of the Place," in Essays on Canadian Writing, 5, 1976, "Fantasy in a Mythless Age" in Essays on Canadian Writing, 9, 1977-78, "Thinking about Eternity," in Essays on Canadian Writing, 20, 1980-81, all by J.R. (Tim) Struthers; "An Interview with Jack Hodgins" by Jack David, in Essays on Canadian Writing, 11, 1978; "Jack Hodgins and the Island Mind," in Canada Emergent: Literature/Art, edited by James Carley, Book Forum, 4, 1978, "A Crust for the Critics," in Canadian Literature, 84, 1980, "It Out-Hodgins Hodgins: Burlesque and the Freedoms of Fiction," in Essays on Canadian Writing, 26, 1983, and Jack Hodgins and His Works, Toronto, ECW Press, 1989, all by David L. Jeffrey; "Jack Hodgins" by Geoff Hancock, in his Canadian Writers at Work: Interviews with Geoff Hancock, Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1987; "Haunted by a Glut of Ghosts: Jack Hodgins' The Invention of the World " by Robert Lecker, in Essays on Canadian Writing, 20, 1980-81; "Canadian Burlesque: Jack Hodgins' The Invention of the World " by Susan Beckmann, in Essays on Canadian Writing, 20, 1980-81; "Western Horizon: Jack Hodgins" by Alan Twigg, in his For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers, Madeira Park, British Columbia, Harbour, 1981; " The Barclay Family Theatre " by Ann Mandel, in The Fiddlehead, 134, 1982; "An Interview with Jack Hodgins" by Peter O'Brien, in Rubicon (Montreal), 1, 1983; "Irish and Biblical Myth in Jack Hodgins' The Invention of the World " by Jan C. Horner, in Canadian Literature, 99, 1983; "Isolation and Community in Jack Hodgins's Short Stories," in Recherches Anglaises et Américaines, 16, 1983, "Jack Hodgins: Interview," in Kunapipi 9(2), 1987, and "Magic Realism in Jack Hodgins's Short Stories," in Recherches Anglaises et Nord-Américaines 20, 1987, all by Jeanne Delbaere-Garant; "Jack Hodgins' The Invention of the World and Robert Browning's 'Abt Vogler"' by Laurence Steven, in Canadian Literature, 99, 1983; "Brother XII and The Invention of the World, " in Essays on Canadian Writing, 28, 1984, and "Lines and Circles: Structure in The Honorary Patron " in Canadian Literature, 128, 1991, both by JoAnn McCaig; "Disbelieving Story: A Reading of The Invention of the World " by Frank Davey, in Present Tense, The Canadian Novel, edited by John Moss, vol. 4, Toronto, NC Press, 1985; "'If Words Won't Do, and Symbols Fail': Hodgins' Magic Reality" by Cecilia Coulas Fink, in Journal of Canadian Studies, 20(2), 1985; "The Invention of a Region: The Art of Fiction in Jack Hodgins' Stories" by Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, in Gaining Ground: European Critics on Canadian Literature, edited by Robert Kroetsch and Reingard M. Nischik, Edmonton, NeWest, 1985; "Jack Hodgins's Island: A Big Enough Country" by Allan Pritchard, in University of Toronto Quarterly, 55, 1985; "Jack Hodgins and the Sources of Invention," in Essays on Canadian Writing 34, 1987, "Jack Hodgins," in A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada, Toronto, ECW Press, 1989, "Hodgins's 'Pack of Crazies': The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne " and "On the Edge of Something Else: Jack Hodgins's Island World," both in An Independent Stance: Essays on English-Canadian Criticism and Fiction, Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1991, all by W.J. Keith; "Out on the Verandah: A Conversation with Jack Hodgins" by Alan Lawson and Stephen Slemon, in Australian-Canadian Studies 5(1), 1987; "Jack Hodgins: Interview" by Russell McDougall, in Kunapipi, 12(1), 1990; "Reader's Squint: An Approach to Jack Hodgins' The Barclay Family Theatre " by Simone Vauthier, in Modes of Narrative: Approaches to American, Canadian, and British Fiction, edited by Reingard M. Nischik and Barbara Korte, Würzburg, Germany, Königshausen and Neumann, 1990; The Counterfeit and the Real in Jack Hodgins' "The Invention of the World" by Carol Langhelle, Lund, Sweden, Nordic Association for Canadian Studies—L'Association Nordique d'études Canadiennes, 1992; How Stories Mean edited by John Metcalf and J.R. (Tim) Struthers, Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1993.
