Photo portrait of Bellow from the dust jacket of Herzog (1964)
10 June 1915
Lachine, Quebec, Canada
|Died||5 April 2005 89) (aged|
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Alma mater|| University of Chicago |
University of Wisconsin
|Notable awards|| Nobel Prize in Literature |
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
National Medal of Arts
National Book Award
1954, 1965, 1971
Saul Bellow (born Solomon Bellows; 10 June 1915 – 5 April 2005) was a Canadian-American writer. For his literary work, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction three times and he received the National Book Foundation's lifetime Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1990.
In the words of the Swedish Nobel Committee, his writing exhibited "the mixture of rich picaresque novel and subtle analysis of our culture, of entertaining adventure, drastic and tragic episodes in quick succession interspersed with philosophic conversation, all developed by a commentator with a witty tongue and penetrating insight into the outer and inner complications that drive us to act, or prevent us from acting, and that can be called the dilemma of our age."His best-known works include The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King , Herzog , Mr. Sammler's Planet , Seize the Day , Humboldt's Gift and Ravelstein . Bellow was widely regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest authors.
Bellow said that of all his characters, Eugene Henderson, of Henderson the Rain King , was the one most like himself.Bellow grew up as an immigrant from Quebec. As Christopher Hitchens describes it, Bellow's fiction and principal characters reflect his own yearning for transcendence, a battle "to overcome not just ghetto conditions but also ghetto psychoses." Bellow's protagonists, in one shape or another, all wrestle with what Albert Corde, the dean in The Dean's December, called "the big-scale insanities of the 20th century." This transcendence of the "unutterably dismal" (a phrase from Dangling Man ) is achieved, if it can be achieved at all, through a "ferocious assimilation of learning" (Hitchens) and an emphasis on nobility.
Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellowsin Lachine, Quebec, two years after his parents, Lescha (née Gordin) and Abraham Bellows, emigrated from Saint Petersburg, Russia. He had three elder siblings - sister Zelda (later Jane, born in 1907), brothers Moishe (later Maurice, born in 1908) and Schmuel (later Samuel, born in 1911). Bellow's family was Lithuanian-Jewish; his father was born in Vilnius. Bellow celebrated his birthday in June, although he may have been born in July (in the Jewish community, it was customary to record the Hebrew date of birth, which does not always coincide with the Gregorian calendar). Of his family's emigration, Bellow wrote:
The retrospective was strong in me because of my parents. They were both full of the notion that they were falling, falling. They had been prosperous cosmopolitans in Saint Petersburg. My mother could never stop talking about the family dacha, her privileged life, and how all that was now gone. She was working in the kitchen. Cooking, washing, mending ... There had been servants in Russia ... But you could always transpose from your humiliating condition with the help of a sort of embittered irony.
A period of illness from a respiratory infection at age eight both taught him self-reliance (he was a very fit man despite his sedentary occupation) and provided an opportunity to satisfy his hunger for reading: reportedly, he decided to be a writer when he first read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
When Bellow was nine, his family moved to the Humboldt Park neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, the city that formed the backdrop of many of his novels.Bellow's father, Abraham, had become an onion importer. He also worked in a bakery, as a coal delivery man, and as a bootlegger. Bellow's mother, Liza, died when he was 17. She had been deeply religious and wanted her youngest son, Saul, to become a rabbi or a concert violinist. But he rebelled against what he later called the "suffocating orthodoxy" of his religious upbringing, and he began writing at a young age. Bellow's lifelong love for the Bible began at four when he learned Hebrew. Bellow also grew up reading Shakespeare and the great Russian novelists of the 19th century. In Chicago, he took part in anthroposophical studies at the Anthroposophical Society of Chicago. Bellow attended Tuley High School on Chicago's west side where he befriended fellow writer Isaac Rosenfeld. In his 1959 novel Henderson the Rain King , Bellow modeled the character King Dahfu on Rosenfeld.
Bellow attended the University of Chicago but later transferred to Northwestern University. He originally wanted to study literature, but he felt the English department was anti-Jewish. Instead, he graduated with honors in anthropology and sociology. [ citation needed ] Bellow later did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin.It has been suggested Bellow's study of anthropology had an influence on his literary style, and anthropological references pepper his works.
Paraphrasing Bellow's description of his close friend Allan Bloom (see Ravelstein ), John Podhoretz has said that both Bellow and Bloom "inhaled books and ideas the way the rest of us breathe air."
