Humboldt's Gift

( 5 )


“I think it A Work of genius, I think it The Work of a Genius, I think it brilliant, splendid, etc. If there is literature (and this proves there is) this is where it’s at.” –John Cheever

Saul Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel explores the long friendship between Charlie Citrine, a young man with an intense passion for literature, and the great poet Von Humboldt Dleisher. At the time of Humboldt’s death, Charlie’s life is falling apart: his career is at a standstill, and ...

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“I think it A Work of genius, I think it The Work of a Genius, I think it brilliant, splendid, etc. If there is literature (and this proves there is) this is where it’s at.” –John Cheever

Saul Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel explores the long friendship between Charlie Citrine, a young man with an intense passion for literature, and the great poet Von Humboldt Dleisher. At the time of Humboldt’s death, Charlie’s life is falling apart: his career is at a standstill, and he’s enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce, infatuated with a highly unsuitable young woman, and involved with a neurotic Mafioso. And then Humboldt acts from beyond the grave, bestowing upon Charlie an unexpected legacy that may just help him turn his life around.

This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by Jeffrey Eugenides.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143105473
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Series: Penguin Classics Series
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 145,759
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (1915—2005) wrote thirteen novels and numerous novellas and stories in his lifetime. In 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Humboldt's Gift, and in 1976 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Jeffrey Eugenides is the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.


Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987);Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards included the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

Bellow passed away on April 5, 2005 at the age of 89.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Solomon Bellow (real name)
      Saul Bellow
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 10, 1915
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lachine, Quebec, Canada
    1. Date of Death:
      April 5, 2005
    2. Place of Death:
      Brookline, Massachusetts

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Artist in America

    Humboldt's Gift breaks open Saul Bellow's interior world. Charles Citrine is an intellectual fallen on tough times who, despite a deep love and appreciation for literature and knowledge, seems unable to apply it meaningfully to cope with his troubles. Citrine becomes more involved with arcane crank metaphysical and epistemological theories than he does with the dissolution of his marriage and his career, and is dragged through the dirt by a powerfully erotic and compelling young woman.

    The novel, however, doesn't just tell us about the lives of an eccentric few. The relationship between America's cherished values and the art it has produced come under close scrutiny; the role of the artist in a culture bent on economic growth and financial success is one of the novel's central themes. Moreover, the novel is also a work of beauty. The relationship between Citrine and his deceased literary mentor, Humboldt Von Fleisher, is unearthed throughout the novel and is resplendent in its subtlety and nuance.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2006

    Bellow's Best

    This is one of the greatest American novels of the XX century: I have confirmed it myself after reading and rereading it. And as it's expected with a major work like this, many have complained about it. Really I have nothing to criticize this book, but I would have put more descriptions in it. Anyway, the use of literary technical devices (as Bellow was aware of this) for making the prose alive is superb. A story as this had to be told in the First Person narrative voice. The novel is mostly retrospective, and the speaker, Charlie Citrine, the typical consonant/dissonant narrator. One begins to read it and seems like a dreary ocean of words: there are no chapter numbers, anything but spaces, to tell you that something had just been said. Anyway, these spaces separate the meditations of Charlie on Von Humboldt, his many women, some major parts of his life... like pauses, from one thought or remembrance to the another... But what is the present of this novel that takes us to review Citrine's life since the 1930s? You really can't easily find it, but the 'narrative present' consists only of four months (from December 1973 to April 1974). The rest of the novel's temporal structure lingers between the 1930-40s (when Citrine's friend, von Humboldt, was at the peak of his career), the 1950s and from there on. So, much happens during the four winter months of 1973-1974, but is little told, because the account of the past will complete it all... His remembering of his past, Charlie Citrine's own account, its furious and full of anecdotes, and Bellow's continuous scene changes help us to be entertained permanently. Not expect to find an ordered restrospective of a life here: the book is quite inductive, built from particular bits to finally give a whole panorama of a life. Memories come and go, and later are completed we happen to be reading a passage in 1956, but then we are back to 1974, and then back to WWII time. Past events are simply evoked through the exercise of voluntarily recalled memories: Bellow collects them as they are pertinent to the story, bit by bit, so you don't know everything until you have read the whole book. So why to read this book that seems so monstrous in size and so difficult at first glance? Well, it's worth the tour through America's last 60 years of existence. And it's also a way to understand better Saul Bellow, as a writer, an intellectual and a human being. There is so much faith and hope in this book that you can compare to Henderson The Rain King or The Adventures of Augie March, both picaresque-like. It's a page-turner, something rare to find in a pure literature roman. And not that boring (not in theme, but in prose), as The Victim, or Dangling Man. But among all, it's beautiful, because is us, humans, and Bellow knows how depict our flaws and virtues in an almost unnoticed manner he is a master of depicting naturally human life. Writers physically die, but prevail in their books. Joseph Brodsky once said that the battle against time was always going to be won by writers and poets. Saul Bellow, who passed out in 2005, has prevailed. This is not a book to relax is one to read and enjoy, because an individual's life story is not relaxing in fact, can be dissappointing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2006

    a Pulitzer? Are you kidding me?

    This is the first Saul Bellows book I have read. I chose it based on a review in _Bookmarks_ magazine. I wonder if his other works are more promising. This dreary story of a supposed-intellectual is verbose, haughty, meandering and boring. I forced myself through, hoping and waiting for a great literary moment, but none came. I skipped all the New Age-y rantings, and found that characters were clumsily added and dropped. The only character with whom I sympathized was an abandoned little boy, whose character was only a brief backdrop. Don't waste your money on this one -- just borrow it from the library, if you must tackle this Pulitzer-prize winner.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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