Nationality: American. Born: Lachine, Quebec, Canada, 10 June 1915; grew up in Montreal; moved with his family to Chicago, 1924. Education: Tuley High School, Chicago, graduated 1933; University of Chicago, 1933-35; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1935-37, B.S. (honors) in sociology and anthropology 1937; did graduate work in anthropology at University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1937. Military Service: Served in the United States Merchant Marine, 1944-45. Family: Married 1) Anita Goshkin in 1937 (divorced), one son; 2) Alexandra Tschacbasov in 1956 (divorced), one son; 3) Susan Glassman in 1961 (divorced), one son; 4) Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea in 1975 (divorced 1986); 5) Janis Freedman in 1989, one daughter. Career: Teacher, Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, Chicago, 1938-42; member of the editorial department, "Great Books" Project, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, 1943-44; freelance editor and reviewer, New York, 1945-46; instructor, 1946, and assistant professor of English, 1948-49, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; visiting lecturer, New York University, 1950-52; Creative Writing Fellow, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1952-53; member of the English faculty, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1953-54; associate professor of English, University of Minnesota, 1954-59; visiting professor of English, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 1961; Romanes Lecturer, 1990. Since 1962 professor and chairman, 1970-76, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago; now Gruiner Distinguished Services Professor. Co-editor, The Noble Savage, New York, then Cleveland, 1960-62. Fellow, Academy for Policy Study, 1966; fellow, Branford College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1948, 1955; American Academy grant, 1952, and gold medal, 1977; National Book award, 1954, 1965, 1971; Ford grant, 1959, 1960; Friends of Literature award, 1960; James L. Dow award, 1964; International Literary prize, 1965; Jewish Heritage award, 1968; Formentor prize, 1970; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1976; Pulitzer prize, 1976; Neil Gunn International fellowship, 1977; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1978; Malaparte award (Italy), 1984; Scanno award (Italy), 1988; National Book award, for lifetime achievement, 1990; Lifetime Cultural Achivement Award (YIVO Institute for Jewish Research), 1996. D. Litt.: Northwestern University, 1962; Bard College, 1963; Litt.D.: New York University, 1970; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972; Yale University, 1972; McGill University, Montreal, 1973; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1973; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1976; Trinity College, Dublin, 1976. Chevalier, 1968, and Commander, 1985, Order of Arts and Letters (France); Commander, Legion of Honor (France), 1983. Member: American Academy, 1970. Agent: Harriett Wasserman Literary Agency, 137 East 36th Street, New York, New York 10016. Address: Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, U.S.A.
Dangling Man. New York, Vanguard Press, 1944; London, Lehmann, 1946.
The Victim. New York, Vanguard Press, 1947; London, Lehmann, 1948.
The Adventures of Augie March. New York, Viking Press, 1953;London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1954; with an introduction by Martin Amis. New York, Knopf, 1995.
Henderson the Rain King. New York, Viking Press, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959.
Herzog. New York, Viking Press, 1964; London, Weidenfeld andNicolson, 1965.
Mr. Sammler's Planet. New York, Viking Press, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970; with an introduction by Stanley Crouch. New York, Penguin Books, 1996.
Humboldt's Gift. New York, Viking Press, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1975.
The Dean's December. New York, Harper, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1982.
More Die of Heartbreak. New York, Morrow, and London, AlisonPress, 1987.
The Actual. New York, Viking, 1997.
Ravelstein. New York, Viking, 2000.
Seize the Day, with Three Short Stories and a One-Act Play (includesThe Wrecker ). New York, Viking Press, 1956; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1957; published as Seize the Day, with an introduction by Cynthia Ozick, New York, Penguin Books, 1996.
Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories. New York, Viking Press, 1968;London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969.
Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories. New York, Harper, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1984.
A Theft. New York and London, Penguin, 1989.
The Bellarosa Connection. New York and London, Penguin, 1989.
Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales. New York, Viking, andLondon, Penguin, 1991.
The American Short Story: A Collection of the Best Known and Most Memorable Short Stories by the Great American Authors (contributor), edited by Thomas K. Parkes. New York, Galahad, 1994.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The Mexican General," in Partisan Reader, edited by WilliamPhillips and Philip Rahv. New York, Dial Press, 1946.
"Dora," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), November 1949.
"A Sermon by Dr. Pep," in The Best American Short Stories 1950, edited by Martha Foley. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1950.
"The Trip to Galena," in Partisan Review (New York), November-December 1950.
"The Old System," in Playboy (Chicago), January 1968.
"Burdens of a Lone Survivor," in Esquire (New York), December1974.
The Wrecker (televised 1964). Included in Seize the Day, 1956.
The Last Analysis (produced New York 1964; Derby, 1967). NewYork, Viking Press, 1965; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.
Under the Weather (includes Out from Under, A Wen, and Orange Soufflé, produced Edinburgh and New York, 1966; as The Bellow Plays, produced London, 1966). A Wen published in Esquire (New York), January 1965; in Traverse Plays, edited by Jim Haynes, London, Penguin, 1966; Orange Soufflé published in Traverse Plays, 1966; in Best Short Plays of the World Theatre 1968-1973, edited by Stanley Richards, New York, Crown, 1973.
The Wrecker, 1964.
Dessins, by Jesse Reichek; text by Bellow and Christian Zervos. Paris, Editions Cahiers d'Art, 1960.
Recent American Fiction: A Lecture. Washington, D.C., Library ofCongress, 1963.
Like You're Nobody: The Letters of Louis Gallo to Saul Bellow, 1961-62, Plus Oedipus-Schmoedipus, The Story That Started It All. New York, Dimensions Press, 1966.
Technology and the Frontiers of Knowledge, with others. New York, Doubleday, 1973.
The Portable Saul Bellow, edited by Gabriel Josipovici. New York, Viking Press, 1974; London, Penguin, 1977.
To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account. New York, VikingPress, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1976.
Conversations with Saul Bellow, edited by Gloria L. Cronin and BenSiegel. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Certain Future. New York, Viking, 1994.
The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (preface), edited by John F. Callahan. New York, Modern Library, 1995.
Foreword, Sixty Years of Great Fiction from Partisan Review, edited by William Phillips. Boston, Partisan Review Press, 1997.
Foreword, Clean Hands: Clair Patterson's Crusade against Environmental Lead Contamination, edited by Cliff I. Davidson. Commack, New York, Nova Science Publishers, 1998.
Editor, Great Jewish Short Stories. New York, Dell, 1963; London, Vallentine Mitchell, 1971.*
Saul Bellow: A Comprehensive Bibliography by B.A. Sokoloff and Mark E. Posner, Norwood, Pennsylvania, Norwood Editions, 1973; Saul Bellow, His Works and His Critics: An Annotated International Bibliography by Marianne Nault, New York, Garland, 1977; Saul Bellow: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources by F. Lercangée, Brussels, Center for American Studies, 1977; Saul Bellow: A Reference Guide by Robert G. Noreen, Boston, Hall, 1978; Saul Bellow: An Annotated Bibliography by Gloria L. Cronin, New York, Garland, 2nd edition, 1987.
Regenstein Library, University of Chicago; University of Texas, Austin.
Critical Studies (selection):
Saul Bellow by Tony Tanner, Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1965, New York, Barnes and Noble, 1967;
Saul Bellow by Earl Rovit, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1967, and Saul Bellow: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Rovit, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1975; Saul Bellow: A Critical Essay by Robert Detweiler, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1967; The Novels of Saul Bellow by Keith Michael Opdahl, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1967; Saul Bellow and the Critics edited by Irving Malin, New York, New York University Press, and London, University of London Press, 1967, and Saul Bellow's Fiction by Malin, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1969; Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man by John Jacob Clayton, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1968, revised edition, 1979; Saul Bellow by Robert R. Dutton, New York, Twayne, 1971, revised edition, 1982; Saul Bellow by Brigitte Scheer-Schäzler, New York, Ungar, 1973; Saul Bellow's Enigmatic Laughter by Sarah Blacher Cohen, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1974; Whence the Power? The Artistry and Humanity of Saul Bellow by M. Gilbert Porter, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1974; Saul Bellow: The Problem of Affirmation by Chirantan Kulshrestha, New Delhi and London, Arnold-Heinemann, 1978, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1979; Critical Essays on Saul Bellow edited by Stanley Trachtenberg, Boston, Hall, 1979; Quest for the Human: An Exploration of Saul Bellow's Fiction by Eusebio L. Rodrigues, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University Press, 1981; Saul Bellow by Malcolm Bradbury, London, Methuen, 1983; Saul Bellow's Moral Vision: A Critical Study of the Jewish Experience by L.H. Goldman, New York, Irvington, 1983; Saul Bellow: Vision and Revision by Daniel Fuchs, Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1984; Saul Bellow and History by Judie Newman, New York, St. Martin's Press, and London, Macmillan, 1984; A Sort of Columbus: The American Voyages of Saul Bellow's Fiction by Jeanne Braham, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1984; On Bellow's Planet: Readings from the Dark Side, Rutherford, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985, and Herzog: The Limits of Ideas, London, Maxwell Macmillan, 1990, both by Jonathan Wilson; Saul Bellow by Robert F. Kiernan, New York, Crossroad Continuum, 1988; Saul Bellow and the Decline of Humanism by Michael K. Glenday, London, Macmillan, 1990; Saul Bellow: Against the Grain by Ellen Pifer, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990; Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination by Ruth Miller, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1991; Saul Bellow at Seventy-Five: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Gerhard Bach, Tubingen, Narr, 1991; Saul Bellow by Peter Hyland, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1992; Saul Bellow: A Mosaic compiled by Aharoni et al., New York, Lang, 1992; Character and Narration in the Short Fiction of Saul Bellow by Marianne M. Friedrich, New York, Lang, 1993; Saul Bellow: The Feminine Mystique by Tarlochan Singh Anand, Jalandhar, India, ABS, 1993; Quest for Salvation in Saul Bellow's Novels by Kyung-Ae Kim, Frankfurt am Main, Lang, 1994; Saul Bellow and the Struggle at the Center edited by Eugene Hollahan, New York, AMS Press, 1994; The Critical Response to Saul Bellow, edited by Gerhard Bach. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1995; Handsome Is: Adventures with Saul Bellow: A Memoir by Harriett Wasserman. New York, Fromm International, 1997; Prophets of Recognition: Ideology and the Individual in Novels by Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, and Eudora Welty by Julia Eichelberger, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1999; Small Planets: Saul Bellow and the Art of Short Fiction, edited by Gerhard Bach and Gloria L. Cronin, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2000; A Room of His Own: In Search of the Feminine in the Novels of Saul Bellow by Gloria L. Cronin, Syracuse, New York, Syracuse University Press, 2000.* * *
Saul Bellow is widely recognized as America's preeminent living novelist. His fiction, which is as intellectually demanding as it is imaginatively appealing, steadfastly affirms the value of the human soul while simultaneously recognizing the claims of community and the demoralizing inauthenticity of daily life. Refusing to give in to the pessimism and despair that threaten to overwhelm American experience, Bellow offers a persistently optimistic, though often tentative and ambiguous, alternative to postmodern alienation. In their struggle to understand their past and reorder their present, his protagonists chart a course of possibility for all who would live meaningfully in urban American society.