(1981) I write fiction in order to free myself of those shadowy creatures that walk briefly across the back of my mind and then return to grow into living breathing people who aren't satisfied to live in my skull: Spit Delaney, the engineer who falls apart when his steam locomotive is sold to a museum; Maggie Kyle, the gorgeous "loggers' whore" who sets herself up a new life in the ruins of a failed utopian colony; Joseph Bourne, the famous poet who dies and returns to life in a tiny town on the edge of the world; Jacob Weins, the small-town mayor never seen without a different costume on, who after his town has slid off the mountain and into the sea has to search for a new role for himself, and a new costume. Writing them down is a way of getting rid of them. It is also, I hope, a way of sharing them—of allowing other people to love them too, as I must do myself before I'm through with them. I write fiction in order to explain their mysteries to myself—what makes them tick?—but always in the process of writing uncover more mystery than I solve. I write fiction in order to nail down a place before it disappears. If much has been made of the fact that most of my stories are set on Vancouver Island, it is not just that there is some excitement in introducing a part of the world seldom represented before in fiction. The place is changing while I look at it and I want to get the trees, the rocks, the beaches down right before they disappear. I also feel that if I nail the place down right, the people who walk around in it will be just that much more convincing to the reader, wherever he is in the world. I write fiction, finally, for the same reason the magician creates his illusions—in order to start something magical happening in the audience's (reader's) mind. If the critics insist on calling me a "magic realist" it isn't because I distort reality or indulge in fantasy but because I see the magic that's already there.
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Jack Hodgins is a strongly regional writer who has never significantly departed in his fiction from the setting of Vancouver Island, the fairly circumscribed region where he was born and spent his childhood and young manhood. As Canada's westernmost edge of settlement, the rural north of Vancouver Island is a region that runs to excess. Until recently it still counted as a frontier area, attracting with its fine scenery and good winters a rich variety of eccentrics who populated its fishing villages, stump farms, and logging camps. Yet, in common with the best of regional writers, Hodgins portrays the local as a staging point for the universal, and his novels and stories owe their appeal largely to his ability to realize the fact that "imagination can redeem or transcend the physical," as Frank Davey observed in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Hodgins's imagination is indeed prodigious, and its inventions, while often seemingly improbable in their carnivalesque scope or burlesque nature, nevertheless reveal a commitment to humanity at large, as well as the dignity of the individual. Until recently Hodgins's fiction was over-flowing with humor, and suggested a temperamental inability on the author's part to see life as other than good, prospects as other than expansive, and human nature as other than extravagant in its potentialities. However, his 1998 novel, Broken Ground, suggests that a darker side of Hodgins's imagination has emerged, and with it brought a new complexity to his work without sacrificing the outrageous and sometimes magical visions that have to date defined his writing.
Hodgins's first book was a group of loosely linked stories, Spit Delaney's Island ; Spit Delaney himself, wild and often shocking in the unconventionality of his behavior, is the first of Hodgins's roguish and exuberant heroes who live by their dreams and in the process expose the futility of the limited lives of the literal-minded. Hodgins in fact practices a latter-day picaresque fiction. His central characters are often variants on the classical picaro, the ultimately redeemable rogue. His novels take on the loose structure of the picaresque romance, and in the process he constantly intertwines parables with the deceptions of verisimilitude. The Invention of the World is still to date the best known of Hodgins's longer fictions and the most representative of his writing. It is a mingling of the eccentrically regional and the extravagantly parabolical. A larger-than-life evangelist (based on an actual confidence trickster who once operated in the same area under the name Brother Twelve) persuades a whole Irish village to follow him to Vancouver Island and form a community subservient to his wishes. In a way the evangelist invents a world, but it is a false one; the real heroine and creative spirit of the book is the exuberant and promiscuous Maggie Kyle, eventual bride in an epic and Brueghelesque wedding at which the island loggers break into ferocious battle. Maggie is not only a splendidly complex personality; she also spans literary genres and approaches, from Joycean interior monologue to vitalist action.
Winner of the Gibson Literary Award as best first novel of the year, The Invention of the World was followed by The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, for which Hodgins received Canada's most prestigious literary award, the Governor General's. The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne is even more emphatically vitalist than its predecessor in its insistence on the power of the human imagination to make its own terms with existence. The once internationally renowned, now reclusive poet, Joseph Bourne, is revitalized by the appearance of a mysterious woman whose mystical powers endow Bourne with the ability to regenerate his isolated community through a succession of comical yet genuine encounters.