In the 1930s, Bellow was part of the Chicago branch of the Works Progress Administration Writer's Project, which included such future Chicago literary luminaries as Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. Many of the writers were radical: if they were not members of the Communist Party USA, they were sympathetic to the cause. Bellow was a Trotskyist, but because of the greater numbers of Stalinist-leaning writers he had to suffer their taunts.
In 1941 Bellow became a naturalized US citizen, after discovering upon attempting to enlist in the armed forces that he had immigrated to the United States illegally as a child.In 1943, Maxim Lieber was his literary agent.
During World War II, Bellow joined the merchant marine and during his service he completed his first novel, Dangling Man (1944) about a young Chicago man waiting to be drafted for the war.
From 1946 through 1948 Bellow taught at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 1947, following a tour to promote his novel The Victim , he moved into a large old house at 58 Orlin Street SE in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.
In 1948, Bellow was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to move to Paris, where he began writing The Adventures of Augie March (1953). Critics have remarked on the resemblance between Bellow's picaresque novel and the great 17th Century Spanish classic Don Quixote .The book starts with one of American literature's most famous opening paragraphs, and it follows its titular character through a series of careers and encounters, as he lives by his wits and his resolve. Written in a colloquial yet philosophical style, The Adventures of Augie March established Bellow's reputation as a major author.
In 1958, Bellow once again taught at the University of Minnesota. During this time, he and his wife Sasha received psychoanalysis from University of Minnesota Psychology Professor Paul Meehl.
In the spring term of 1961 he taught creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras.One of his students was William Kennedy, who was encouraged by Bellow to write fiction.
Bellow lived in New York City for a number of years, but he returned to Chicago in 1962 as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. The committee's goal was to have professors work closely with talented graduate students on a multi-disciplinary approach to learning. Bellow taught on the committee for more than 30 years, alongside his close friend, the philosopher Allan Bloom.
There were also other reasons for Bellow's return to Chicago, where he moved into the Hyde Park neighborhood with his third wife, Susan Glassman. Bellow found Chicago vulgar but vital, and more representative of America than New York.He was able to stay in contact with old high school friends and a broad cross-section of society. In a 1982 profile, Bellow's neighborhood was described as a high-crime area in the city's center, and Bellow maintained he had to live in such a place as a writer and "stick to his guns."
Bellow hit the bestseller list in 1964 with his novel Herzog . Bellow was surprised at the commercial success of this cerebral novel about a middle-aged and troubled college professor who writes letters to friends, scholars and the dead, but never sends them. Bellow returned to his exploration of mental instability, and its relationship to genius, in his 1975 novel Humboldt's Gift . Bellow used his late friend and rival, the brilliant but self-destructive poet Delmore Schwartz, as his model for the novel's title character, Von Humboldt Fleisher.Bellow also used Rudolf Steiner's spiritual science, anthroposophy, as a theme in the book, having attended a study group in Chicago. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1969.
Propelled by the success of Humboldt's Gift, Bellow won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1976. In the 70-minute address he gave to an audience in Stockholm, Sweden, Bellow called on writers to be beacons for civilization and awaken it from intellectual torpor.
The following year, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Bellow for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Bellow's lecture was entitled "The Writer and His Country Look Each Other Over."
From December 1981 to March 1982, Bellow was the Visiting Lansdowne Scholar at the University of Victoria (B.C.),and also held the title Writer-in-Residence.
Bellow traveled widely throughout his life, mainly to Europe, which he sometimes visited twice a year.As a young man, Bellow went to Mexico City to meet Leon Trotsky, but the expatriate Russian revolutionary was assassinated the day before they were to meet. Bellow's social contacts were wide and varied. He tagged along with Robert F. Kennedy for a magazine profile he never wrote, and was close friends with the author Ralph Ellison. His many friends included the journalist Sydney J. Harris and the poet John Berryman.
While sales of Bellow's first few novels were modest, that turned around with Herzog . Bellow continued teaching well into his old age, enjoying its human interaction and exchange of ideas. He taught at Yale University, University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton University, University of Puerto Rico, University of Chicago, Bard College and Boston University, where he co-taught a class with James Wood ('modestly absenting himself' when it was time to discuss Seize the Day). In order to take up his appointment at Boston, Bellow moved in 1993 from Chicago to Brookline, Massachusetts, where he died on 5 April 2005, at age 89. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery Shir HeHarim of Brattleboro, Vermont.