Reflecting the stylistic influence of Flaubert, Bellow's first two novels, Dangling Man and The Victim, are brief and disciplined works, darker in mood and less intellectually complex than the later fiction but featuring protagonists who anticipate later Bellovian heroes both in their introspection and in their resistance to urban apathy. The first novel to display Bellow's characteristic expansiveness and optimism, The Adventures of Augie March presents a dazzling panorama of comically eccentric characters in a picaresque tale narrated by the irrepressible title character, who defends human possibility by embracing the hope that "There may gods turn up anywhere." Subsequent novels vary in tone from the intensity of Seize the Day to the exuberance of Henderson the Rain King to the ironic ambiguity of Herzog, but all explore the nature of human freedom and the tensions between the individual's need for self and society. Augie March, Tommy Wilhelm, Eugene Henderson, and Moses Herzog all yearn to redeem themselves by finding the beauty in life. By creating these highly individualistic characters and the milieu in which they move, Bellow reveals the flashes of the extraordinary in the ordinary that make such redemption possible and rejects the attitude that everyday life must be trivial and ignoble.
This redemption of the self paradoxically requires the surrender of the self. Nowhere is this fact more vividly portrayed than in Henderson the Rain King. Driven in the beginning by a relentless inner voice that repeats, "I want! I want!," Henderson's egoistic absorption in his material success ironically alienates him from himself. Fleeing civilization to seek fundamental truths in the wilderness of Africa, he discovers the loving relationship that humans need with nature and with each other and symbolically surrenders his self by accepting responsibility for a lion cub and an orphan child.
In their quest to find the love that gives meaning to life, Bellow's protagonists must also come to terms with death. The message Bellow conveys in almost all of his novels is that one must know death to know the meaning of life and what it means to be human. Henderson overcomes his fear of death when he is buried and symbolically resurrected in the African king Dahfu's experiment. Similarly, in Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm confronts death in a symbolic drowning. Charlie Citrine in Humboldt's Gift echoes Whitman in viewing death as the essential question, recognizing that it is only through death that the soul can complete the cycle of life by liberating itself from the body. Bellow's meditations on death darken in Mr. Sammler's Planet and The Dean's December. While the title character in Mr. Sammler's Planet awaits the death of the person he most values in the world, Bellow contemplates the approaching death of Western culture at the hands of those who have abandoned humanistic values. The Dean's December presents an apocalyptic vision of urban decay in a Chicago totally lacking the comic touches that soften Charlie Citrone's portrait of this same city as a "moronic inferno" in Humboldt's Gift. With More Die of Heartbreak and the recent novellas, however, Bellow returns to his more characteristic blend of pathos and farce in contemplating the relationship between life and death. In the recent Ravelstein, Bellow once again charts this essential confrontation when Chick recounts not only his best friend's death from AIDS but also his own near-death experience from food poisoning. Through this foreground, in a fictionalized memoir to his own friend Allan Bloom, Bellow reveals the resilient love and tenderness that offer the modern world its saving grace.
Because Bellow refuses to devalue human potential in even his bleakest scenarios, his novels often come under attack for their affirmative endings. Augie hails himself as a new Columbus, the rediscoverer of America; Henderson, while triumphantly returning home with his new charges, dances with glee, "leaping, leaping, pounding, and tingling over the pure white lining of the grey Arctic silence." Herzog inexplicably evades his fate, emerging from the flux of his tortured mind to reclaim his sanity and his confidence in the future. Yet, the victories of Bellow's heroes are not unqualified, but rather as ambiguous and tenuous as is the human condition itself. As a new Columbus, Augie speaks from exile in Europe; in holding the orphan child, Henderson recalls the pain of his separation from his own father; by renouncing his self-pity and his murderous rage at his ex-wife Madeleine, Herzog reduces but does not expiate his guilt. Nonetheless, these characters earn whatever spiritual victory they reap through their pain and their refusal to succumb to doubt and cynicism. Through their perseverance in seeking the truth of human existence, they ultimately renew themselves by transcending to an intuitive spiritual awareness that is no less real because it must be taken on faith.
In all of Bellow's works, an appreciation of the cultural context in which his protagonists struggle is essential to understanding these characters and their search for renewal. Bellow's vision centers almost exclusively on Jewish male experience in contemporary urban America. Proud of their heritage, his heroes are usually second-generation Jewish immigrants who seek to discover how they can live meaningfully in their American present while honoring their ties to the past. Much of their ability to maintain their belief in humanity despite their knowledge of the world can be attributed to the affirmative nature of the Jewish culture. Bellovian heroes live in a WASP society in which they are only partially assimilated. However, as Jews have done historically, they maintain their concern for morality and community despite their cultural displacement.
Though in some ways separated from American society, Bellow's protagonists also strongly connect their identity with America. Augie begins his adventures by claiming, "I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city." Almost all of Bellow's novels take place in an American city, most often Chicago or New York. Through his depiction of urban reality, Bellow anchors his novels in the actual world, and he uses the city as his central metaphor for contemporary materialism. Although recognizing the importance of history and memory, Bellow's novels maintain a constant engagement with the present moment. His characters move in the real world, confronting sensuous images of urban chaos and clutter that often threaten to overwhelm them. Looking down on the Hudson River, Tommy Wilhelm sees "tugs with matted beards of cordage" and "the red bones of new apartments rising on the bluffs." Sammler denounces contemporary New Yorkers for the "free ways of barbarism" that they practice beneath the guise of "civilized order, property rights [and] refined technological organization." In Humboldt's Gift, which is replete with images of cannibalism and vampirism, Charlie Citrone sees Von Trenck, the source of his material success, as "the blood-scent that attracted the sharks of Chicago." Acknowledging the influence of the city on his fiction, Bellow himself has remarked, "I don't know how I could possibly separate my knowledge of life such as it is, from the city. I could no more tell you how deeply it's gotten into my bones than the lady who paints radium dials in the clock factory can tell you." However, although the city serves to identify the deterministic social pressures that threaten to destroy civilization, Bellow's heroes refuse to become its victims and instead draw on its latent resources of vitality to reassert their uniquely American belief in individual freedom, as well as their faith in the possibility of community.
Except for Clara Velde in A Theft, the protagonists in Bellow's novels and novellas are all male. The Bellovian hero typically seeks erotic pleasure, emotional security, and egoistic confirmation from the women in his life. In marriage, his relationships with women are conflicted, and he often retreats from his role as husband to a sensuous but selfish and demanding wife who paradoxically represents both his yearning for happiness and society's pressure to relinquish the freedom so essential to his self-realization. In contrast to the complex shadings that delineate his male characters, Bellow's females are often interchangeable and serve roles of little dramatic import. However, although the author has come under increasing criticism for his superficial treatment of women, his depiction of women and male-female relationships serves to reinforce the psychological crisis that each protagonist must negotiate to achieve peace and fulfillment.
Stylistically, Bellow's fiction reflects some of the same tensions that his protagonists seek to balance. His concern with social and personal destruction has been traced to European writers such as Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Sartre, and Camus. But Bellow's fiction also has many ties to the American literary tradition. His neotranscendentalism, his identification with America, and the loose form of his most acclaimed novels link him most obviously to Emerson and Whitman. An intensely intellectual writer who peppers his novels with allusions, Bellow draws on many cultural traditions in his analysis of both the sources of American experience and its present manifestations. His fiction fully documents the decline of Western civilization without conceding its demise, and the ambiguity and tenuousness of even his most positive endings balance sadness and comic skepticism with the steadfast faith that the artist can effect coherence and order out of the chaos of modern experience. For his achievement in confronting the modern existential dilemma with compassion and humor, Bellow's place in twentieth-century American literary history seems assured.
Nationality: American. Born: Lachine, Quebec, Canada, 10 June 1915; grew up in Montreal; moved with his family to Chicago, 1924. Education: Tuley High School, Chicago, graduated 1933; University of Chicago, 1933-35; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1935-37, B.S. (honors) in sociology and anthropology 1937; did graduate work in anthropology at University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1937. Military Service: Served in the United States Merchant Marine, 1944-45. Family: Married 1) Anita Goshkin in 1937 (divorced), one son; 2) Alexandra Tschacbasov in 1956 (divorced), one son; 3) Susan Glassman in 1961 (divorced), one son; 4) Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea in 1975 (divorced 1986); 5) Janis Freedman in 1989. Career: Teacher, Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, Chicago, 1938-42; member of the editorial department, "Great Books" Project, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, 1943-44; freelance editor and reviewer, New York, 1945-46; instructor, 1946, and assistant professor of English, 1948-49, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; visiting lecturer, New York University, 1950-52; creative writing fellow, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1952-53; member of the English faculty, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1953-54; associate professor of English, University of Minnesota, 1954-59; visiting professor of English, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 1961; Romanes Lecturer, 1990; professor, from 1962, and chairman, 1970-76, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago; Gruiner Distinguished Services Professor. Co-editor, The Noble Savage, New York, then Cleveland, 1960-62. Fellow, Academy for Policy Study, 1966; fellow, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Lives in Chicago. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1948, 1955; American Academy grant, 1952, and gold medal, 1977; National Book award, 1954, 1965, 1971; Ford grant, 1959, 1960; Friends of Literature award, 1960; James L. Dow award, 1964; International Literary prize, 1965; Jewish Heritage award, 1968; Formentor prize, 1970; Nobel prize for literature, 1976; Pulitzer prize, 1976; Neil Gunn International fellowship, 1977; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1978; Malaparte award (Italy), 1984; Scanno award (Italy), 1988; National Medal of Arts, 1988. D.Litt.: Northwestern University, 1962; Bard College, 1963. Litt.D.: New York University, 1970; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972; Yale University, 1972; McGill University, Montreal, 1973; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1973; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1976; Trinity College, Dublin, 1976. Chevalier, 1968, and Commander, 1985, Order of Arts and Letters (France). Member: American Academy, 1970; Commander, Legion of Honor (France), 1983.
Seize the Day, with Three Short Stories and a One-Act Play. 1956.
Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories. 1968.
Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories. 1984.
A Theft (novella). 1989.
The Bellarosa Connection. 1989.
Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales. 1992.
Dangling Man. 1944.
The Victim. 1947.
The Adventures of Augie March. 1953.
Henderson the Rain King. 1959.
Mr. Sammler's Planet. 1970.
Humboldt's Gift. 1975.
The Dean's December. 1982.
More Die of Heartbreak. 1987.
The Actual. 1997.