The occasional problem of sustaining exaggerative fantasy surfaced in Hodgins's 1981 collection, The Barclay Family Theatre. While it more explicitly treats Hodgins's interest in the figure of the artist than in his previous work, this series of stories concerning the daughters of a single backwoods family and their disconcerting impact on the world is somewhat shallow in parts and occasionally artificial in its construction. The Barclay daughters, in a reprise of their appearance in Spit Delaney's Island, do not capture the reader's sympathy or interest in the manner of their original vehicle. Some wondered whether Hodgins had come to the point where the possibilities of his existing material and his current methods were almost exhausted. Instead, Hodgins has expanded as a writer, producing a striking number and variety of new works that range widely in both a geographical and a generic sense. These include a children's book, Left Behind in Squabble Bay, a travel book, Over 40 in Broken Hill, based on an expedition with Australian writer Roger McDonald, and a creative writing text, A Passion for Narrative. Several novels have also since appeared, demonstrating his versatility and ability to learn from exploring different literary forms, and inject his novels with new energy.
Hodgins's literal exploration of different geographic territory led to his fictional explorations in The Honorary Patron, divided between Europe and Vancouver Island, and Innocent Cities, divided between Australia and Vancouver Island. While The Honorary Patron presents an unprecedented central figure in Hodgins's oeuvre, the older, cautious, and chronically pensive Jeffrey Crane, it is in Innocent Cities that Hodgins departs most radically from his earlier work. It is, in its own way, a historical novel, set in Victoria during the 1880s, the period of lull between the Cariboo and the Klondike gold rushes. Yet this "Victorian" novel is anything but Victorian in form. Inspired by the actual letters of a woman who invited her sister to join her in Canada, so as to assume certain "wifely" duties for her husband, the novel defies Victorian convention and notions of decorum from the onset. In a frontier society where names and identities are easily exchanged, masquerades are revealed to be common, even necessary for the society's belief in itself to prosper. Hodgins uses these deceptions as the basis of a post-modern investigation of history, meaning, language, and narrative. Innocent Cities is a work of parody and palimpsest, an imitation Victorian novel presented through an ironic modern sensibility.
Comfortable in his departure from form, Hodgins's was just as comfortable in his return in 1995's The Macken Charm, a bildungsroman covering the 1956 summer before Rusty Macken's departure from Vancouver Island for university on the mainland. The novel possesses the semi-autobiographical elements that an author usually mines earlier in his career. Coming as it does, however, mid-career, The Macken Charm avoids the romantic rememberings or sentimental meanderings that sometimes characterize the genre. Instead Hodgins navigates the young Macken's sensitive recognition of his family's peculiarities and strengths, as framed by the events of a cousin's anything but funereal funeral and just as outlandish wake. Combining the magical realism and extravagant humor of his earlier works with the sensitive perception of an isolated narrator, Hodgins's proved himself and his subject matter inexhaustible.
Nevertheless, he challenged himself again in his critically acclaimed novel Broken Ground. Set in 1922 in Portuguese Creek, a "soldiers' settlement" on Vancouver Island, the novel is permeated by the horror of war and the ethos of settlement, as the characters who populate the novel struggle with love and loss in their lives, the complexities of truth, and the difficulties of assigning coherent meaning to events. A forest fire looms throughout the first one-third of the novel, paralleling the war in its random destructiveness and forcing the issues many would rather suppress to the fore. Nature is a cataclysmic force not welcoming to the inhabitants of the settlement; the land they have been rewarded with by the government is unsuitable for farming, ultimately causing numerous deaths and disasters. Just as the fire erupts and the settlers are evacuated, Hodgins moves his novel to 1919 and the letters of one couple separated by the war, providing a few answers to the novel's many mysteries, and an insightful portrait of one soldier's experience of war. Part three is set in 1996 as Rusty Macken—of The Macken Charm—returns to Vancouver Island with a cinematic version of the events of the now legendary fire, causing one elderly survivor to recall the aftermath with devastating clarity, and wonder how quiet personal lives are reinterpreted over time as staunch purposefully heroic archetypes. Hodgins, always interested in the process of mythmaking, has raised the stakes in Broken Ground, his self-reflexive playfulness traded in for thoughtful introspection and exceptionally sensitive characterization. Broken Ground was nominated for the 2000 International Impac Dublin Literary Award.
updated by J.R. (Tim) Struthers
and Jennifer Harris
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