There has been a good deal of talk in the past about the various inspirations for the name of Dr. John Ray, Jr. The well-known naturalist seems a good candidate, though others on the list in 2004 mentioned the explorer Dr. John Rae, Jr.
What may be new to the Rae/Ray connection is a letter to the editor catalogued variously as "Arctic Explorations" or "Dr. John Rae's Arctic Explorations" from the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society of New York. What interests me particularly is that the "Arctic Explorations" title is the same as one of the journals in which Humbert says his research appears (p. 34).
The letter is fairly inside baseball, but can be read starting on page 194 here:
"Arctic Explorations" is a pretty generic title and on its own might not matter. But the larger context for this dispute in very general terms is that John Rae was an unconventional explorer who lived off the land, which allowed much more flexibility than the larger exploration parties. He was also admired by at least some of arctic Canada's Copper Eskimos, who got that name from the very Victoria Island copper that Humbert mentions (also on p. 34).
During the expedition that John Rae references in the above letter, he passed by Prince of Wales Island on his way to discovering the fate of the earlier Franklin exploration party. PoW Island is also mentioned on p. 33 of Lolita as one possible goal of the Humbert's later expedition to Canada.
Rae found that the Franklin party had starved to death and finally resorted to cannibalism. The Victorian press was horrified--gentlemen do not do such things even in extremis--and denounced Rae, preferring to believe the original reports--that the Franklin party had been murdered by the Copper "Esquimaux" themselves. But Rae's analysis was borne out after a 1981 expedition examined the bones of the dead there.
Rae's stature plummeted; Charles Dickens and several other leading figures of the day spoke against him. One of his responses to Dickens is on page 457 here:
In addition to Humbert and Rae occupying the same arcane geography at separate times, this particular Rae also has a more abstract link to Lolita's "suave Ray," in that he, too, is the bearer of a scandalous tale that many do not want to hear or believe.
If there are any intentional connections (if it is not too embarrassing to consider the idea of intention) between Rae and Ray, it's interesting to peruse the overt "madeness" signaled by VN, since Humbert's account predates details of the foreword that would be written after his death.
Perhaps a small arrow (or just a dart) in the quiver of those who think that Ray is invented, unless we consider the possibility that John Ray is also an assumed name of a real, separate person who got Humbert's references. The problem then would be how on earth to pick and choose which pieces of the novel's "reality" to accept--the classic VN conundrum. Down the rabbit hole!
Apologies if any of this has appeared on the list before. I hunted but found nothing...
All private editorial communications, without
read by both co-editors.