The Wrecker (televised 1964). Included in Seize the Day, 1956.
Scenes from Humanitas: A Farce, in Partisan Review. 1962.
The Last Analysis (produced 1964). 1965.
Under the Weather (includes "Out from Under," "A Wen," and"Orange Souffle") (produced 1966; as The Bellow Plays, produced 1966). "A Wen" published in Esquire, January 1965; in Traverse Plays, edited by Jim Haynes, 1966; "Orange Souffle" published in Traverse Plays, 1966; in Best Short Plays of the World Theatre 1968-1973, edited by Stanley Richards. 1973.
The Wrecker, 1964.
Dessins, by Jesse Reichek; text by Bellow and Christian Zervos. 1960.
Recent American Fiction: A Lecture. 1963.
Like You're Nobody: The Letters of Louis Gallo to Saul Bellow, 1961-62. 1966.
Plus Oedipus-Schmoedipus, The Story That Started It All. 1966.
Technology and the Frontiers of Knowledge, with others. 1973.
The Portable Saul Bellow, edited by Gabriel Josipovici. 1974.
To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account. 1976.
Nobel Lecture. 1977.
Conversations with Saul Bellow, Novelist, Author of Short Stories and Plays. 1987.
It All Adds Up, from the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future: A Nonfiction Collection. 1994.
Editor, Great Jewish Short Stories. 1963.*
Bellow: A Comprehensive Bibliography by B. A. Sokoloff and Mark E. Posner, 1973; Bellow, His Works and His Critics: An Annotated International Bibliography by Marianne Nault, 1977; Bellow: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources by F. Lercangee, 1977; Bellow: A Reference Guide by Robert G. Noreen, 1978; Bellow: An Annotated Bibliography by Gloria L. Cronin, second edition, 1987.
Bellow by Tony Tanner, 1965; Bellow by Earl Rovit, 1967, and Bellow: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Rovit, 1975; Bellow: A Critical Essay by Robert Detweiler, 1967; Bellow and the Critics edited by Irving Malin, 1967, and Bellow's Fiction by Malin, 1969; Bellow: In Defense of Man by John Jacob Clayton, 1968, revised edition, 1979; Bellow by Robert R. Dutton, 1971, revised edition, 1982; Bellow by Brigitte Scheer-Schazler, 1973; Bellow's Enigmatic Laughter by Sarah Blacher Cohen, 1974; Whence the Power? The Artistry and Humanity of Bellow by M. Gilbert Porter, 1974; Bellow: The Problem of Affirmation by Chirantan Kulshrestha, 1978; Critical Essays on Bellow edited by Stanley Trachtenberg, 1979; Quest for the Human: An Exploration of Bellow's Fiction by Eusebio L. Rodrigues, 1981; Bellow by Malcolm Bradbury, 1983; Bellow: Vision and Revision by Daniel Fuchs, 1984; Bellow and History by Judie Newman, 1984; A Sort of Columbus: The American Voyages of Bellow's Fiction by Jeanne Braham, 1984; On Bellow's Planet: Readings from the Dark Side by Jonathan Wilson, 1984; Bellow by Robert F. Kiernan, 1988; Bellow in the 1980's edited by Gloria Cronin and L. H. Goldman, 1989; Bellow and the Decline of Humanism by Michael K. Glenday, 1990; Bellow: Against the Grain by Ellen Pifer, 1990; Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination by Ruth Miller, 1991; Saul Bellowand the Feminine Mystique by Tarlocahn Singh Anand, 1993; The Critical Response to Saul Bellow edited by Gerhard Bach, 1995; Character and Narration in the Short Fiction of Saul Bellow by Marianne M. Friedrich, 1995; Handsome Is: Adventures with Saul Bellow: A Memoir by Harriet Wasserman, 1997; Figures of Madness in Saul Bellow's Longer Fiction by Walter Bigler, 1998.* * *
Although the novel remains Saul Bellow's most congenial form, the one most hospitable to the range of ideas and thickly layered style that are his trademarks, his two collections of short stories prove that Bellow is not only a consummate story writer but also an author well served by the constraints of the short story. Novels such as The Dean's December or More Die of Heartbreak suffer from Bellow's growing impatience with showing rather than telling and his increasing habit of allowing stump speeches to wax ever longer and more tedious.
By contrast Bellow's short stories remind us of how humanly rich his fiction can be. As a character in "Cousins" puts it, "Why were the Jews such avid anthropologists?… They may have believed that they were demystifiers, that science was their motive and that their ultimate aim was to increase universalism. But I don't see it that way myself. A truer explanation is the nearness of ghettos to the sphere of Revelation, an easy move for the mind from rotting street and rancid dishes, a direct ascent into transcendence."
Bellow's short fiction moves easily from the quotidian to the higher realms. Childhood memory retains a special poignancy (one thinks of the Napoleon Street sections of Herzog), and there is the same sense of anthropological accuracy coupled with transcendental musing in such stories as "The Old System," "Mosby's Memoirs," "A Silver Dish," and "Cousins." Each is concerned with the mysteries of family and those painful steps one takes through memory and meditation toward reconciliation.
If a novel like The Dean's December tries to make sense of Chicago's corruption, its noisy, public face, a story like "A Silver Dish" announces its intentions in quieter, more reflective tones: "What do you do about death—in this case, the death of an old father? [Woody Selbst, the story's protagonist asks]…. How, against a contemporary background, do you mourn an octogenarian father, nearly blind, his heart enlarged, his lungs filling with fluid, who creeps, stumbles, gives off the odors, the moldiness or gasiness, of old men." Selbst, a tile contractor, may be an exception (the feisty Hattie Waggoner of "Leaving the Yellow House" is another) to the beleaguered intellectuals who figure in stories such as "Zeitland: By a Character Witness" (modeled on Bellow's boyhood chum Isaac Rosenfeld), "What Kind of Day Did You Have?" (a novella revolving around a New York Jewish intellectual who is a dead ringer for the art critic Harold Rosenberg), or "Him with His Foot in His Mouth" (a tale about an academic whose biting sarcasm is balanced by his capacity for lingering regret). Memory and the heart's deepest need for love is what gives these protagonists—and their stories—enormous power.
This is particularly true of "The Old System," a story in which Dr. Samuel Braun, an aging scientist, spends a "thoughtful day" remembering a family quarrel between his cousins Isaac and Tina. Braun discovers, much to his surprise, that he had loved them after all. But, like Bellow, he cannot keep from asking what in this low, dishonest time speaks for humans.
In "Mosby's Memoirs" Dr. Willis Mosby also broods about the past, but his is a slightly different problem. He is in Mexico, desperately trying to write his memoirs and finding himself stuck at the point where one ought "to put some humor in." At first the story of Lustgarten serves as comic relief, a way of priming the pump. After all Lustgarten was the archetypal schlemiel, a schemer whose plans for success always managed to go awry. A former shoe salesman from New Jersey, Lustgarten had belonged to a seemingly infinite number of fanatical, bolshevisitic groups. Lustgarten had also given up politics, but his luck was no better as a capitalist than it had been as a Marxist. For example, he was an incompetent manipulator of the black market and had once imported a Cadillac only to find himself without a buyer or even enough money for gasoline. On another occasion he visited Yugoslavia expecting to be given V.I.P. treatment, only to end up on a labor brigade in the mountains. Like "A Father-to-Be" (in which a prospective husband imagines, in a dream that turns nightmare, what a projected son might be like), "Mosby's Memoirs" is a tale of extended secret-sharing. Readers of Bellow novels, such as The Victim, Humbolt's Gift, or More Die of Heartbreak, are familiar with this impulse toward psychic doubling.
In the stories "Looking for Mr. Green" and "The Gonzaga Manuscripts" Bellow replaces characters who brood about the past with protagonists whose quests expand into symbolic meaning. For the George Grebe of "Looking for Mr. Green," the search involves delivering a government check to an invalid named Green. At first glance it looks like an easy job: Grebe is more conscientious than the usual run of state employees, and, moreover, anxious to do well. But his search for the elusive Mr. Green turns out to be harder than he had imagined as Bellow's plot moves him through a series of irritations to a full-blown obsession. Nobody in Chicago's Negro district will give him any help, and soon looking for Mr. Green takes on the look of a Kafkaesque problem. The story itself ends on a properly ambivalent note: Grebe hands over the check to a woman without the certainty that she is, in fact, Mrs. Green or that he has even found the right apartment.
In "The Gonzaga Manuscripts" a sense of quest takes Clarence Feiler to Madrid in search of some lost manuscripts by the Spanish poet Gonzaga. To Feiler, Gonzaga's poetry has been the only truly meaningful thing in his life. But (alas) Clarence soon discovers that the world at large cares very little about Gonzaga's poems, either published or in unpublished manuscript. At every turn he reminds himself of the sacredness of his mission, of how Gonzaga's poems must be recovered in the true spirit of the poet himself, but it soon becomes clear that Gonzaga's vision makes for better poetry than it does for a life.
The results are a series of serio-comic complications: Feiler is surrounded by the insensitive and the slightly clandestine. At various points he is cast as the ugly American by British guests at his hotel or as a CIA agent by his black-market contacts. Worse, Gonzaga's manuscripts are lost forever (presumably buried with the woman to whom they were dedicated), but the quest itself has had its effects on Feiler. He returns to the hotel empty-handed, knowing full well the scorn he will face at dinner, and yet, curiously enough, he also knows that he will be able to face his detractors—this time without need of the psychic crutch his quest had become.
Bellow's characteristic style is a marriage of gritty urban particulars and an itch for transcendental release, a blending of high-brow ideas and tough-guy postures, classical allusions and Yiddish quips. In short he turned deliberate roughening of syntax into a personal voice and, in the process, added a distinctive note to American prose rhythms. Bellow made a serious literature about the memories and continuities of Jewish American life possible in much the way that Faulkner made it possible to write about the South.
(b. 10 June 1915 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; d. 5 April 2005 in Brookline, Massachusetts), Nobel Prize–winning author who was the most acclaimed of a generation of Jewish-American writers to come of age after World War II and whose short stories, novels, and essays reflect the Jewish-American immigrant experience and the high comedy of failed relationships in our modern age.
Bellow was born Solomon Bellow, the fourth and last child of Abraham Belo, an onion importer and part-time bootlegger, and Lescha (Gordin) Belo, called “Liza.” His parents had emigrated from Saint Petersburg, Russia, two years before his birth. (A customs official misspelled the name as “Bellow” on immigration documents.) Saint Dominique Street, the Jewish ghetto where they lived, was poverty stricken, rat ridden, and rich in immigrant tongues and experience. Because by the age of four Bellow had memorized long passages of the Hebrew Bible, his mother hoped that he would become a rabbi. During the 1918 influenza epidemic, as numerous funeral corteges passed by the house, Bellow became afraid of death, and his terror deepened after he was hospitalized for tuberculosis in 1923 and saw many children die. By 1924 the family had relocated to the multiracial tenements of Humboldt Park, Chicago—the immigrant neighborhood that shaped so much of Bellow’s fiction. Here was a rich linguistic environment, where immigrant English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and other European languages were spoken. That year, Bellow’s mother died at home, leaving him emotionally bereft and estranged from his father and brothers. Fear of death, distrust of women, and failed male friendships continued to mark his emotional life and all of his highly autobiographical fiction.
