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Saul Bellow Saul Bellow
by The Ovi Team
2017-06-10 10:05:59
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June 10th 1915 born Canadian-born American writer Nobelist Saul Bellow. For his literary contributions, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to have won the National Book Award three times, and the only writer to have been nominated for it six times.

soul01_400_01In the words of the Swedish Nobel Committee, his writing exhibited "exuberant ideas, flashing irony, hilarious comedy and burning compassion... 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, Herzog, Mr. Sammler's Planet, Seize the Day, Humboldt's Gift and Ravelstein. Widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest authors, Bellow has had a "huge literary influence."

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 to be 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.

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."
 
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, he was close friends with the author Ralph Ellison and he rubbed shoulders with Chicago gangsters. 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 theYale University University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton University, the University of Puerto Rico, the 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 April 5, 2005, at age 89. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery Shir HeHarim of Brattleboro, Vermont.

Bellow was married five times, with all but his last marriage ending in divorce. His son by his second marriage, Adam, published a nonfiction book In Praise of Nepotism in 2003. Bellow's wives were Anita Goshkin, Alexandra Tsachacbasov, Susan Glassman, Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea and Janis Freedman. In 1999, when he was 84, Bellow had a daughter, his fourth child, with Freedman. 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 one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, and by his death he was widely regarded to be one of the greatest living novelists. He was the first novelist to win the National Book Award three times. 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.

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.


    
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Emanuel Paparella2010-06-10 17:07:54
Bellow, one of my favorite novelist, was never part of the academic bubble, even though he thrived in it and therefor his depections of the bizarre in academic life is always objective as well funny. He once quipped: I tried many times to write a Ph.D. dissertation but could never finish because it turned into a novel. I guess he was too close to life to stay within theory for too long.


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