Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: In writing nine novels and numerous short stories and articles over several decades, Bellow, as an American writer, has achieved international recognition signified only in part by his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.
Saul Bellow was born in 1915, in Lachine, Canada, the fourth child of religious Jewish parents who had emigrated two years earlier from Russia. He grew up speaking English, French, Yiddish, and Hebrew. At the age of nine, he moved with his family to Chicago, where he spent all of his spare hours in the public libraries. By the time he entered Tuley High School, he had already made his first efforts at writing fiction. After graduation in 1933, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, transferring two years later to Northwestern University, where he founded a Socialist club and received, in 1937, a bachelor’s degree with honors in anthropology and sociology.
He entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin but soon dropped out. On December 31, 1937, he married Anita Goshkin, a social worker; they would have one child, Gregory, born some years later. Bellow had continued to write since high school, publishing his first story in 1941. He also wrote biographies of American authors for the Works Progress Administration Writers Project and participated in Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books” program for the Encyclopœdia Britannica. He also did some teaching. In 1944, his first novel, Dangling Man, and in 1947, his second, The Victim, were published. The novels had a mixed critical reception but were highly regarded by antiestablishment intellectuals, especially for their existentialist themes and apparent European influences, notably that of Fyodor Dostoevski.
A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1948, allowing him to begin work on his next novel, launched young Bellow on his brilliant career—a career more successful, perhaps, than that of any other contemporary American writer. Yet as often happens with successful people, Bellow’s private life was turbulent: Soon his marriage to Anita failed, and, following an unfriendly divorce, he remarried—a pattern he would repeat twice more in twenty years. His dark and beautiful wives, with all of their faults and virtues, would find their way into his novels, as would Bellow himself. The characters representing the author were often larger and stronger than Bellow, but not necessarily more handsome. Bellow has deep-set brown eyes, a “theatrically chiseled” nose, and hair that turned to silver somewhat prematurely. He has been described as physically slight and boyish, about five feet nine inches tall—weighing perhaps 150 pounds in his younger years—but others have noted a certain athletic quality in his build, with a very sturdy chest. Altogether, these physical and psychological aspects of Bellow’s life offer an unexpected parallel to those of Ernest Hemingway, a writer whose influence on Bellow was not great.
Bellow’s first important success was The Adventures of Augie March, published in 1953—a partly autobiographical Bildungsroman, modeled in part on its picaresque predecessor, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). This exuberant, stylistically innovative novel was both a best-seller and a critical success, and after thirty-five years remains a favorite among Bellow’s extremely broad and varied readership. For this work, he won the National Book Award for Fiction, the first of three such awards he would receive. In 1955, he received a second Guggenheim Fellowship, and the following year he married Alexandra Tschacbasov; they had one child, Adam.
Bellow’s novella, Seize the Day, was published in 1956, together with three stories and a one-act play. The style of Seize the Day is beautifully sparse and tight (in marked contrast to the sprawling energy of The Adventures of Augie March); Bellow delineates the defeat of middle-aged Tommy Wilhelm, jobless, penniless, his marriage a failure. The concluding paragraphs are as famous as any in contemporary literature. Tommy chances into a funeral parlor, stands by the coffin of a stranger, and begins to weep. “Soon he was past words, past reason, coherence. He could not stop. The source of all tears had suddenly sprung open within him. . . .” The controlled emotional power of this novella places it in contrast to most of Bellow’s other works, which tend to be dominated by intellectual argument.
Bellow himself has said his own favorite among his writings is Henderson the Rain King, published in 1959. It is a deliberately composed “quest romance” that...
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Saul Bellow was born in 1915 to Russian parents who had emigrated to Quebec, Canada. Solomon Bellows, as the child was called, spent the first years of his life in a poor, ethnic neighborhood in the suburbs of Montreal. When Bellow was nine, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois. A childhood illness led to a year-long confinement in a hospital, and during this time Bellow developed his interest in literature. His high school friends were also interested in writing as well as discussion of politics, religions, and ideas in general, and Bellow and his friends read their stories and writings aloud to one another. When he was only seventeen, Bellow and a friend ran away to New York City, where both boys attempted unsuccessfully to sell their first novels.
Bellow eventually returned to Chicago, studying literature at the University of Chicago. He switched his academic interests to anthropology and transferred to Northwestern University in 1935. After graduation, he began a program of graduate study in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, but he quickly abandoned his studies because he was more interested in writing fiction than writing his thesis. After dropping out of school, Bellow obtained work with the WPA Writers’ Project, preparing short biographies of midwestern writers. His ensuing jobs were all related to his literary interests. In 1938, Bellow began to work as a teacher. His first story was published in 1941.
During World War II Bellow served as a merchant marine but was stationed stateside. This experience led to the writing of his first published novel, 1944’s The Dangling Man. This novel established him as a spokesperson for his contemporaries. Until publication of his next novel, The Victim, published in 1947, Bellow worked as a teacher and a freelancer. The Victim helped earn him a Guggenheim Fellow, which enabled him to travel in Europe. Upon his return to the United States, Bellow settled in New York.