Bellow graduated from Tuley High School in 1933 and that fall entered the University of Chicago. By then, he was an avowed follower of the Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and determined to become a writer. In 1935 he transferred to Northwestern University, from which he graduated in 1937 with a BA and honors in sociology and anthropology. He went that year to New York City to meet other intellectuals and writers but returned after Christmas and married Anita Goshkin on 31 December. Three years later the Bellows traveled to Mexico together to meet the exiled Trotsky, only to find him assassinated and lying in state. The couple had one son but eventually divorced. The trip to Mexico inspired an early manuscript called “Acatla” (never published) as well as “Two Morning Monologues” (1941), “The Mexican General” (1942), and parts of The Adventures of Augie March, which was eventually published in 1953. At the start of World War II, Bellow was rejected from the U.S. Army because of a hernia. Instead, he joined the Merchant Marine in 1944 and was sent to the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. He was still in training when the war ended, and he left the service in 1945.
When Bellow’s first novel, Dangling Man, appeared in 1944, critics applauded its mastery and brilliance of thought. The novel features a highly autobiographical narcissistic protagonist whose principal domain is his own sensibility. Joseph quarrels with wife, friends, and relatives; lives off the earnings of his faithful wife, Eva; succumbs to fits of paranoia and anger; and engages in a desultory affair. He learns to hate the physical decay of his elderly neighbors and is haunted by the fear of death. Finally, he admits that the romantic retreat into his own psyche has been a failure. Bellow’s second novel, The Victim, published in 1947, explores the Jewish-American sense of victimization in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust.
In 1948 Bellow was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, allowing him to travel to Europe for two years. He worked more on his third novel, The Adventures of Augie March, while living with the black writer Ralph Ellison in bomb-ravaged Paris. In this novel Bellow finally emerged from his mood of gloom to find his distinctly American voice, humor, place, and moment as a writer. Like his creator, Augie is a first-generation Jewish-American picaro journeying through Depression-era Chicago. The novel is a rich chronicle of Bellow’s own childhood and coming of age in the North Side immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago, and it won the National Book Award in 1954.
On his return from Europe, Bellow settled in New York City, teaching evening courses at New York University and working as a book reviewer while he wrote articles and fiction. In 1952 he received the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award and was made Creative Writing Fellow at Princeton University. In 1954 Bellow received a Ford Foundation grant and in 1956 published Seize the Day. The novel tells of the failed marriage and business dealings of Tommy Wilhelm, the classic schlemiel of Yiddish folklore, who, like his creator, must put up with his own father’s scorn and find his spiritual identity outside capitalist America.
On 1 February 1956, Bellow married Alexandra Tschacbasov, and the couple had one child, a son, before divorcing. By the end of the 1950s Bellow had endured several emotional blows, among them, the deaths of Isaac Rosenfeld, a longtime literary friend, and Ben Huebsch, his trusted Viking Press publisher. Delmore Schwartz, another longtime writer friend, had been remanded to Belle-vue Hospital in the course of a long mental decline. Not surprisingly, Bellow effected an escape of the soul to Africa in his next novel, Henderson the Rain King (1959). The violinist and pig farmer Eugene Henderson is a social outcast who is metaphysically earnest, bumbling, and despotic. With his initials “E.H.,” his drinking habit, his rifle and private firing range, his fascination with African safaris, and his participation in a foreign war, Henderson mocks Hemingway himself, a writer whose fame Bellow clearly coveted.
On 10 December 1961 Bellow married Susan Glass-man, and the couple subsequently had a son. That year he also received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Northwestern University and in 1962 joined the prestigious Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, where he stayed on the faculty until 1993. His next novel, Herzog, published in 1964, rivals James Joyce’s Ulysses and also critiques philosophical modernism. It reflects Bellow’s immersion in marital and financial troubles at that time by featuring a cuckolded divorcee and failed academic whose grand treatise on Romanticism will never be finished and who is close to collapse. Bellow’s profound shock at having discovered his wife Alexandra’s affair with their mutual friend Jack Ludwig had pushed him into deep depression. He transmutes the experience by producing an intensely humiliated, self-justifying, tearful hero precipitated into intellectual and spiritual crisis by the failure of his marriage. Throughout 1965 Bellow continued to garner honors for Herzog, including the National Book Award and the International Prize. In the mid-1960s, he made an important trip to Israel to report on the Six-Day War for Newsday, which cemented his view that the plight of the Jews was evocative of all human experience in the twentieth century. In 1968 Bellow’s first short-story collection, Mosby’s Memoirs and Other Stories, appeared, and he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres and won an award from B’Nai Brith. Bellow and Glassman were divorced in 1968.
Another novel, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, came out in 1970. Set in New York City at the height of the 1960s student radical movement, it features a protagonist who is a classic Old World, Western civilization literary thinker and European aristocrat. A Holocaust survivor, Mr. Sammler has lost his wife to the Nazis and endured the horrors of World War II, leaving him emotionally scarred and alienated. An American relative makes it possible for him to immigrate to America, where Sammler eventually relearns the necessity of connecting with his loved ones and taking responsibility for them. Mr. Sammler’s Planet earned the National Book Award for fiction. In 1971 Bellow’s play The Last Analysis had a brief run at an off-Broadway theater. In October 1974 Bellow married Alexandra Ionesco Tuleca.
Bellow’s next novel, Humboldt’s Gift, was published in 1975. This portrayal of the way in which twentieth-century capitalist America has all but bankrupted Western humanism and depleted the inner life of the Anglo-American artist earned a Pulitzer Prize. Charlie Citrine, a Chicagoan with a taste for low pursuits, gangland excitement, and well-endowed young women, has squandered his poetic gifts. Here Bellow also registers his interest in meditative states and transcendental experience through his reading of the anthroposophists Rudolph Steiner and Owen Bar-field. In 1976 he received the much-coveted Nobel Prize in Literature. That same year he published To Jersualem and Back: A Personal Account, which combines a journalistic chronology of his stay in Israel with firsthand accounts of many interviews, fictional stories, reported conversations, travelogues, and pieces of public addresses. Critics berated him as a neoconservative who failed to understand the history of Zionism, Israel, Islam, and world politics. In 1977 he was awarded the Emerson-Thoreau Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an award given in recognition of special achievement in the field of literature.
The Dean’s December (1982), a general indictment of American society, features yet another intellectual protagonist, Dean Albert Corde, dean of students at a college in Chicago. Moving through one month in Corde’s life—and traveling between Bucharest and Chicago—this “tale of two cities” counterpoises the problems of an oppressive Communist society with those of an equally but differently corrupt Western democratic one. Him with His Foot in His Mouth, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1984, followed by another novel, More Die of Heartbreak, in 1987. The latter book, a lament about failed men and absent mermaids, is full of comic characters, botched loves, and fatal forays into the danger zones of sex and romance. As such, it mirrors Bellow’s own disastrous experiences with women and marriage. Bellow and Tuleca were divorced in 1986.
In September of 1989 Bellow married Janis Freedman; the couple had one daughter. That year two of Bellow’s novellas, A Theft and The Bellarosa Connection, were published as paperbacks. A Theft illuminates the tragicomic failure of modern heterosexual relationships and features Bellow’s first female protagonist. The Bellarosa Connection has an unnamed elderly narrator who is trying desperately to recapture a lost relationship with an American Jewess and her husband, a Holocaust survivor. At the start of the novel, these two people are dead, and the narrator is overcome with grief over his loss and for his own general “amnesia” about the Holocaust. He is burdened by the knowledge that he has lived more through his memory than through actual relationships. In 1993, tired of passing houses once occupied by deceased friends, Bellow left Chicago and, the following year, took a position at Boston University.
Bellow’s collected essays, It All Adds Up, came out in 1994, and the novella The Actual appeared in 1997. In 2000 Bellow published his last book, Ravelstein, a tribute to his friendship with Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago. Posing as the great biographer James Boswell, the protagonist Chick (a thinly disguised persona for Bellow) is writing a Johnsonian tribute to his late friend, Ravelstein. In this chronicle of the special brotherhood of two famous Jewish-American intellectuals, Bellow finally accepts what it means to be the son of Russian Jewish immigrants in America and captures the origins of his own Jewish voice, Jewish humor, Jewish anxiety, and Jewish spiritual life in twentieth-century America.
Bellow died of pneumonia on 5 April 2005 and was buried in the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community Morningside Cemetery, in Brattleboro, Vermont. Bellow’s status in the annals of American literature after World War II compares with that of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. One of the most written-about fiction writers of the twentieth-century, he exhaustively analyzed the effects of American cultural anxiety in the age of technology, rationalism, existentialism, and modernism; defended the embattled soul; and affirmed Judeo-Christian humanism.
A collection of Bellow’s personal papers is held by the University of Chicago. For information on the life and work of Bellow, see Ruth Miller, Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination (1991); and James Atlas, Bellow: A Biography (2000). For a set of interviews, see Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel, Conversations with Saul Bellow. For tributes to Bellow, see “Saul Bellow at Eighty,” Salmagundi 106–07 (Spring/Summer 1995): 31–108. Obituaries are in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Guardian (all 6 Apr. 2005).
