Bellow, Saul: Humboldt's Gift
(researched by Ryan Nelson)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
The first book version of the novel was published in New York by The Viking Press, Inc. in 1975. It was published at the same time in Canada by The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited. It was originally published in serial in Playboy and Esquire Magazines in 1973.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
Its original printing is in cloth. Later in the same year, a paperback ersion was printed by Viking Compass paperbacks.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
[10]1-487[7], there are 252 leaves.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
There is no introduction.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations, however there is a photograph of the author on the back cover, taken by Jill Krementz.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book's readability is excelent. Its print is still crisp, its font is reletively large, and its margins are wide. There is a small break between chapters of about an inch and a half, and each new chapter begins with an extremely large bold capital letter.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The text is printed on a wove paper with the slightest yellow tint (due to time). The paper is very sturdy and there are no rips or tears.
11 Description of binding(s)
The Binding is in perfect condition. It is a trade cloth binding, orange collored. it reads |Humboldt's|Gift|BELLOW|Viking| There is no other printing on the cover.
12 Transcription of title page
Title Page Transcription: |Humboldt's|Gift|Saul|Bellow|THE VIKING PRESS . NEW YORK| Title Page Verso Transcription: |Copyright 1973, 1974, 1975 by Saul Bellow|All rights reserved|First Published in 1975 by the Viking Press, Inc.|625 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022| Published simultaneously in Canada by|The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited|Excerpts originally appeared in Playboy Magazine and Esquire.| the title page verso then contains the books cataloging data in the library of congress.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The manuscripts of Humboldt's Gift, allong with most of Bellow's writings and memoribilia are housed in the the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The cover art is just a yellow dust jacket with the writing: |SAUL|BELLOW|HUMBOLDT'S|GIFT|a novel| there are 7 blank pages after the last page of the novel. The inside cover of the dust jacket has a brief intro to the novel. The dust jacket was designed by Mel Williamson
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
There was only one edition of the novel issued by Viking press.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
as of 1976, when Viking stop publishing the book, there were 4 printings 1st printing: 50,000 copies 2nd printing: 24,000 copies (74,000 total) 3rd printing: 25,000 copies (99,000 total) when Viking stopped printing the book, there were 102,500 total copies in print.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
London: Secker and Warbug, 1975 New York: Avon (first paperback), 1976 This edition printed 893,000 copies in 7 printings ($1.95). 1-713,000 total; 2-745,000 total; 4-800,000 total; 5-850,000 total; 6-868,000 total;7-893,000 total) Hamondsworth: Penguin, 1976 Franklin Center, PA: Franklin, 1980 (limited ed.) New York: Penguin, 1984 New York: Penguin, 1996 (Twentieth Century Classics ed.)
6 Last date in print?
Humboldt's Gift was last published by Penguin Books in 1996 with their Twentieth Century Clssics edition novels.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
The first hardback copy of the book cost $10. On January 5 of 1976, 94,395 of the 102,500 copies (first edition hardcover) in print had been purchased. This was its last date on the Hardcover Bestsellers list
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
not found
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Viking Press did not advertise the novel heavily. There are no adds for the book in Publishers Weekly, Atlantic Monthly, Life, or Esquire Magizine. The book is, however, advertised as a primary selection of the Book of the Month Club is September of 1975 in both Publishers Weekly and Atlantic Monthly.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
The book is introduced in the Publishers Weekly 1975 Fall Book Preview. It reads: |Humboldt's Gift|by Saul Bellow (Sept 1, $10) is a novel|that focuses on Von Humboldt Fleisher,|a writer, and Charles Citrine, his protege.| First Printing of 50,000. BOMC main se-|lection.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The only performance of Humboldt's Gift in other media is an Audio book of the novel. It was recorded in 1997 from the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics. It is 13 tapes and cost 85.95$ on Amazon.com. It is narrated by Christopher Hurt.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Milan: Rizzoli, 1976 Cologne: Keipenheuer, 1976 Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhito Tammi, 1976 Tel Aviv: Sifriyat-Poalim, 1978 Bucharest: Univers, 1979 Barcelona: Plaza y Janes, 1984 Mexico City: Penguin, 1996
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