While he read voluminously, Bellow also played the violin and followed sports. Work was a constant for him, but he at times toiled at a plodding pace on his novels, frustrating the publishing company.
His early works earned him the reputation as a major novelist of the 20th century, and by his death he was widely regarded as one of the greatest living novelists.He was the first writer to win three National Book Awards in all award categories. His friend and protege Philip Roth has said of him, "The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists—William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century." James Wood, in a eulogy of Bellow in The New Republic , wrote:
I judged all modern prose by his. Unfair, certainly, because he made even the fleet-footed—the Updikes, the DeLillos, the Roths—seem like monopodes. Yet what else could I do? I discovered Saul Bellow's prose in my late teens, and henceforth, the relationship had the quality of a love affair about which one could not keep silent. Over the last week, much has been said about Bellow's prose, and most of the praise—perhaps because it has been overwhelmingly by men—has tended toward the robust: We hear about Bellow's mixing of high and low registers, his Melvillean cadences jostling the jivey Yiddish rhythms, the great teeming democracy of the big novels, the crooks and frauds and intellectuals who loudly people the brilliant sensorium of the fiction. All of this is true enough; John Cheever, in his journals, lamented that, alongside Bellow's fiction, his stories seemed like mere suburban splinters. Ian McEwan wisely suggested last week that British writers and critics may have been attracted to Bellow precisely because he kept alive a Dickensian amplitude now lacking in the English novel. ... But nobody mentioned the beauty of this writing, its music, its high lyricism, its firm but luxurious pleasure in language itself. ... [I]n truth, I could not thank him enough when he was alive, and I cannot now.
Bellow was married five times, with all but his last marriage ending in divorce. His son by his first marriage, Greg Bellow, became a psychotherapist; Greg Bellow published Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir in 2013, nearly a decade after his father's death.Bellow's son by his second marriage, Adam, published a nonfiction book In Praise of Nepotism in 2003. Bellow's wives were Anita Goshkin, Alexandra (Sondra) Tsachacbasov, Susan Glassman, Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea, and Janis Freedman. In 2000, when he was 84, Bellow had his fourth child and first daughter, with Freedman.
The author's works speak to the disorienting nature of modern civilization, and the countervailing ability of humans to overcome their frailty and achieve greatness (or at least awareness). Bellow saw many flaws in modern civilization, and its ability to foster madness, materialism and misleading knowledge.Principal characters in Bellow's fiction have heroic potential, and many times they stand in contrast to the negative forces of society. Often these characters are Jewish and have a sense of alienation or otherness.
Jewish life and identity is a major theme in Bellow's work, although he bristled at being called a "Jewish writer." Bellow's work also shows a great appreciation of America, and a fascination with the uniqueness and vibrancy of the American experience.
Bellow's work abounds in references and quotes from the likes of Marcel Proust and Henry James, but he offsets these high-culture references with jokes.Bellow interspersed autobiographical elements into his fiction, and many of his principal characters were said to bear a resemblance to him.
This section contains too many or overly lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (June 2019)
Martin Amis described Bellow as "The greatest American author ever, in my view".
His sentences seem to weigh more than anyone else's. He is like a force of nature ... He breaks all the rules ... [T]he people in Bellow's fiction are real people, yet the intensity of the gaze that he bathes them in, somehow through the particular, opens up into the universal.
For Linda Grant, "What Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive."
His vigour, vitality, humour and passion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left, which had begun to disgust him by the Sixties ... It's easy to be a 'writer of conscience'—anyone can do it if they want to; just choose your cause. Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual's urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.
On the other hand, Bellow's detractors considered his work conventional and old-fashioned, as if the author were trying to revive the 19th-century European novel. In a private letter, Vladimir Nabokov once referred to Bellow as a "miserable mediocrity."Journalist and author Ron Rosenbaum described Bellow's Ravelstein (2000) as the only book that rose above Bellow's failings as an author. Rosenbaum wrote,
My problem with the pre-Ravelstein Bellow is that he all too often strains too hard to yoke together two somewhat contradictory aspects of his being and style. There's the street-wise Windy City wiseguy and then—as if to show off that the wiseguy has Wisdom—there are the undigested chunks of arcane, not entirely impressive, philosophic thought and speculation. Just to make sure you know his novels have intellectual heft. That the world and the flesh in his prose are both figured and transfigured.