Gloria L. Cronin
Nationality: American. Born: Solomon Bellows, Lachine, Quebec, Canada, 10 June 1915. Education: University of Chicago, 1933-35; Northwestern University, B.S. (honors) in sociology and anthropology 1937; graduate studies in anthropology, University of Wisconsin, 1937. Military Service: Merchant Marines, 1944-45. Family: Married 1) Anita Goshkin in 1937 (divorced), one son; 2) Alexandra Tschacbasov in 1956 (divorced), one son; 3) Susan Glassman in 1961 (divorced), one son; 4) Alexandra Ionesco Tuleca in 1974 (divorced); 5) Janis Freedman in 1989, one daughter. Career: Biography writer, WPA Writers' Project; instructor, Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, Chicago, 1938-42; member of editorial department of "Great Books" project, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1943-46; member of English department, 1946, assistant professor of English, 1948-49, and associate professor, 1954-59, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis; Grunier Distinguished Services Professor and member of Committee on Social Thought, 1962-93, and committee chair, 1970-76, University of Chicago. Since 1993 professor of English, Boston University. Visiting lecturer, New York University, 1950-52; creative writing fellow, Princeton University, 1952-53; faculty member, Bard College, 1953-54; visiting professor of English, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 1961; celebrity-in-residence, University of Chicago, 1962; lecturer and fellow, Oxford University, Academy for Policy Study, 1966; fellow, Brandford College, Yale University; war correspondent, Newsday, 1967. Founder and coeditor, The Noble Savage, 1960-62. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship in Paris and Rome, 1948; National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, 1952; National Book award, 1954, for The Adventures of Augie March, 1965, for Herzog, and 1971, for Mr. Sammler's Planet; O. Henry Award, 1956, for "The Gonzaga Manuscripts," and 1980, for "A Silver Dish"; Ford grants, 1959 and 1960; Friends of Literature fiction award, 1960; James L. Dow award, 1964; Prix International de Litterature (France), 1965, for Herzog; Jewish Heritage award, B'nai B'rith, and Croix de Chevalier (France), both in 1968; Formentor prize, 1970; Pulitzer prize, 1976, for Humboldt's Gift; Nobel prize, 1976, for literature; Gold medal, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Emerson-Thoreau medal, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Neil Gunn International fellowship, all in 1977; Brandeis University creative arts award, 1978; Malaparte prize for literature (Italy), 1984; National Medal of Arts, 1988; Lifetime Achievement award, National Book Awards, 1990. D.Litt: Northwestern University, 1962, Bard College, 1963, New York University, 1970, Harvard University, 1972, Yale University, 1972, McGill University, 1973, Brandeis University, 1974, Hebrew Union College, 1976, and Trinity College (Dublin), 1976. Commander, Legion of Honour (France), 1983; Commander, Order of Arts and Letters (France), 1985. Member: American Academy of Arts and Letters. Addresses: Office: 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, U.S.A.; or c/o Boston University, 754 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, U.S.A.
The Portable Saul Bellow. 1974.
Collected Fiction, edited by Janice Bellow. 2001.
Dangling Man. 1944.
The Victim. 1947.
The Adventures of Augie March. 1953.
Henderson the Rain King. 1959.
Herzog. 1964; critical edition, 1976.
Mr. Sammler's Planet. 1970.
Humboldt's Gift. 1975.
The Dean's December. 1982.
More Die of Heartbreak. 1987.
A Theft (novella). 1989.
The Bellarosa Connection (novella). 1989.
The Actual (novella). 1997.
Seize the Day, with Three Short Stories and a One-Act Play. 1956.
Mosby's Memoirs, and Other Stories. 1968.
Him with His Foot in His Mouth, and Other Stories. 1984.
Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales (includes Something to Remember Me By; A Theft; The Bellarosa Connection ). 1991.
The Wrecker. In New World Writing 6, 1954.
The Last Analysis, a Play (produced New York, 1964). 1965.
Under the Weather (three one-act comedies: Orange Souffle; A Wren; Out from Under; produced London and New York, 1966).
Orange Souffle. In Esquire, January 1965.
A Wren. In Esquire, October 1965.
Like You're Nobody: The Letters of Louis Gallo to Bellow, 1961-1962, plus "Oedipus-Schmoedipus, the Story That Started It All" (letters and short story). 1966.
To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (memoir). 1976.
Nobel Lecture (Stockholm, December 12, 1976). 1977.
It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future: A Nonfiction Collection. 1994.
Editor, Great Jewish Short Stories. 1963.*
Saul Bellow: A Comprehensive Bibliography by B. A. Sokoloff and Mark E. Posner, 1971; Saul Bellow: His Works and His Critics: An Annotated International Bibliography by Marianne Nault, 1977; Saul Bellow: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources by Francine Lercangée, 1977; Basic Bibliography in English and Chinese for the Study of Saul Bellow by William Yeh, 1977; Saul Bellow: An Annotated Bibliography by Gloria L. Cronin and Blaine H. Hall, 1987.
Regenstein Library, University of Chicago.
Saul Bellow by Earl Rovit, 1967; The Novels of Saul Bellow; An Introduction by Keith Michael Opdahl, 1967; Saul Bellow: A Critical Essay by Robert Detweiler, 1967; Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man by John Jacob Clayton, 1968; Saul Bellow's Fiction by Irving Malin, 1969; Saul Bellow by Robert R. Dutton, 1971, revised, 1982; Saul Bellow by Brigitte Scheer, 1972; "Imagining the Holocaust: Mr. Sammler's Planet and Others" by Edward Alexander, in Judaism, 22, 1973, pp. 288-300; Saul Bellow's Enigmatic Laughter by Sarah Blacher Cohen, 1974; Saul Bellow: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Earl H. Rovit, 1975; Critical Essays on Saul Bellow, edited by Stanley Trachtenberg, 1979; Saul Bellow by Malcolm Bradbury, 1982; Saul Bellow's Moral Vision: A Critical Study of the Jewish Experience by L. H. Goldman, 1983; Saul Bellow, Vision and Revision by Daniel Fuchs, 1984; "The Holocaust in Mr. Sammler's Planet " by Lillian S. Kremer, in Saul Bellow Journal, 4(1), Fall/Winter 1985, pp. 19-32; Saul Bellow, edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; "The Holocaust in the Novels of Saul Bellow" by L. M. Goldman, in Modern Language Studies, 16(1), Winter 1986, pp. 71-80; Saul Bellow in the 1980s: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Gloria L. Cronin and L. H. Goldman, 1989; Saul Bellow by Robert F. Kiernan, 1989; Saul Bellow: Against the Grain by Ellen Pifer, 1990; Saul Bellow at Seventy-Five: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Gerhard Bach and Jakob J. Kollhofer, 1991; Saul Bellow by Peter Hyland, 1992; Saul Bellow, A Mosaic, edited by L. H. Goldman, Gloria L. Cronin, and Ada Aharoni, 1992; New Essays on Seize the Day, edited by Michael P. Kramer, 1998; Bellow: A Biography by James Atlas, 2000; Small Planets: Saul Bellow and the Art of Short Fiction, edited by Gerhard Bach and Gloria L. Cronin, 2000; A Room of His Own: In Search of the Feminine in the Novels of Saul Bellow by Gloria L. Cronin, 2001.* * *
It is difficult to generalize about Saul Bellow's ideas about the Holocaust except to say that he has found it extremely confusing and complicated. As readers would expect from this most cerebral of writers, he tries to examine many points of view about the Holocaust, its survivors, and its aftermath. For example, in his short story "Mosby's Memoirs" (1968) his unlikable protagonist, Willis Mosby, showed during the war great admiration for the Nazis, whom, because of their "managerial revolution," he considered unbeatable, and after the war he argued that "however deplorable the concentration camps had been, they showed at least the rationality of German political ideas." In the work To Jerusalem and Back (1976), although the Holocaust is not nearly as central as one might expect, Bellow repeatedly finds himself examining different, even extreme ideas about it, such as that of Prof. Jacob Leib Talmon, who asks Bellow, "Didn't Hitler after all win? As far as the Jews are concerned?" In the same book he seems to conclude that "it is difficult to apply reasonable propositions to the survivors of the Holocaust," and he seems to feel that the same could be said about the Holocaust itself and its aftermath.
Bellow's second novel, The Victim (1947), treats Kirby Allbee's persecution of Asa Leventhal in post-World War II New York City. Behind it lie the horrors of the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the death camps. This background makes horrifying a series of incidents that may to an outsider and sometimes even to Leventhal appear trivial. In fact, several critics argue that Bellow agrees with the protagonist of the novel Herzog (1964) that all Jews in the post-Holocaust world are "survivors" and that "to realize that you are a survivor is a shock." Still, he ultimately seems puzzled about just where this realization leads.
Artur Sammler, of Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), is a literal survivor of the Holocaust, as is Harry Fonstein of the short novel The Bellarosa Connection (1989). Sorella Fonstein is determined that her husband, Harry, have a chance to thank in person Billy Rose, the Broadway impresario, for rescuing him from the Nazis. After the Nazis had confiscated the investments of Harry's father, he died. Harry's sister and her husband hid in the woods but ended up in the death camps. In spite of a poorly constructed orthopedic boot, Harry escaped from Lemberg (Lvov), in the Ukraine, managing to walk with his mother to Italy, where she died. He eventually reached Rome, where he worked as a waiter at a reception for Hitler. Imprisoned in Rome, he risked being deported by the SS. He escaped from the Italian jail, went to Ellis Island, and then was sent to Cuba, thanks to an underground organization Rose had set up. Thus, when Fonstein, who at the time knew no English, heard the name Billy Rose, what he thought was the Bellarosa Connection came into existence. Thanks largely to Rose, "Fonstein had survived the greatest ordeal of Jewish history." After he had married Sorella, he went to the United States, where in time he made a small fortune.
When Harry approaches Rose at Sardi's in New York City, the impresario turns his back on him, and a bouncer leads Harry from the restaurant. Sorella eventually acquires a manuscript by one of Rose's associates, the same person who had met Harry at Ellis Island and had told him that he had to go to Cuba. The manuscript implicates Rose in shady dealings. Sorella meets with Rose, hoping to use the manuscript to get him to receive her husband's thanks. But Rose claims that he does not remember Harry Fonstein and refuses to meet with him. His forgetfulness contrasts with the nameless narrator's memory. The narrator is a relative of Sorella by marriage and the founder of the Mnemosyne Institute, an organization, as the name implies, dedicated to memory. He is in Jerusalem to explore the idea of setting up an Israeli branch when Rose goes there to donate a sculpture garden. It is there Sorella confronts him, but Rose, with justice, tells Sorella, "I did all I could," and he adds, "And for that point of time, that's more than most can say."
Both Sorella and the story's narrator are American Jews, and for this reason the narrator feels that, unlike Harry Fonstein, he can never "grasp the real facts" of the case. For the narrator ultimately, and perhaps for Bellow too, even though they may be "survivors," they are non-European Jews and thus did not directly experience the Holocaust and have trouble remembering, much less understanding, it. Like the nameless narrator of The Bellarosa Connection, the best such people can do is to try to remember what they learn from others about the horrible things that happened and then to pass the memories on to others.
See the essay on Mr. Sammler's Planet.
(b. 10 June 1915 in Lachine, Quebec, Canada), Nobel Prize–winning novelist, several of whose novels—The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler's Planet—have secured for him a place in the American literary canon.
Bellow was the youngest of four children born to Abraham Bellow and Liza Gordon, Russian Jewish immigrants who arrived in Canada two years before his birth. The father was a businessman, often unsuccessful, whose lines of trade were many, not all of them legal. He moved the family to Chicago when Bellow was nine, and by the time Bellow graduated from Tuley High School and entered the University of Chicago in 1933, the father was the owner of the Carroll Coal Company. A suit against the temporarily un-insured company, following the death of one of its workers, saddled the family with long-term debt, and forced Bellow to withdraw from the university. He picked up his studies first at the University of Wisconsin and then at Northwestern University, from which he graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1937.
