Humboldt's Gift

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Novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1975 and awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

The saga of Charlie Citrine begins with him as a bright, bookish, ambitious young man from the Midwest intent on literary success, coming, by way of Chicago, to Greenwich Village. There he becomes the friend and disciple of the visionary poet Von Humboldt Fleisher, obviously modeled on Delmore Schwartz. In time the vexatious Humboldt dies alone, poor and mad, but he continues to affect the life of the middle-aged Charlie, who recapitulates some of the dead poet's folly while also striving for his wisdom. Worldly success comes to Citrine with the winning of two Pulitzer Prizes, respectively for a play and a biography, and an honorary award from the French government. But financial problems plague him and bring a variety of serio-comic difficulties in personal relations with his greedy divorced wife and his voluptuous girlfriend. Most troublesome of all is Ronald (Rinaldo) Cantabile, a minor hoodlum to whom Charlie owes money and whose wife, oddly enough, is writing a dissertation on Fleisher, about whom she seeks information as she pursues Citrine through Chicago and even across the Atlantic. From these difficulties Citrine is saved by money from the tremendously popular film whose fantastic script, written many years ago by Humboldt and Charlie, is a comedy of sorts about cannibalism, a recurrent metaphor in Bellow's novel.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Saul Bellow (1915—2005) Canadian-born American novelist