The Novel was published in serial in Playboy Magizine in 1973 and in the December eddition of Esquire Magazine in 1974. In both magazines, it was known as Burdens of a Lone Survivor.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Saul Bellow was born in 1915 in Quebec, Canada. When he was born, his parents were only two years removed from St. Petersburg, Russia. Nine years later (1924), they moved to Chicago, and there Saul was educated and made a home. He attended The University of Chicago starting in 1935, but transferred, and received a B.S. from Northwestern University in 1937. He studied anthropology at The University of Wisconsin directly out of Northwestern, but he soon gave up his studies, because, as he says, "every time I worked on my thesis, it turned out to be a story." Bellow was first published in the early forties, and wrote his first novel, Dangling Man, in 1944. He has published eleven novels in total, along with three plays and other essays and short stories. Humboldt's Gift was published in 1975. Bellow has written four novels since(The Victim being his latest in 1997). Saul Bellow has been a very active man in the marriage field. He was first married in 1937, and is currently on his fifth wife. He married his forth wife, Alexandra Ionesco Tuleca, in 1974, just after the writing and shortly before the publication of Humboldt's Gift. Bellow has three children, all sons: Gregory, Adam, and Daniel. Humboldt's Gift was a very important novel for Bellow. It won the Pulitzer Prize 1976, and was a major reason in Bellow's winning the Nobel Prize for literature in the same year. Bellow won the prize for " the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work." This is a very accurate portrait of Bellow. In his novels, he shows art and intellectualism as the vital functions in a society. Much of his writing speaks of moral victories overcoming personal struggle. Bellow is usually very critical of mass culture, and skeptical of popular movements (actually, both movements and counter-movements). Bellow continues to extend the belief that art should be the primary concern of society in his teachings. He has taught at Bard College, The University of Puerto Rico, Princeton University, The University of Chicago, New York University, and The University of Minnesota. Bellow is currently at Boston University, and has taught there since 1993 In a famous line from Humboldt's Gift, Bellow summarizes much of his belief in the power of art and the world. In an attempt to bring sanity to his protégé's life, Von Humboldt Fleisher says, "Remember: we are not natural beings but supernatural beings." This mantra is very Bellow-esque. Forever believing in art and superintelectual pursuits. Saul Bellow is forever a member of the American cannon of writers and is considered by many as the greatest living American writer.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Positive critical praise for Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift came early and in great abundance. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1976, and weighed heavily in the decision to award Bellow the Nobel Prize the following year. Almost immediately the book was heralded as Bellow's greatest and most important work. The Saturday Review claimed that Humboldt's Gift secured Bellow's place as "one of the two or three major novelists of his generation." The most debated (or should I say the most commented on) aspect of Humboldt's Gift is the largely autobiographical themes. Whereas some critics thought that Bellow left some of his own ghosts unsolved in the novel, even the critics that "pan" the novel agree that Bellow tackles these issues more successfully than in any of his earlier novels. An majority of critics, however, agree that Humboldt's Gift is one of the great novels of our age. Bellow, at the age of 60, has produced a novel that, "contains abundant evidence of the continued expansion and deepening of his creative powers."(Trach. 49) It is often said in criticism that Bellow essentially wrote one novel. His primary themes in all 8 of his novels published (through Humboldt's Gift) were very similar. Bellow wrote to free his inner demons from his fame and profession, and at the same time wrote in an attempt to bring religion and art on the same level of importance in society as science. One reviewer says, "Much to the discomfort of some readers, Bellow threatens to become the philosophical essayist. But it is the late metaphysical bent that has drawn the most attention."(Dutton 164) It is also said (of a character Alfred Whitehead, the main character in Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet who often made claims such as, "Religion will not regain its old power until it can change in the same spirit as does science.") that "Whitehead's thinking reaches through Mr. Sammler's Planet and on into the heart of Humboldt's Gift." One noted difference between this novel and other Bellow novels is a very specific and personal agenda. Bellow partially writes this book to, "excavate the scarred relationship he shared with the brilliant but self-defeating Delmore Schwartz, his New York literary parent." The relationship, which closely mirrors Charlie Citrine's relationship with Humboldt, turned after, "Delmore's literary success, though short-lived, and his hallowed place at the "round-table" of the New York-Jewish intellectuals, paved the way for Bellow's triumphs." (Nobel Archive) sources: Saul Bellow, Dutton, Robert R. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1982 The Nobel Prize Internet Archive; http://www.almaz.com/Nobel/literature/1976a.html Critical Essays on Saul Bellow, Trachtenberg, Stanley. G.K. Hall & Co., Boston. 1979 Saul Bellow and His Work, Scharaepen, Edmond. Centrum voor Taal- en Literatuurwetenschap, Belgium. 1978
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Positive critical praise for Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift came early and in great abundance. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1976, and weighed heavily in the decision to award Bellow the Nobel Prize the following year. Almost immediately the book was heralded as Bellow's greatest and most important work. The Saturday Review claimed that Humboldt's Gift secured Bellow's place as "one of the two or three major novelists of his generation." The most debated (or should I say the most commented on) aspect of Humboldt's Gift is the largely autobiographical themes. Whereas some critics thought that Bellow left some of his own ghosts unsolved in the novel, even the critics that "pan" the novel agree that Bellow tackles these issues more successfully than in any of his earlier novels. An majority of critics, however, agree that Humboldt's Gift is one of the great novels of our age. Bellow, at the age of 60, has produced a novel that, "contains abundant evidence of the continued expansion and deepening of his creative powers."