Saul Bellow Bellow, Saul (Vol. 200) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Saul Bellow 1915-

Canadian-born American novelist, short story writer, editor, critic, playwright, lecturer, and memoirist.

The following entry presents an overview of Bellow's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC Volumes 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 25, 33, 34, 63, 79, and 190.

Bellow is regarded as one of the most celebrated authors of the twentieth century. His fiction typically addresses the meaning of human existence in an increasingly impersonal and mechanistic world. Writing in a humorous, anecdotal style, Bellow often depicts introspective individuals sorting out a conflict between Old World and New World values while coping with personal anxieties and aspirations. The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) each won the National Book Award. Bellow won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for Humboldt's Gift (1975) and has been widely recognized as a highly original contemporary stylist.

Biographical Information

The son of Russian-born parents, Bellow was born June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec. He developed an interest in literature while confined to a hospital for a year during his childhood. At seventeen, Bellow and his friend, the future newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris, ran away to New York City, where they unsuccessfully attempted to sell their first novels. After briefly studying at the University of Chicago, Bellow graduated from Northwestern University in 1937 with honors in sociology and anthropology. He briefly undertook graduate study in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. During World War II, Bellow attempted to join the Canadian Army but was turned down for medical reasons; this experience provided the basis for his first published novel, Dangling Man (1944). In 1943 Bellow worked on Mortimer Adler's “Great Books” project for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Bellow then returned to New York, where he briefly earned a living as a freelancer before accepting a teaching position at the University of Minnesota in 1946. In 1963 Bellow accepted a permanent position with the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He served as a war correspondent for Newsday during the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and he has taught at New York University, Princeton, and the University of Minnesota. He continues to write fiction and essays and has received numerous awards for his work.

Major Works

Bellow's novels are characterized by the “Bellow hero”—a term referring to the typical Bellow protagonist who is a Jewish, male, intellectual urbanite struggling to find meaning in a materialistic and chaotic world. In developing his characters Bellow emphasizes dialogue and interior monologue, and his prose style features sudden flashes of wit and philosophical epigrams. With The Adventures of Augie March Bellow established himself as a leading American novelist. The book is a picaresque narrative chronicling the adventures of a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, Augie March, from his childhood in Chicago to his adult years in Mexico and Europe. In Henderson the Rain King (1959) Bellow relates the voyage of an arrogant millionaire who travels to Africa to confront his anomie and fear of death. With Herzog Bellow fuses the formal realism of his early works with the vitality of his picaresque novels of the 1950s. Herzog is an animated but tormented Jewish intellectual who has difficulty maintaining human relationships, especially with women.

Mr. Sammler's Planet has often been identified as Bellow's most pessimistic novel. Mr. Sammler, an elderly man, has experienced the promises and horrors of twentieth-century life. He offers an extensive critique of modern values and speculates on the future after observing a pickpocket on a bus. Although many critics disagreed whether Mr. Sammler succeeds as a perceptive commentator who ruminates on contemporary existence, Bellow's portrayal of this character has generally been commended. Humboldt's Gift centers on the conflict between materialistic values and the claims of art and high culture. The protagonist, Charles Citrine, is a successful writer who questions the worth of artistic values in modern American society after suffering exhaustive encounters with divorce lawyers, criminals, artists, and other representative figures from contemporary urban life. He also recalls his friendship with the flamboyant artist Humboldt Fleischer, a composite of several American writers who despaired in their inability to reconcile their artistic ideals with the indifference and materialism of American society. Citrine finally concludes that he can maintain artistic order by dealing with the complexities of life through ironic comic detachment.

In The Dean's December (1982) Bellow directly attacks negative social forces that challenge human dignity. Set in depressed areas of Chicago and Bucharest, Romania, this novel focuses on Albert Corde, a respected journalist who returns to academic life to revive his love of high culture. Corde rebukes politicians, liberal intellectuals, journalists, and bureaucrats in both democratic and communist nations for failing to maintain humanistic values. In More Die of Heartbreak (1987) Benn Crader is a botanist who becomes engaged to the wealthy daughter of an avaricious surgeon seeking to use him to undermine Benn's Uncle Vilitzer, a corrupt political boss. Ravelstein (2000) is regarded as a fictionalized account of Bellow's close friendship with the prominent conservative critic Allan Bloom, who died in 1992. Ravelstein is an eccentric, brilliant, private man; when he realizes that he is dying, he asks Chick, the narrator, to write his biography and Chick agrees.

Bellow has also written several works of short fiction. The novella Seize the Day (1956) focuses on Tommy Wilhelm, a middle-aged man who yearns for wealth and fame but has failed in both his business and human relationships. However, by coming to terms with his mortality—a prominent theme in Bellow's fiction—Wilhelm gains a better understanding of himself and an appreciation of others. In the short fiction collected in Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968) and Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984), Bellow depicts sensitive everyday characters and intellectuals who struggle to maintain their dignity and reaffirm faith. In The Actual (1997) Harry Trellman becomes an intellectual consultant for the aging tycoon Sigmund Adletsky. When Amy Wustrin, Harry's true love, suddenly becomes a widow, Sigmund brings Harry and Amy together. In 2001 a selection of Bellow's short stories, Collected Stories, was published. Another wide-ranging collection of Bellow's essays, It All Adds up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future, was published in 1994. These selected essays, travel pieces, lectures, literary appreciations, and autobiographical recollections reflect Bellow's diverse interests.

