Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0018251, Mon, 27 Apr 2009 12:51:46 -0400

NEWS: Dr. John Rae's Arctic Explorations
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

"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


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


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