Between Bellow's taking of his degree and the period of his greatest success, the 1960s, he worked at making himself a writer. In 1941 Partisan Review published his first story, "Two Morning Monologues," and in 1943 it published an excerpt from Bellow's novel in progress, Dangling Man, itself published in 1944. In its opening pages, the book famously put the Hemingway cult of reserve and silence to rest: "If you have difficulties, grapple with them silently, goes one of their commandments. To hell with that! I intend to talk about mine, and if I had as many mouths as Siva has arms and kept them all going at the same time, I still could not do myself justice." It was Bellow's first public act of braying, something that he turned into an art form in succeeding novels such as The Victim (1947), The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Seize the Day (1956), and Henderson the Rain King (1959).
Bellow's contribution to our understanding of the 1960s is chiefly connected with the publication of two novels, Herzog (1964) and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). About the former, it has been said that "the prose is charged, rich, full of the specifics and precisely defined impressions that create the feel of the mid-1960s American life." Of the latter, a critic has written, "Bellow captures better than anyone the feel of American society in the late 1960s, with its blend of social rebellion, sexuality, racial unrest, and personal aggrandizement."
The 1960s also saw Bellow try his hand at drama, with the Broadway production of The Last Analysis in 1964 and the Spoleto, London, and New York productions of Under the Weather (1966), a group of three short plays (A Wen, Orange Soufflé, Out from Under). The Last Analysis is the story of a formerly successful comedian, Bummidge, who attempts to resuscitate not so much his career as his life by engaging "on an expedition to recover the forgotten truth," and in the process sets out to hold up a mirror to society's unspoken desperation and angst: "Only a comic," Bummidge muses. "Bummidge—he doesn't know Greek or calculus. But he knows what he knows. Have you ever watched audiences laughing? You should see how monstrous it looks; you should listen from my side of the foot-lights. Oh, the despair, my son! The stale hearts! The snarling and gasping!" The play failed to find an audience, closing after twenty-eight performances. Its failure with both audiences and critics led Bellow to rewrite and publish it in book form, and to try to defend it. "The Last Analysis," he wrote, "is not simply a spoof of Freudian psychology, though certain analysts have touchily interpreted it as such. Its real subject is the mind's comical struggle for survival in an environment of Ideas—its fascination with metaphors, and the peculiarly literal and solemn manner in which Americans dedicate themselves to programs, fancies, or brainstorms."
As for Under the Weather, the most notable of its three one-act plays, A Wen, concerns a Nobel Prize–winning physicist, Solomon Ithimar, whose obsessive recall of a high-school sweetheart's birthmark upon her thigh compels him to seek her out. Middle-aged, heavy-set, and married to a chiropodist, she clearly is no longer the woman of his fantasies, but she is part of his past and the play is as much about the longing for this, his past, as it is for the birthmark itself. The critics, however, thought no better of Under the Weather than they did of The Last Analysis. Edith Oliver, writing in the New Yorker, tartly remarked: "Apparently, Mr. Bellow believes that it is a good idea to earn while you learn, and although his first full-length exercise, 'The Last Analysis,' was a full-blown disaster when exhibited on Broadway in 1964, he has gamely come on once again to show us how he is progressing in his studies." Thus, playwriting proved for Bellow what it had also proved for Henry James, who also famously suffered a serious defeat when he took it up in mid-career.
Bellow's dramatic successes during this period were not recorded in the theater but in fiction, especially with the phenomenally successful Herzog, which his biographer James Atlas refers to as the author's "passport to great fame and wealth." For good reason: the novel was on the bestseller list for forty-two weeks, selling 142,000 copies in hardcover. It also earned the author his second National Book Award. Part roman à clef, part cultural critique, the novel struck a nerve in the American psyche, anticipating, as the critic Keith Opdahl writes, "the mood of the coming decade." What it especially anticipated was the faltering collapse of marriage as the centerpiece of American social existence—as well as the centrality that divorce itself would assume in the American realistic novel of the last third of the twentieth century. The eminent critic Tony Tanner has said of the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century realistic novel that in it one finds testimony to the fact that "For bourgeois society marriage is the all-subsuming, all-organizing, all-containing contract. It is the structure that maintains the Structure." By contrast, its late-twentieth-century counterpart offers itself as testimony to a contrary truth: the fissiparous nature of contemporary life. "Things fall apart," wrote Bellow, echoing the poet W. B. Yeats's "Second Coming," in Mr. Sammler's Planet; and the thing most noticeably falling apart, in both the contemporary world and novel, is marriage. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that upon the publication of Herzog, Bellow "received two or three thousand letters from people pouring out their souls to me, saying, 'This is my life, this is what it's been like for me.' "
It was also like that for Bellow himself, now in his second marriage, for the impulse for the novel sprang from Bellow's rage at being cuckolded by a man, Jack Ludwig, whom he had thought of as his best friend. Not without cause, then, does the novel begin, "If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog." Alternating between third person and first person, the novel ostensibly takes place in Herzog's head, as he recalls the events surrounding his own cuckolding by Valentine Gersbach and sends off letters to friends and foes, famous and not, living and dead, to anyone who might help him achieve escape and relief from the state of being "incoherent with anger." In time, Herzog does come down from the heights of his rage, and the novel ends with him deciding to write no more letters, a sign of his sanity reasserting itself: "Perhaps, he'd stop writing letters. Yes, that was what was coming, in fact. The knowledge that he was done with these letters. Whatever had come over him during these last months, the spell, really seemed to be passing, really going." But before the novel concludes, Bellow, in the voice of Herzog, offers up a picture of contemporary American reality that is inimically opposed to the integrity of the individual soul, to its cries for meaning.
Mr. Sammler's Planet picks up this theme, viewing a late 1960s urban culture—that of New York City—through the eyes of an aging Holocaust survivor, the eponymous Mr. Arthur Sammler. The culture itself is found enmeshed in a Bataille-like notion of the real, wherein sex and violence are understood as authenticity's fundamental factors. Mr. Sammler has experienced evil firsthand, not only by being forced to dig his own grave, but also by being shot by the German guards and then, after his miraculous escape from amidst the freshly buried corpses (including that of his wife), by being hounded in the forests by Polish resistance fighters. And having experienced evil as such, he thinks it neither "banal"—the term applied to it by the American philosopher Hannah Arendt—nor emancipatory, in the spirit of the French intellectual Georges Bataille. (Both thinkers are mentioned, and dismissed, in the novel.) In fact, "like many people who had seen the world collapse once, Mr. Sammler entertained the possibility that it might collapse twice."
And late 1960s New York provides its full share of evidence to influence apocalyptic thoughts: "New York makes one think about the collapse of civilization, about Sodom and Gomorrah, the end of the world. The end of the world wouldn't come as a surprise here. Many people already bank on it." Mr. Sammler doesn't bank upon it; his spiritual longing for completion won't permit such an acquiescence to despair. But he is frightfully taken aback by a culture that does not acknowledge that one can become the prisoner of one's vaunted freedoms, of one's appetites and lusts. Released from feelings of puritanical guilt, cosmopolitan culture offers up manifest examples of why it might benefit from reinstating guilt to its proper place in defining human nature: "The labors of Puritanism now was ending. The dark satanic mills changing into light satanic mills. The reprobates converted into children of joy, the sexual ways of the seraglio and of the Congo bush adopted by the emancipated masses," ending in a scenario of "libidinous privileges, the right to be uninhibited, spontaneous, urinating, defecating, belching, coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphous, noble in being natural, primitive, combining the leisure and luxurious inventiveness of Versailles with the hibiscus-covered erotic ease of Samoa."
Mr. Sammler speaks in the thinly veiled voice of Bellow himself, and the novel has often been singled out as offering a too reactionary view of 1960s culture. Yet when read many decades later, the novel, so independently conceived, seems remarkably acute in its social critique, more penetrating than many a novel whose author simply purveyed the decade's shibboleths. It is for his independent spirit that Bellow is valued, the spirit that writes out of the conviction "that the truth is not loved because it is improving or progressive. We hunger and thirst for it—for its own sake." It is the conviction that Mr. Sammler, praying over the corpse of his dead nephew, memorably voices at novel's end: "He was aware that he must meet, and he did meet—through all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through which we are speeding—he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know."
By the time of Mr. Sammler's Planet's publication, and certainly by 1975, with the publication of Humboldt's Gift, Bellow's reputation had solidified. He was among the pantheon of great American novelists, as well as a leading figure in the subset of American Jewish novelists, whose notables included Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976. Other books would follow, including The Dean's December (1982), Him with His Foot in His Mouth, and Other Stories (1984), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), and Ravelstein (2000). They have been fine additions to a magnificent oeuvre.
Biographies of Bellow include Ruth Miller, Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination (1991), and James Atlas, Bellow (2000). Studies of Bellow's work include Tony Tanner, Saul Bellow (1965); Keith Opdahl, The Novels of Saul Bellow: An Introduction (1967); Irving Malin, Saul Bellow's Fiction (1969); Sarah Blacher Cohen, Saul Bellow's Enigmatic Laughter (1974); G. I. Porter, Whence the Power? (1974); John Jacob Clayton, Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man (1979); Daniel Fuchs, Saul Bellow: Vision and Revision (1984); Jeanne Brahm, A Sort of Columbus: The American Voyages of Saul Bellow's Fiction (1984); Ellen Pifer, Saul Bellow: Against the Grain (1990); and Peter Hyland, Saul Bellow (1992).
Christopher J. Knight
BELLOW, SAUL (1915–2005), U.S. novelist. Author of 11 novels and numerous novellas and stories, Pulitzer Prize winner for Humboldt's Gift (1975), Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1976, and the only novelist to win three National Book Awards, for The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), Bellow brilliantly captured the Jewish-American experience and voice of the mid-20th century.
Born Solomon Bellow, the youngest of four children of Abraham (Abram) and Liza (Lescha) Belo, Russian Jewish immigrants to Canada, Bellow changed his name as the Bellows assimilated, from Shloimke to Solomon to Sol to Saul. He was born in Lachine, Quebec, two years after his family immigrated to Canada, and was raised in Montreal and Chicago, Illinois. He spoke fluent Yiddish, French, and English as a child, and studied Hebrew. Bellow's trilingual childhood is evident in Bellow's vivid stylistic mix of high and low registers, of classical English and the uniquely Jewish dialect of his Chicago childhood.
The Bellows, owing to poverty and Abram's troubles with the law as a result of his bootlegging, moved to Chicago when Saul was nine. Bellow later in life had a nostalgic love for the Chicago of his youth, and he explored Chicago's history, diverse ethnic cultures, unique American dialect, and Jewish immigrant society in much of his literature. In his later works he contrasted his nostalgia for the Chicago of his youth with his mounting anxiety concerning what he saw as the city's rapid urban decay. This concern may help account for his growing conservatism, which was a dominant theme of such later books as Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), in which Bellow brought together, through the Holocaust survivor Sammler, the Shoah and his dark satirical rejection of 1960s radicalism. His conservatism can also be seen in The Dean's December (1982), Bellow's depiction of contemporary Chicago as a violent, barbaric dystopia.
