NABOKV-L post 0018535, Fri, 21 Aug 2009 22:51:27 -0300

Re: QUERY: Alexander von Humbert.
Dear List,

In a former posting I expressed my puzzlement with J.Bowen's query because, at first, I couldn't imagine VN making a spiteful reference to Alexander von Humboldt, as I felt might have been suggested when he wrote: "I recently read about Alexander von Humboldt, the German explorer thought to be a homosexual pederast. His indiscretions are referenced briefly in Garcia Marquez's The General in his Labyrinth, beginning p. 96 in my hardcover, "the shameless pederasty of Baron Alexander von Humboldt." I am not terribly well versed in Nabokov scholarship, but I wonder out of curiosity if this correlation had not been suggested as an influence for the name (and yet another poke at homosexuals.)". Besides, I found no clear mention to Humboldt in "Lolita" ( & the similarity of sounds for "Humbert" and "Humboldt" didn't warrant such a link).

Nevertheless, I was also surprised by encountering a rude indication of AH's indiscretions apparently endorsed by the pen of García Márquez, an author who had already shown a respectful admiration for Humboldt.
I got a copy of "El General en su Laberinto"(Editorial Sudamericana, 2008). From the text, on pages 101/103, I learned that General Bolívar was travelling by boat when he rescued a German who'd been stranded because he had beaten one of its rowers with a stick. The group soon discovered that this guy's fabulations were not to be trusted, although his stories were amusing enough - until he began to tell malicious tales about Baron von Humboldt. Bolívar immediately decided to eject the newcomer from his boat. Therefore when, in the afternoon, a canoe bearing mail approached, he made arrangements to have the guy sent back to Nare. ( 'We must return him to the sand-reef'...'Would this s.o.b have been a single strand of Humboldt's hair'). In the Spanish original: "Desde el principio le había parecido un farsante simpático, pero cambió cuando el tudesco empezó a contar chistes indecentes sobre la pederastia vergonzante del barón Alexander von Humboldt. 'Debimos dejarlo otra vez en el playón'. [...] Ya quisiera ese coño de madre ser una hebra del cabello de Humboldt."

In conclusion, I think it is impossible that Nabokov could have been inspired by A.von Humboldt when he chose the name Humbert Humbert for his character and planning "to poke at homosexuals."

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