Saul Bellow Biography

Saul Bellow Biography

Saul Bellow once said that “Fiction is the higher autobiography.” 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • Although considered a through-and-through American, Bellow was not actually born in the United States. He was born in Quebec and didn’t move to the United States until he was nine 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.”


(History of the World: The 20th 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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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”...

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Saul Bellow Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
Saul Bellow Published by Gale Cengage

Saul Bellow was born in 1915 to Russian parents who had emigrated to Quebec, Canada. Solomon Bellows, as the child was called, spent the...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

Saul Bellow Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 741 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 study in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin but found his real interest lay in creative...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 apartment, to write. He became employed with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a...

(The entire section is 821 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Saul Bellow is considered one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, having won every major writing award available, including...

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Novels for Students)

Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec (a suburb of Montreal), the youngest of four children. His original birth certificate...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Novels for Students)

Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, in 1915, the youngest of four children, to Russian immigrant parents. He and his family...

(The entire section is 282 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 1343 words.)

Saul Bellow Biography

(Novels for Students)

Saul Bellow is recognized as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century. The youngest of four children, Bellow was...

(The entire section is 395 words.)