Bellow's religious childhood had a profound impact on his works, for Jewish American issues and culture permeate his novels. His religiously observant mother had hopes that he would become a rabbi or talmudic scholar; at four he could recite whole passages from the Torah in Hebrew or Yiddish. Bellow used both vernacular Yiddish and Yiddish cadences and syntax throughout his works. In early works such as The Adventures of Augie March and later works such as "Cousins" from his short story collection Him with His Foot in His Mouth (1984), Bellow also depicted Jewish immigrant family life with vividness and affection. In his use of Jewish irony and humor and in his introspective, morally focused protagonists, Bellow is recognizably a Jewish writer. He referred to his Jewish upbringing as a literary "gift, a piece of good fortune with which one doesn't quarrel." Nevertheless, he rejected the label "Jewish American author," preferring to say that he was "an American, a Jew, a writer by trade," perhaps due to a fear that being identified as too Jewish would relegate him to a literary ghetto. Bellow was not religiously observant as an adult. Nonetheless, he never denied his Jewishness, and he spoke out in support of oppressed Jews in the Soviet Union and against antisemitism everywhere, spoke often to Jewish groups, and visited Israel often, including going to Israel in 1967 to report on the imminent war. Bellow went to Israel again in 1970 and in 1976, eventually writing about his experiences there and about the global political problems facing Israel in his well-reviewed nonfiction book To Jerusalem and Back (1976).
Jewish themes are central to many of Bellow's major works, as are autobiographical elements. For example, Bellow's Kafkaesque The Victim (1947) is an original treatment of the theme of antisemitism and the first of his attempts to confront the meaning of the Holocaust, with the secular Jewish protagonist Asa Leventhal confronted by the antisemitic Kirby Allbee; his award-winning The Adventures of Augie March (1953) is a picaresque novel about the adventures of a Jewish boy from Chicago during the Depression of the 1930s. In his powerful novella The Bellarosa Connection (1990), Bellow told the story of a Holocaust survivor while at the same time delved into Jewish issues of memory and the ethical and psychological problems faced by American Jews living safe lives while their European brothers suffered and died. Bellow's final novel Ravelstein (2000), a moving fictionalized treatment of his friendship with the conservative Jewish intellectual, Allan *Bloom, author of the controversial The Closing of the American Mind, is also arguably Bellow's most overtly Jewish novel, with discussions concerning the Holocaust, Jewish history and identity, Israel, and the fate of the Jewish people.
While his father and brothers were business-minded, Bellow was always more interested in books and culture, and this conflict between pragmatism and idealism, the real world and the inner or ideal world, is central to much of his fiction. Bellow was introspective and death-obsessed from an early age, partly due to childhood illnesses including six months spent in the tuberculosis ward at Royal Victoria Hospital when he was eight, where he saw many die and came near death himself. He later described his mother's early death when he was 18 as the greatest loss in his life; fears of death and loss thus dominate much of Bellow's canon. His early loss of his mother may also help to explain his problematic relationship to women, including his five marriages and four unpleasant divorces, themes that reoccur throughout his novels.
Bellow entered the University of Chicago in 1934, but transferred the following year to Northwestern, where he studied anthropology with Melville Herskovits. Upon graduation in 1937, Bellow entered the University of Wisconsin to pursue a graduate degree in sociology and anthropology, but soon left to marry his first wife, Anita Goshkin, and then left for New York to become a writer. The Bellows quickly returned to Chicago. In 1940 he and his wife traveled to Mexico with the hopes of meeting his boyhood hero, Leon Trotsky, only to discover that Trotsky had been killed the day before they arrived. Bellow's early attempts at writing novels proved frustrating. He abandoned an early novel set in Mexico and threw away the manuscript for The Very Dark Trees, a novel about a Southern white man turning black, after the publisher for the book canceled its publication for the duration of the war.
Bellow wrote his first published novel, the semi-autobiographical Dangling Man (1944), while waiting to enter the army. During this period Bellow's first marriage began to collapse while he waited to be conscripted (he finally joined the merchant marines toward the end of the war) and worked at various jobs, including three years (1943–46) on the editorial staff of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In Dangling Man, the Kafka-inspired protagonist, Joseph, a young Jewish would-be writer, waits to be drafted as he experiences Romantic isolation, studies classic writers, has an affair, and suffers from death anxieties and emotional turmoil. In this way Bellow set the pattern for many of his major works, works focused on semi-autobiographical, introspective, intellectual, Jewish protagonists searching for meaning in a savage, irrational universe.
Bellow followed Dangling Man with The Victim (1947) and with The Adventures of Augie March (1953), which Salman Rushdie referred to as the best candidate there was for the Great American Novel. Bellow then published Seize the Day (1956), a study of loneliness, failure, and the onset of middle age, and Henderson the Rain King (1959), an excursion into the fantastic about a wealthy American's search for ultimate reality among primitive African tribesmen. Bellow's most widely acclaimed work was Herzog (1964), an international best seller that gained Bellow fame and numerous awards. Its protagonist, Moses Herzog, is a ruminating, near-mad Jewish professor who writes letters to everyone, including dead relatives, Jung, Nietzsche, and God. Herzog struggles comically but futilely to relate with humanistic values to a dehumanized modern world; like all Bellow's protagonists, he is doomed to live out the contradiction between an inner world of romantic aspiration and an outer one of less than romantic fact.
Bellow was a prolific writer throughout his life, publishing his first play, The Last Analysis, in 1964; a volume of short stories, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), after which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for 1976; To Jerusalem and Back (1976); The Dean's December (1982); a short story collection, Him with His Foot in His Mouth (1984); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); a collection of three novellas, Something to Remember Me By (1991); an essay collection, It All Adds Up (1994); The Actual (1997); and Ravelstein (2000). He also edited Great Jewish Short Stories (1963). Bellow led a largely itinerant life, moving from university to university as he moved from marriage to marriage; however, he did remain married to his final wife Janis for the last 16 years of his life, and was a professor for the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago from 1962 to 1993. He also maintained close friendships with a large number of Jewish friends from Tuley High School in Chicago and with such eminent writers as Ralph Ellison, John Berryman, Allan Bloom, John Cheever, Philip *Roth, and the Jewish poet Delmore *Schwartz, the model for Von Humboldt Fleisher of Humboldt's Gift. Widely considered one of mid-century America's leading novelists, Bellow died leaving behind a powerful canon of literature.
J. Atlas, Bellow: A Biography (2000); J.J. Clayton, Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man (1968); I. Malin (ed.), Saul Bellow and the Critics (1967); idem, Saul Bellow's Fiction (1969); K.M. Opdahl, The Novels of Saul Bellow: An Introduction (1967); E. Rovit (ed.), Saul Bellow: A Collection of Critical Essays (1975).
[Craig Svonkin (2nd ed.)]
Born Solomon Bellows, June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, Canada; died April 5, 2005, in Brookline, MA. Author. Saul Bellow was one of the greatest American novelists of the second half of the 20th century, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, and three National Book Awards. His self-doubting, searching heroes and anti-heroes, often enhanced versions of himself, searched for meaning before learning to live with spiritual unease. His works were serious and philosophical, yet cleverly comic, skeptical, and full of energy. He made his hometown, Chicago, the center of many of his novels, and his work reflected both his Jewish heritage and a middle-American sensibility. His 1953 breakthrough novel, The Adventures of Augie March, began with one of the most celebrated opening lines of 20th-century American literature: "I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent."
Bellow was born Solomon Bellows in the small town of Lachine, Quebec, to parents who immigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia. His mother, Liza, wanted him to be a rabbi or a violinist, but he claimed he was inspired to be a great novelist by reading Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe while in the hospital at age eight. The next year, his family moved to Chicago, where his father, Abraham, worked as a baker and coal deliveryman. Bellow started writing in elementary school with his friend Sydney J. Harris, who became a Chicago newspaper columnist.
Bellow went to the University of Chicago in 1933, then transferred to Northwestern University to save money. He majored in anthropology and sociology, subjects that informed the deep curiosity about the human condition reflected in his novels. He went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin for anthropology, but dropped out and began writing biographies for the federal government's writer's project in Chicago. He moved to New York City to write fiction, and joined the merchant marine during World War II. While in the service, he finished his first novel, Dangling Man, published in 1944 and styled as a journal kept by a young man from Chicago who was waiting to be drafted. His second novel, The Victim, about anti-Semitism, came out in 1947. Both attracted some favorable reviews, but later critics and Bellow himself regarded them as early, lesser experiments.
The idea for The Adventures of Augie March, the novel that made Bellow famous and won him his first National Book Award, came to him while he was studying in Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to him in 1948. He was walking through the city when he remembered a childhood friend who was always talking wildly about an exciting new scheme. He imagined a novel told in that friend's voice, and knew he had to write it. Augie March, released in 1953, "announced a brand-new voice in American fiction, jazzy, brash, exuberant, with accents that were both Yiddish and Whitmanian," Mel Gussow and Charles Mcgrath wrote in Bellow's New York Times obituary.
Bellow's next major work, 1959's Henderson the Rain King, told the story of a millionaire violinist and pig farmer who travels to Africa, searching in vain for a meaning in his life. Bellow said that book found him in full use of his literary powers, and that Henderson was the character who was most like himself. "Fiction is the higher autobiography," he said (as quoted by Gussow and Mcgrath in the New York Times), and many of his characters were thinly veiled, slightly mythologized versions of him and his friends and enemies. The title character of his 1964 novel Herzog, for instance, endures another man seducing his wife, much as Bellow himself found that his second wife had cheated on him with a friend of his. Not that Bellow was usually a heart-broken guy; he was more of a heartbreaker, veteran of many love affairs, married five times and divorced four.
Herzog won Bellow his second National Book Award, while 1969's Mr. Sammler's Planet won him his third. His last great success, the 1975 novel Humboldt's Gift, depicts a Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer named Charlie Citrine who is coping with the death of his mentor, the title character, based on Bellow's friend, the poet Delmore Schwartz. The novel proved prophetic: it won Bellow the Pulitzer Prize. The Nobel Prize in Literature followed in 1976.
Critics tend to view Bellow's work after the Nobel as minor compared to his earlier achievements; they felt it was less energetic and too full of laments about decay in the culture and in his beloved Chicago. His novels of the 1980s, one critic said, are interesting mostly for a softer view of relationships between men and women than his early novels, which were sometimes criticized as hostile to women. Meanwhile, in 1989, he married his last wife, Janis Freedman, a graduate student almost 50 years younger than him; they had a daughter, his fourth child, when Bellow was 83.
