Bellow, Saul (Vol. 6)

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Bellow, Saul 1915–

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Bellow, a Canadian-born Jewish-American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist, is one of America's most distinguished writers. The realization of selfhood in a time when the concept of individualism is degenerating has been the task of nearly all of his protagonists, of whom several—Herzog, Henderson, Augie March, Mr. Sammler—have come to stand for tooth-and-nail optimism in the face of chaos and despair. Augie's famous cry "I want! I want!" expresses the primal knowledge of Bellow men, those who will survive, who will not surrender. Chester E. Eisinger provides an excellent summary: Bellow "knows that man is less than what the Golden Age promised us, but he refuses to believe that man is nothing. He is something, Bellow says, and saying it he performs an act of faith." Bellow won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Humboldt's Gift. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

In one of the three playlets by Saul Bellow which rest uneasily beneath the collective title Under the Weather, a woman delivers a complicated speech and then asks her listener, "Do you follow me?" to which the reply is "I wish I could say no." One follows Bellow well enough through this evening of farce and sociology, but it would be much more comfortable if one didn't. To know what he is trying to do is to see how painfully short he falls, to see the greater part of his literacy going to waste and his special kind of shrewdness about contemporary manners and mores displaying itself in a thoroughly misconceived framework.

Bellow on Broadway is an anomaly, as his earlier play, The Last Analysis, demonstrated. He is far too intelligent and original to write standardized comedies like the widely acclaimed works of Neil Simon and Murray Schisgal. But his intelligence and originality—as a dramatist, at any rate—lack the strength and precision to push through an alternative to such melancholy comic "masterpieces." He is a triple victim: of the novelist's craving for instant success on the stage, of the commercial theatre's befuddlement in the face of any departure from its notions of what is comic and of his own architectural weaknesses as a playwright. Whatever is memorable in Under the Weather has to survive all three sieges. (p. 242)

[Bellow's] wit emerges only in isolated flashes. Bellow wants to stand modern man on his head and shake him until his perversities fall out, but much of the time he gets only hollow thumps and small change. (p. 243)

Richard Gilman, "Bellow on Broadway" (1966), in his Common and Uncommon Masks: Writings on Theatre 1961–1970 (copyright © 1971 by Richard Gilman; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1971, pp. 242-44.

With the fading of the Romantic dream of love, there fades now also the Romantic hero. Our representative novel is likely to be the Herzog of Saul Bellow, who is as central a writer as we have. Moses Herzog is a professional Romanticist, and very much a Romantic, but in the last ditch: narcissistic, masochistic, anachronistic, depressive, self-defeated, yet altogether charming, altogether a man of feeling, a sublime egotist. He is Man on the Dump, but speaks for all of us; an absurd case, but undeniably our version of the hero….

In defense of Romanticism, Herzog [defends] … the idea of Man against contemporary historicisms that urge a narrow repressiveness in place of the dream of a more perfect human being. Yet the sensibility of our moment is already post-Herzog, and Bellow speaks for a generation on the other side of the gap, for a late Romantic humanism that does not permeate what is emerging….

What Bellow says of Herzog's students will be true of all of us: "It became apparent … that they would never learn much about the Roots of Romanticism but that they would see and hear odd things." (p. 346)

Harold Bloom, "A New Romanticism? Another...

(The entire section contains 12705 words.)

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Bellow, Saul (Vol. 3)