Sam Tanenhaus wrote in New York Times Book Review in 2007:
But what, then, of the many defects—the longueurs and digressions, the lectures on anthroposophy and religion, the arcane reading lists? What of the characters who don't change or grow but simply bristle onto the page, even the colorful lowlifes pontificating like fevered students in the seminars Bellow taught at the University of Chicago? And what of the punitively caricatured ex-wives drawn from the teeming annals of the novelist's own marital discord?
But Tanenhaus went on to answer his question:
Shortcomings, to be sure. But so what? Nature doesn't owe us perfection. Novelists don't either. Who among us would even recognize perfection if we saw it? In any event, applying critical methods, of whatever sort, seemed futile in the case of an author who, as Randall Jarrell once wrote of Walt Whitman, 'is a world, a waste with, here and there, systems blazing at random out of the darkness'—those systems 'as beautifully and astonishingly organized as the rings and satellites of Saturn.'
V. S. Pritchett praised Bellow, finding his shorter works to be his best. Pritchett called Bellow's novella Seize the Day a "small gray masterpiece."
As he grew older, Bellow moved decidedly away from leftist politics and became identified with cultural conservatism.His opponents included feminism, campus activism and postmodernism. Bellow also thrust himself into the often contentious realm of Jewish and African-American relations. Bellow was critical of multiculturalism and according to Alfred Kazin once said: "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans? I'd be glad to read him." Bellow distanced himself somewhat from these remarks, which he characterized as "off the cuff obviously and pedantic certainly." He, however, stood by his criticism of multiculturalism, writing:
In any reasonably open society, the absurdity of a petty thought-police campaign provoked by the inane magnification of "discriminatory" remarks about the Papuans and the Zulus would be laughed at. To be serious in this fanatical style is a sort of Stalinism – the Stalinist seriousness and fidelity to the party line that senior citizens like me remember all too well.
Despite his identification with Chicago, he kept aloof from some of that city's more conventional writers. In a 2006 interview with Stop Smiling magazine, Studs Terkel said of Bellow: "I didn't know him too well. We disagreed on a number of things politically. In the protests in the beginning of Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, when Mailer, Robert Lowell and Paul Goodman were marching to protest the Vietnam War, Bellow was invited to a sort of counter-gathering. He said, 'Of course I'll attend'. But he made a big thing of it. Instead of just saying OK, he was proud of it. So I wrote him a letter and he didn't like it. He wrote me a letter back. He called me a Stalinist. But otherwise, we were friendly. He was a brilliant writer, of course. I love Seize the Day."
Attempts to name a street after Bellow in his Hyde Park neighborhood were scotched by local alderman on the grounds that Bellow had made remarks about the neighborhood's current inhabitants that they considered racist.A one-block stretch of West Augusta Boulevard in Humboldt Park was named Saul Bellow Way in his honor instead.
Bellow is represented in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery with six portraits, including a photograph by Irving Penn,a painting by Sarah Yuster, a bust by Sara Miller, and drawings by Edward Sorel and Arthur Herschel Lidov. A copy of the Miller bust was installed at the Harold Washington Library Center in 1993. Bellow's papers are held at the library of the University of Chicago.
Allan David Bloom was an American philosopher, classicist, and academician. He studied under David Grene, Leo Strauss, Richard McKeon, and Alexandre Kojève. He subsequently taught at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, Tel Aviv University, Yale University, École Normale Supérieure of Paris, and the University of Chicago. Bloom championed the idea of Great Books education and became famous for his criticism of contemporary American higher education, with his views being expressed in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind. Characterized as a conservative in the popular media, Bloom denied that he was a conservative, and asserted that what he sought to defend was the "theoretical life". Saul Bellow wrote Ravelstein, a roman à clef based on Bloom, his friend and colleague at the University of Chicago.
Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist and short-story writer.
Edgar Lawrence Doctorow was an American novelist, editor, and professor, best known internationally for his works of historical fiction. He has been described as one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century.
Bernard Malamud was an American novelist and short story writer. Along with Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, and Philip Roth, he was one of the best known American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in the Russian Empire, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Henderson the Rain King is a 1959 novel by Saul Bellow. The book's blend of philosophical discourse and comic adventure has helped make it one of his more popular works.
Herzog is a 1964 novel by Saul Bellow, composed in large part of letters from the protagonist Moses E. Herzog. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the Prix International. In 2005, Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels in the English language since Time's founding in 1923.
Viking Press is an American publishing company now owned by Penguin Random House. It was founded in New York City on March 1, 1925, by Harold K. Guinzburg and George S. Oppenheim and then acquired by the Penguin Group in 1975.
