Saul Bellow Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Lachine, Quebec, Canada, 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. 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.
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.
"Address by Gooley MacDowell to the Hasbeens Club of Chicago," in Nelson Algren's Book of Lonesome Monsters, edited by Nelson Algren. New York, Lancer, 1962; London, Panther, 1964.
"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.
Scenes from Humanitas: A Farce, in Partisan Review (New Brunswick, New Jersey), Summer 1962.
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.
Nobel Lecture. Stockholm, United States Information Service, 1977.
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.