(Trach. 49) It is often said in criticism that Bellow essentially wrote one novel. His primary themes in all 8 of his novels published (through Humboldt's Gift) were very similar. Bellow wrote to free his inner demons from his fame and profession, and at the same time wrote in an attempt to bring religion and art on the same level of importance in society as science. One reviewer says, "Much to the discomfort of some readers, Bellow threatens to become the philosophical essayist. But it is the late metaphysical bent that has drawn the most attention."(Dutton 164) It is also said (of a character Alfred Whitehead, the main character in Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet who often made claims such as, "Religion will not regain its old power until it can change in the same spirit as does science.") that "Whitehead's thinking reaches through Mr. Sammler's Planet and on into the heart of Humboldt's Gift." One noted difference between this novel and other Bellow novels is a very specific and personal agenda. Bellow partially writes this book to, "excavate the scarred relationship he shared with the brilliant but self-defeating Delmore Schwartz, his New York literary parent." The relationship, which closely mirrors Charlie Citrine's relationship with Humboldt, turned after, "Delmore's literary success, though short-lived, and his hallowed place at the "round-table" of the New York-Jewish intellectuals, paved the way for Bellow's triumphs." (Nobel Archive) sources: Saul Bellow, Dutton, Robert R. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1982 The Nobel Prize Internet Archive; http://www.almaz.com/Nobel/literature/1976a.html Critical Essays on Saul Bellow, Trachtenberg, Stanley. G.K. Hall & Co., Boston. 1979 Saul Bellow and His Work, Scharaepen, Edmond. Centrum voor Taal- en Literatuurwetenschap, Belgium. 1978
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
There is a mix of the ordinary and the unusual in the fact that Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift achieved bestseller status in 1975. The book, widely regarded as Bellow's most important work, took almost fifteen years to write. It is very scholarly in both style and substance. It has some aspects of a bestseller, but it is not altogether a typical bestseller. Although Bellow's name accounted for much of the books appeal, the marketing and style of the book did not scream out to bestseller readers. Humboldt's Gift is a deep metaphysical novel with complicated plots and counterplots. It is a hard read, telling the story of a novelist and his mentor in the 1930s and 40s. It starts in flashback, as the main character, Charlie Citrine, tells of his first meeting with the famous writer Von Humboldt Fleisher. The story goes on to tell of the rise of Citrine, the fall of Humboldt, and the eventual fall of Citrine. Throughout most of the novel we hear stories of a ragged bum Humboldt, ruined by the whim of critics tastes. Although he and Citrine were once like family, he is bitter at Citrine's success, and slanders him to whomever will listen. It is not until Humboldt dies that Citrine fully understands Humbolt's effect of his life. Both his and Humboldt's stories are that of intellectuals fed up with intellectualism, and searching for some sort of theory or work that will change the hypocrisy and uselessness of modern intellectualism. They both want to surprise the world with their work; they want to make everyone stop and rethink. Because the book is rooted in a story of intellectualism ...intellectuals in a world of intellectuals... the language and situations in the novel are not as mainstream as many typical bestsellers. Most people read literature, because of the adventures it takes them on. Readers relate themselves to the novel as a temporary escape from life. In novels, they get to do things or learn things not present in their everyday life. Therefore, when a highly intellectual book with difficult, metaphysical prose comes out, it is not as easily a bestseller as another book that may be less cerebral. Humboldt's Gift, however, is not totally rigid and uncrackable. It has many identifiable and familiar themes. Most notably, it tells of an individual's triumph over nihilism, a defeat of snobbish hypocrisy, and of an almost fatherly love of Humboldt's protégé (although the love isn't always verbally requited). Even though these stories are packaged tightly in the scholarly prose, they are identifiable to the reader. The plight of the protagonist isn't packaged in a way common to bestsellers, but it transcends the circumstances and is able to touch the reader. Saul Bellow's previous success was a major factor in Humboldt's Gift's mainstream success. The Adventures of Aggie March, published in 1953, was Bellow's first success. It was almost universally praised, and Bellow's success never looked back. Herzog, the book published directly before Humboldt's Gift, won Bellow wide popularity, and was a bestseller in 1964. Bellow would not publish his next work (Humboldt's Gift) for over ten years. There was much anticipation for the novel, and when Humboldt's Gift finally appeared in 1975, it was received with much praise. The book saw immediate commercial success, and remained a bestseller for almost 6 months. It peaked at the second spot on the list, and ended the year tenth. The novel, however, was partially eclipsed by the success of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime which was published in the same year, and ended the year at the top of the bestseller list. Humboldt's Gift was the primary selection of the Book of the Month club for two months. This exposure accounts for a some of its popularity. Whereas there are these reasons for the books popularity, its life on the bestseller list was not exactly stereotypical. Although