In 1953, Bellow published another promising novel, The Adventures of Augie March. While many critics negatively reviewed this book, it won for Bellow a number of impressive awards. It was his 1956 novella, Seize the Day, however, that attracted widespread critical acclaim. Today, this piece of work is considered a masterpiece of modern American fiction. ‘‘Leaving the Yellow House,’’ another of Bellow’s important works, was published two years later, but it was not incorporated into a short fiction collection until 1968. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Bellow continued a steady stream of publishing, including novels, lectures, a memoir, short stories, and a play. He was also co-editor of a journal.
Bellow has won numerous awards and made significant achievements throughout his career. His importance as a writer is recognized on an international level as well. For instance, French President Francois Mitterand made Bellow a commander of the Legion of Honour, and he was elected a fellow by the Scottish Arts Council. Most importantly perhaps, he also won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976. Since the mid-1980s, he has primarily concentrated on writing novellas.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bellow summarized his own literary goals as well as his achievement in his 1976 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In it, he declared that the novelist’s duty essentially is to affirm the value of the human soul, to record the ultimate triumph of the spirit in the midst of materialism. Indeed, Bellow’s novels insist on the primacy of the hero—suffering, questioning, doubting, and yearning—always central to the plot, not a peripheral element subject to its randomness.
Bellow’s distinction as a novelist is precisely his concern for character in conflict with society. His insistence on human values puts him at odds with many latter-day novelists and places him, instead, in the tradition of the great nineteenth century novelists who saw character as the central focus of the novel.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Saul Bellow was born in Canada, spent his first nine years in the Montreal area, then moved to Chicago and graduated from high school there. He spent his first two years of college at the University of Chicago and the last two at Northwestern, graduating in 1937. That same year he began a brief interlude of graduate work in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. A few years later he started his writing career. He also taught at the University of Chicago from 1962 to 1993, moving to Boston University thereafter. He was married five times and had four children. In 1996, he became coeditor of a new literary journal, The Republic of Letters. Bellow died in 2005 at his home in Massachusetts.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows (he later dropped the “s” from his last name) in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, on June 10, 1915, the youngest of four children. Two years before, his parents, Abraham and Liza (Gordon) Bellows, had emigrated to Canada from St. Petersburg, Russia. The family lived in a very poor section of Montreal, where Bellow learned Yiddish, Hebrew, French, and English. In 1923, Bellow was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent half a year in Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Chicago, where they lived in the tenements of Humboldt Park.
In 1933, after graduating from Tuley High School, Bellow entered the University of Chicago. Two years later he...
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Saul Bellow grew up in the polyglot slums of Montreal and Chicago. He was saved from a bleak existence by his love of learning. He acquired a knowledge of Yiddish, Hebrew, and French, in addition to Russian and English. His Russian immigrant parents were orthodox Jews; Bellow’s exposure to other cultures led him to reject a purely Jewish identity. He discovered the work of Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Theodore Dreiser, and Sherwood Anderson, all leaders in shaping Americans’ consciousness of their national identity.
After being graduated from Northwestern University, Bellow obtained a scholarship to pursue graduate...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Saul Bellow (BEH-loh), one of America’s greatest novelists since World War II, was the youngest of four children of Russian-Jewish immigrants. The family moved to Chicago when Bellow was nine, and he attended public schools before going to the University of Chicago on a scholarship; he graduated from Northwestern University in 1937. Although his father wanted him to be a doctor and his mother wished for him a career as a Talmudic scholar, Bellow pursued his studies in anthropology and sociology.
By the late 1930’s, Bellow was married, and he had begun to read contemporary fiction and, in a back bedroom of his Chicago...
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Biography (Short Stories for Students)
Biography (Novels for Students)
Introduction“Fiction is the higher autobiography,” Saul Bellow once said. And true to his words, Bellow infused his work with incidents and characters from his own life and beloved hometown of Chicago. It was a method that worked well: he has garnered more awards for his writing than any other American author, including the Nobel Prize in literature, three Pulitzer Prizes, and the Presidential Medal of Honor. In addition to using personal experience in his writing, shown to particularly good effect in his much-loved breakthrough novel The Adventures of Augie March, Bellow considered himself to be a “historian of society,” and his anthropological approach is apparent in critical and popular successes such as Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler’s Planet.
- Although considered a through-and-through American, Bellow was not actually a native son. He was born in Quebec and didn’t move to the States until he was 9 years old.
- Bellow’s mother wanted him to be either a rabbi or a concert violinist. However, during a hospitalization at age eight, Bellow fell in love with literature and committed to that path for the rest of his life.
- One of his closest friends was the writer Ralph Ellison.
- He once said that the character Eugene Henderson (from Henderson the Rain King), a pig farmer and violinist, was the most like himself.
- As to his craft, Bellow claimed, “The writer’s art appears to seek compensation for the hopelessness or meanness of existence.”
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Saul Bellow’s parents were Russian Jews who had emigrated to Canada. A precocious, intelligent child, he had learned not only English but also Yiddish, Hebrew, and French by the time the family moved to Chicago in 1924. Bellow always considered Chicago his spiritual birthplace. In 1933, he graduated from Tuley High School and enrolled in the University of Chicago, where, by his own account, he was peripatetic in his studies, drifting from one course to another, registering for one but finding another more interesting. Among novelists, Theodore Dreiser and Joseph Conrad were particular favorites, though Bellow seems to have read widely, especially in sociology. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors in sociology and...
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