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Herzog

novel frustrated wife madeleine

a novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1964. Moses Elkanah Herzog, a frustrated moderately successful university lecturer on the brink of divorce from Madeleine, his attractive yet destructive second wife, reaches a point of near insanity and neurosis. In an effort to explore his failure to be happy, he bombards his friends, his family, even famous people dead and alive like Napoleon, the American President, and Spinoza (with whom Herzog closely identifies), with a stream of letters on current public issues. Feeling that he is trapped as a ‘prisoner of perception, a compulsory witness’, he negotiates with a changing self-image which centres particularly on his Jewish heritage. Having been totally assimilated into Western Christian culture, the disintegration of his life causes Herzog to reconsider his present existence in relation to his past tradition. Labouring under the illusion that Madeleine and her lover are mistreating his daughter, Herzog rushes to Chicago determined to murder his ex-wife. Frustrated in his plans, he returns to New England and lapses into a pervading and satisfactory quietness based on silence towards the issues of the day, the novel closing with the words, ‘At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word.’

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