James Douglas Graham Wood is an English literary critic, essayist and novelist.
Humboldt's Gift is a 1975 novel by Canadian-American author Saul Bellow. It won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and contributed to Bellow's winning the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year.
Norman Manea, is a Romanian writer and author of short fiction, novels, and essays about the Holocaust, daily life in a communist state, and exile. He lives in the United States, where he is a Professor and writer in residence at Bard College.
Pascal Avram "Pat" Covici was a Romanian Jewish-American book publisher and editor, best known for his close associations with authors such as John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, and many more noted American literary figures, many through his position at Viking Press.
The Adventures of Augie March is a picaresque novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1953 by Viking Press. It features the eponymous Augie March who grows up during the Great Depression and it is an example of Bildungsroman, tracing the development of an individual through a series of encounters, occupations and relationships from boyhood to manhood.
Edward Albert Shils was a Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and in Sociology at the University of Chicago and an influential sociologist. He was known for his research on the role of intellectuals and their relations to power and public policy. His work was honored in 1983 when he was awarded the Balzan Prize. In 1979, he was selected by the National Council on the Humanities to give the Jefferson Lecture, the highest award given by the U.S. federal government for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.
Jewish American literature holds an essential place in the literary history of the United States. It encompasses traditions of writing in English, primarily, as well as in other languages, the most important of which has been Yiddish. While critics and authors generally acknowledge the notion of a distinctive corpus and practice of writing about Jewishness in America, many writers resist being pigeonholed as "Jewish voices." Also, many nominally Jewish writers cannot be considered representative of Jewish American literature, one example being Isaac Asimov.
The death of the novel is the common name for the theoretical discussion of the declining importance of the novel as literary form. Many 20th century authors entered into the debate, often sharing their ideas in their own fiction and non-fiction writings.
Mr. Sammler's Planet is a 1970 novel by the American author Saul Bellow. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1971.
Irving Malin was an American literary critic. Malin attended Thomas Jefferson High School and Jamaica High School and graduated magna cum laude from Queens College in 1955 and received his PhD from Stanford University in 1958. He married Ruth Lief in 1955 and they remained married until his death. He taught at the City College of New York from 1960 until his retirement in 1996. Malin did his dissertation on the fiction of William Faulkner and made his initial academic mark as a critic of American Jewish Literature, editing an early collection on the fiction of Saul Bellow as well as a critical book and a general anthology on Jewish literature in the US. He subsequently became interested in writers who practiced innovative techniques such as James Purdy and John Hawkes as well as writers who broke down the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction such as William Styron and Truman Capote. One of the pioneering academics to take an interest in metafiction and experimental writing, Malin was an early contributor to the Review of Contemporary Fiction, writing over five hundred book reviews for this and other publications. In the latter portion of his career, Malin edited several anthologies of essays on Henry James, Thomas Pynchon, William Goyen, George Garrett, Don DeLillo, Vladimir Nabokov, Leslie Fiedler, and William Gass. He was a fellow at Yaddo and the Huntington Library and served on many boards and award panels. Malin died December 3, 2014.
Benjamin Taylor is an American writer whose work has appeared in a number of publications including The Atlantic, Harper's, Esquire, Bookforum, BOMB, the Los Angeles Times, Le Monde, The Georgia Review, Raritan Quarterly Review, Threepenny Review, Salmagundi, Provincetown Arts and The Reading Room. He is a founding member of the Graduate Writing Program faculty of The New School in New York City, and has also taught at Washington University in St. Louis, the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y, Bennington College and Columbia University. He has served as Secretary of the Board of Trustees of PEN American Center, has been a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and was awarded the Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger Residency at Yaddo. A Trustee of the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Inc., he is also a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University and a Guggenheim Fellow for 2012 - 2013. Taylor's biography of Marcel Proust, Proust: The Search, was published in October 2015 by Yale University Press as part of its newly launched Yale Jewish Lives series.
Chicago literature is writing, primarily by writers born or living in Chicago, that reflects the culture of the city.
John Jacob Clayton is an American fiction writer, teacher, and editor. He has published four novels including Mitzvah Man, and Kuperman’s Fire, as well as five collections of short fiction including Minyan: Ten Interwoven Stories and Many Seconds into the Future. He was editor for the Heath Introduction to Fiction, a college anthology published in six editions from 1977 to 1999.
... Puerto Rico, where he was spending the spring term of 1961.
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