Bellow taught college students for most of his career, though his financial success made it unnecessary. He explained that writing can be a lonely profession, and he prized the human contact and the chance to talk about books that teaching provided. In 1993, he left the University of Chicago to teach at Boston University, sad that most of his Chicago friends had died. He published his last novel in 2000, Ravelstein. Again, the main character was based on a friend of his: Allan Bloom, the University of Chicago professor whose angry defense of traditional western literature and thought, The Closing of the American Mind, had created a sensation in the late 1980s. Ravelstein, too, attracted attention, thanks to its vivid portrayal of the flamboyant, openly gay Bloom and its affecting account of male friendship.
"If Bellow is not held to rank with Hemingway and Faulkner among modern American literary titans, he is very close," the London newspaper the Independent declared when he died. "More than either of them, he was fascinated by both the intellectual and material worlds, happy to yoke abstractions with immediate actualities. Bellow depicted with equal richness the world of ideas and the people who create it." Bellow died on April 5, 2005, in Brookline, Massachusetts, of natural causes; he was 89. He is survived by his wife, Janis; their daughter, Naomi Rose; Gregory, Adam, and Daniel, his sons from previous marriages; and six grandchildren. Sources: Entertainment Weekly, April 15, 2005, p. 14; Independent (London), April 7, 2005, p. 40; New York Times, April 6, 2005, p. A1; Washington Post, April 6, 2005, p. A1.
Saul Bellow was born of Russian immigrant parents in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, on July 10, 1915. He learned to speak Hebrew, Yiddish, and French as well as English. When he was nine his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, and to this city Bellow remained deeply devoted. He was raised in a strict Jewish household, and his mother, who died when he was fifteen, wanted him to become a rabbi (a Jewish master or teacher). After her death he drifted away from religious study and began to read a wide variety of books. He quickly decided he wanted to be a writer.
After two years at the University of Chicago, Bellow transferred to Northwestern University and obtained a bachelor's degree in anthropology (the study of the origins and behavior of human beings) in 1937. He had wanted to study English literature but was warned that many universities would not hire Jewish professors to teach the subject. Four months after enrolling as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, he quit school forever.
During the next decade Bellow held a variety of writing jobs—with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Writers' Project, the editorial department of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, and the Merchant Marine. His first story was published in 1941, and he published two novels. Dangling Man (1944), in the form of a journal, concerns a young Chicagoan waiting to be drafted into military service. The Victim (1947), a more ambitious work, describes a New Yorker struggling with domestic and religious conflicts. Both novels received mixed reviews.
After World War II (1939–45) Bellow joined the University of Minnesota English Department, spent a year in Paris, France, and Rome, Italy, and taught briefly at New York University, Princeton University, and Bard College. Above all, however, he concentrated on writing fiction. With the publication of The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Bellow won his first National Book Award. Bellow followed it in 1956 with Seize the Day, a collection of three short stories, a one-act play, and a novella (a short novel or long short story). The novella, the title of which is also the title of the volume, is about one day in the life of a middle-aged New Yorker facing a major domestic crisis. Some critics feel that this collection was Bellow's finest work.
In Henderson the Rain King (1959) Bellow described an American millionaire's flight from a tangled marriage and his adventures in Africa. His next novel, Herzog (1964), won him a second National Book Award and international fame. It portrays Moses Herzog, a middle-aged university professor, and his battles with his faithless wife, his friend, and himself. Through a series of unmailed letters, many of them highly comic, Herzog finally resolves his struggles by achieving self-control.
In 1962 Bellow became a professor at the University of Chicago, a post that allowed him to continue writing fiction and plays. The Last Analysis had a brief run on Broadway in 1964. Six short stories, collected in Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968), and his sixth novel, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1969), elevated Bellow's reputation. Humboldt's Gift (1975) added the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bellow's list of awards.
Bellow's later novels did not receive the same praise. The Dean's December (1982) and More Die of Heartbreak (1987) retained his style, but some disliked the bitter tone that had never shown up in previous Bellow works. After 1987 Bellow released a number of novellas that met with similarly mixed reviews. Despite the coolness toward his later work, Bellow's best fiction has been compared to the Russian masters, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) and Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881). Robert Penn Warren's review of Augie March in The New Republic in 1953 sums up reaction to his work: "It is, in a way, a tribute … to point out the faults of Saul Bellow's novel, for the faults merely make the virtues more impressive."
In 1995 Bellow nearly died after eating poisonous fish in the Caribbean. After a long, slow recovery, he wrote Ravelstein, a novel, which was released in 2000. Also in the year 2000 he was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the New Yorker, and he became a father for the fourth time, at age eighty-four, when his fifth wife gave birth to a daughter.
For More Information
Atlas, James. Bellow: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2000.
Hyland, Peter. Saul Bellow. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Miller, Ruth. Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
An American author of fiction, essays, and drama, Saul Bellow (born 1915) reached the first rank of contemporary fiction with his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March.
Saul Bellow, born of Russian immigrant parents in Lachine, Quebec, on July 10, 1915, grew up in Montreal, where he learned Hebrew, Yiddish, and French as well as English. When he was nine his family moved to Chicago, and to this city Bellow remained deeply devoted. After two years at the University of Chicago, Bellow transferred to Northwestern University and obtained a bachelor of science degree in 1937. Four months after enrolling as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, he fled formal education forever.
During the next decade Bellow held a variety of jobs— with the WPA Writers Project, the editorial department of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, and the Merchant Marine. More importantly, he published two novels, both with autobiographical overtones. Dangling Man (1944), in the form of a journal, concerns a young Chicagoan waiting to be drafted into military service. The Victim (1947), a more ambitious work, describes the frustrations of a New Yorker seeking to discover and preserve his own identity against the background of domestic and religious (Gentile versus Jewish) conflicts. Neither novel was heralded as exceptional by contemporary critics.
After World War II Bellow joined the University of Minnesota English Department, spent a year in Paris and Rome as a Guggenheim fellow, and taught briefly at New York University, Princeton University, and Bard College. Above all, however, he concentrated on writing fiction. With the publication of The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Bellow won his first National Book Award. A lengthy, free-form liberating story of a young Chicago Jew growing up absurd, Augie March combines comic zest and a narrative virtuosity rare in any decade. Bellow followed it in 1956 with Seize the Day, which is a collection of three short stories, a one-act play, and the novella that gives the title to the volume—a tautly written description of one day in the life of a middle-aged New Yorker facing a major domestic crisis. Some critics feel that Bellow never surpassed this novella.
Devotees of Henderson the Rain King (1959) enjoyed Bellow's return to a more free-flowing manner in describing an American millionaire's search to understand the human condition in his flight from a tangled marital arrangement and his adventures in Africa. His next novel, Herzog (1964), won him a second National Book Award and an international reputation. Doubtlessly based on personal sources, it portrays Moses Herzog, a middle-aged university professor, and his battles with his faithless wife Madeline, his friend Valentine Gersbach, and his own alienated self. Through a series of unposted letters, many of them highly comic, Herzog finally resolves his struggles, not in marital reconciliation but in rational acceptance and self-control.
In 1962 Bellow became a professor at the University of Chicago, a post which allowed him to continue writing fiction and plays. The Last Analysis had a brief run on Broadway in 1964. Six short stories, collected in Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968), and his sixth novel, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1969), elevated Bellow's reputation to the point where one critic wrote that if Bellow was not the most important American novelist, then whoever was had better announce himself quickly. Some critics called him the successor of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
Humboldt's Gift (1975) added the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bellow's list of awards and led Frank McConnell to observe that his books "form a consistent, carefully nurtured oeuvre not often encountered in the works of American writers." In her glowing review of his short story collection, Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984), Cynthia Ozick declared: "these five ravishing stories honor and augment his genius."
Bellow's later novels have not received the same unequivocal praise. The Dean's December (1982) and More Die of Heartbreak (1987) retained his distinctive style but some believed the cynicism of the characters signaled a lessening of Bellow's own trademark humanism.
Since 1987, Bellow has released a number of novellas: A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), Something to Remember Me By (1991), and The Actual (1997). These works have met with similarly mixed reviews.
Despite the recent coolness towards his work, Bellow's place in American literature seems secure, most notably for his ability to combine social commentary with sharply drawn characters. His best fiction has been compared to the Russian masters, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
Robert Penn Warren's review of Augie March in The New Republic in 1953 seems to sum up subsequent reaction to his work: "It is, in a way, a tribute, though a backhanded one, to point out the faults of Saul Bellow's novel, for the faults merely make the virtues more impressive."
Full-length studies of Saul Bellow include Keith Michael Opdahl, The Novels of Saul Bellow: An Introduction (1967); John Jacob Clayton, Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man (1968); and Irving Malin, Saul Bellow's Fiction (1969). Useful introductory essays are Tony Tanner, Saul Bellow (1965); Earl Rovit, Saul Bellow (1967); and Robert Detweiler, Saul Bellow: A Critical Essay (1967). Irving Malin edited a collection of 12 essays, Saul Bellow and the Critics (1967). Another essay collection, edited by Harold Bloom, is Saul Bellow (1986). □
BELLOW, Saul. American (born Canada), b. 1915. Genres: Novels, Plays/Screenplays, Literary criticism and history, Novellas/Short stories. Career: Professor, Committee on Social Thought, 1962-, and Raymond W. and Martha Gruiner Distinguished Services Professor, University of Chicago. Teacher, Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College, Chicago, 1938-42; Member, Editorial Dept., Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, 1943-46; Instructor, 1946, Assistant Professor of English, 1948-49, and Associate Professor, 1954-59, Univ, of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Visiting Lecturer, New York University, NYC, 1950-52; Creative Writing Fellow, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1952-53; Member of English faculty, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1953-54; Founding Ed., Nobel Savage mag., Chicago, 1960-62. Publications: Dangling Man, 1944; The Victim, 1945; The Adventures of Augie March, 1953; Seize the Day, with Three Short Stories and a One-Act Play, 1956; Henderson the Rain King, 1959; (with C. Zervos) Dessins, 1960; Recent American Fiction; A Lecture, 1963; (ed.) Great Jewish Short Stories, 1963; The Last Analysis (play), 1964; Herzog, 1964 (National Book Award); Like You're Nobody: The Letters of Louis Gallo to Saul Bellow, 1961-62, plus Oedipus Schmoedipus, the Story that Started It All, 1966; Under the Weather (in U.K. as The Bellow Plays), 1966; Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, 1968; Mr. Sammler's Planet, 1970 (National Book Award); The Future of the Moon, 1970; The Portable Saul Bellow, 1974; Technology and the Frontiers of Knowledge, 1974; Humboldt's Gift, 1975 (Pultizer Prize, 1976); To Jerusalem and Back, 1976; The Dean's December, 1982; Him with His Foot in His Mouth (short stories), 1984; More Die of Heartbreak, 1987; A Theft, 1989; The Bellarosa Connection, 1989; Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales, 1991; It All Adds Up (essays), 1994; The Actual (novella), 1997; Ravelstein (novel), 2000; Collected Fiction, 2001. Address: 1126 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637, U.S.A.