the book was highly touted by the Book of the Month Club, it was rarely publicized otherwise. The Viking Press never ran advertisements in Atlantic Monthly, Publishers Weekly, or most major magazines (Time, Life, Esquire, etc.). Humboldt's Gift rode largely on the previous success of Saul Bellow. The novel was not marketed to a typical "bestseller audience". The preconceived audience was small and intellectual. The Viking Press, whereas it believed the book would prove to be a success, treated the book as more of a critical success then a mainstream success. Most bestsellers rely on publicity. It takes a great marketing campaign to produce a best-selling novel, with print advertisements, book signings, and a slew of other book propaganda. Novels are sold to the reader through appearance and advertising as much as they are through quality and names. A novel that does not have much of a mainstream backing force is not as likely to make the bestsellers list as a novel with a nationwide publicity campaign. The lack of this sort of campaign for Humboldt's Gift makes it an anomaly that it was so commercially successful. Another peculiarity of the novel's nationwide success is its critical praise. Either because intellectuals tend to stray away from popular things, or because intellectual things tend not to be popular, it is not often that a "great" book becomes a wide success. Humboldt's Gift is a "great" book. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976, and was extremely key in Bellow's winning of the Nobel Prize in 1977. In the thirty-five years preceding the publication of Humboldt's Gift, only seven novels on the yearly bestseller top-ten list had won the Pulitzer (Bernard Malamud's The Fixer in 1967, William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner in 1968, MacKinlay Kantor's Andersonville in 1956, Ernest Hemingay's The Old Man and the Sea in 1953, Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny in 1952, John Hersy's A Bell for Adano in 1945, and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in 1940). This seemingly incompatableness of "great" books and bestsellers is partially due to the strive of intellectuals to become anti-mainstream. People who create the cannons of great literature, and the people who award the Pulitzer Prize are weary about being associated with something so popularly elected (just the sort of intellectualism Bellow berates in the novel). For a novel to be successful in both literary and popular circles is very rare. In this aspect, Humboldt's Gift is not a typical bestseller. Famous and previously successful authors have a much easier path to the bestsellers list. If an author publishes one bestseller that people know, then when his next novel comes out, people will feel comfortable with it. People will buy a novel from a known author before they will from an unknown author. In the mid 1970s, when Humboldt's Gift came out, there was a group of authors that were almost guaranteed to produce bestsellers. Names like Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Herman Wouk, and Robert Ludlum regularly made the bestsellers list. If they wrote a book, people would buy first and ask questions later...... even bad books by these authors would become bestsellers due to their popularity (though the follow up to a bad novel might suffer). Other names, such as Joseph Heller and Bellow, played off of the wide success of their last books, and their history of good literature. Bellow didn't produce a bestseller ever year, but when he put a book out, people had faith in its quality. Whereas, over the span of the century, "great" books, especially Pulitzer winners, tend not to be bestsellers, there was a trend towards the opposite in the middle of the century. Some "great" books became very popular because of their authors. This is because "great" authors were more popular at the time. The staple authors of the list, however, have shifted from the Hellers and the Vonneguts to the Kings and the Grishams. In the late middle of the century, it wasn't that people read more acclaimed books, but they were sold the books of more critically successful authors. The people who wrote intellectual books were more visible celebrities then they are now. Better books weren't written, but they were better marketed, and by headline authors. When Humboldt's Gift was published, Saul Bellow was in the prime of his long career. His last novel was a bestseller and a huge success. He was at the pinnacle of his Nobel Prize wining career, and popular in the national limelight. Humboldt's Gift had been anticipated by critics and the public for over a decade. The attention was as critical in the books success as any print advertisements or publicity could've been. Saul Bellow wasn't of the same drawing power as a Kurt Vonnegut, but he was close. The novel was destined to be a success. The fact that it was also a critical success was rare, but not damaging or totally atypical. The great and universal themes in the novel overcame the metaphysical prose, and the success of the author helped ride the book into the bestseller list. The critical success of the book might have even helped to prolong the buzz surrounding Humboldt's Gift. There is no typical bestseller. Each novel has a complicated range of reasons and aspects that go into making it a mainstream success. Advertisements, readability, an authors success, and a books relevancy in the world are just a few of the pressures on a book. No book has all of the right aspects, and in that way, no book is the perfect, typical bestseller. What is important is that a book has enough of these aspects to push it over the top. Humboldt's Gift had enough of these aspects. It didn't have the easiest prose, and it wasn't the perfect topic. It was intellectual and under advertised, but it did what it took. It had the right buzz and the right writer. Because of this.....in those areas....it is a typical bestseller
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