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Saul Bellow Biography

(1915–2005), Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day


American novelist, born in Lachine, Quebec, to Russian emigrant parents; he grew up in a Jewish ghetto in Montreal before moving to Chicago when he was nine. He was educated at the universities of Chicago, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. He has since taught English at a number of colleges, and served in the Merchant Marines during the Second World War. Since 1944 he has been a leading exponent of realism and an articulate voice of humanism in the USA, with his comic and tragic explorations of the modern predicament. His first novel, Dangling Man (1944), prepared many of the recurrent themes of his work, with its detailed study of a man suspended between civilian and military life. This study of isolation and philosophical investigation recurs in later novels, including The Victim (1947), in which Asa Leventhal finds himself locked in a system of anti-Semitic victimization and torment with Kirby Allbee. The Adventures of Augie March (1953) brought him his first major success, with a tale of a Chicago boy battling through a life of difficulty and antagonism. After Seize the Day (1956), which clearly sets out Bellow's humanist aim to reinstitute the self against its annihilation, came Henderson the Rain King (1959). This novel provides one of the characteristic sentences from Bellow's work, that ‘there are displaced persons everywhere’, a notion upon which his writing works a series of variations. Set in a Jewish milieu, Herzog (1964) presents the dilemmas and crises which assail a middle-aged intellectual as he adjusts to cultural assimilation into Western Christian life. A series of plays, The Last Analysis (1965) and Out from Under, A Wen, and Orange Soufflé, collected in Under the Weather (1966), was followed by Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968). Mr Sammler's Planet (1970) criticizes the weaknesses of modern society through the eyes of a concentration camp survivor as he undergoes the trials of living in contemporary New York. Humboldt's Gift (1975; Pulitzer Prize) was followed by To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976), a travelogue. The Dean's December (1982) offers a sour vision of the contemporary USA and Eastern Europe, as both encroach upon the central character of the novel. In this novel there is a strongly apocalyptic note, as Bellow became more convinced that the USA was being overhauled by forces which threatened the sanctity of the individual. In more recent years, this pessimism has led him to espouse increasingly conservative views. At the same time the tension between religious and secular concerns which has echoed through the novels seems now to fall on the side of examining human reason as though it were strictly limited in its efficacy. His prose style has moved towards a richness which belies his early comment that he wished his work to be viewed simply as entertainment. Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984) was followed by More Die of Heart Break (1987), about a marriage between two apparently incompatible people, and The Bellarosa Connection (1989), a novel about a Jewish immigrant into the USA, while Something To Remember Me By (1991) collects three stories. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais Biography to Michel Bibaud Biography