Critical Reception

There have been many assessments of Bellow's fiction and reviewers note that he is one of the most scrutinized writers in contemporary American literature. Scholars have traced his development from an initially formal, realistic style to a more lively, discursive manner. His cultural and social commentary has also been a topic of critical discussion, and Bellow has been praised for producing insightful and compelling fiction that explores such issues as mortality, memory, family relationships, and friendship. Critics have also examined how his work addresses the gap between private and public experience, the effects of materialism and technological progress, and the role of the artist in society. Herzog received praise for its exploration of various Western intellectual traditions, its poignant evocation of events, and its colorful minor characters. Reviewers have applauded Bellow's resiliency and adaptability, his philosophical musings, and his longevity, noting that his career stretches over more than fifty years. More Die of Heartbreak has been praised as a witty and compassionate meditation on friendship and mortality. Humboldt's Gift has been hailed as a compelling work that treats spiritual matters within the context of a commercial world. Other reviewers have panned this novel, faulting passages they deemed unrealistic. Several critics have asserted that the beliefs of protagonist Citrine reflect those of Bellow himself. Most reviewers have described Bellow as an artist who affirms Judeo-Christian religious and social values in his work. He has been analyzed as a Jewish writer, and the theme of Jewish assimilation into American society has been a recurring theme in his fictional works. Ethan Goffman wrote: “By exploring Sammler's personal history as embedded in a larger Jewish history, [Mr. Sammler's Planet] gradually unveils a counternarrative of terror inflicted upon marginalized peoples culminating in a moment of identification between Jew and black.” Despite debate over Mr. Sammler's validity as a social commentator, critics generally agree that Sammler is one of Bellow's most fully realized protagonists. Some commentators have alleged that Bellow's novels lack convincing plots, while others have viewed Bellow's treatment of women and people of color as inadequate at best. Another major topic of debate has centered on the autobiographical aspects of Bellow's fiction, with some critics bemoaning the similarities between the lives of Bellow's protagonists and the author's own. Overall, critics have favorably assessed Bellow's literary achievement and have celebrated his works as a valuable contribution to American literature.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dangling Man (novel) 1944

The Victim (novel) 1947

The Adventures of Augie March (novel) 1953

Seize the Day (novella) 1956

Henderson the Rain King (novel) 1959

Recent American Fiction: A Lecture (lectures) 1963

Herzog (novel) 1964

The Last Analysis (play) 1964

*Under the Weather (plays) 1966; also produced as The Bellow Plays

Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (short stories) 1968

Mr. Sammler's Planet (novel) 1970

The Portable Bellow (short stories, novels, and drama) 1974

Humboldt's Gift (novel) 1975

To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (memoirs) 1976

The Dean's December (novel) 1982

Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (short stories) 1984

More Die of Heartbreak (novel) 1987

The Bellarosa Connection (novella) 1989

A Theft (novella) 1989

Something to Remember Me By (novellas) 1991

It All Adds up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future (essays and criticism) 1994

The Actual (novella) 1997

Ravelstein (novel) 2000

Collected Stories (short stories) 2001

*Originally first performed in London in June 1966, Under the Weather is comprised of three one-act plays—A Wen, Orange Soufflé, and Out from Under.

John L. Brown (review date winter 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brown, John L. Review of It All Adds Up, by Saul Bellow. World Literature Today 69, no. 1 (winter 1995): 148-49.

[In the following review, Brown asserts that the essays in It All Adds Up “reveal the richness and the variety, and occasionally the contradictions and the discursiveness, of the outstanding novelist of his brilliant generation.”]

Does it all add up? Not really. For this collection [It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future], as Bellow himself implies, is just too scattered and heterogeneous. Its thirty-one essays (all previously published in periodicals such as Life, Holiday, and Esquire...

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Sanford Pinsker (essay date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pinsker, Sanford. “Saul Bellow: ‘What, in All of This, Speaks for Man?’” Georgia Review 49, no. 1 (spring 1995): 89-95.

[In the following essay, Pinsker elucidates the central concerns of Bellow's fiction, contending his novels and short stories matter “not only for those who care about the state of American fiction but also for those worried about the spiritual condition of America itself.”]

An artist, Saul Bellow once remarked, is a person obliged to see, and then to note what has been observed with a certain style. Bellow's greatness as an American writer rests on the clarity of his vision and the lively, thickly textured paragraphs his vision...

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Richard K. Cross (review date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cross, Richard K. “Clearing the Mind of Cant.” Modern Age 37, no. 3 (spring 1995): 251-54.

[In the following favorable review, Cross surveys the range of essays in It All Adds Up.]

Now in his eightieth year, Saul Bellow is our best living novelist, the principal heir among the writers who emerged after World War II to the great figures of the Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Faulkner generation. From the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, years that saw the appearance of Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Humboldt's Gift, no other novelist residing on these shores (Nabokov was living in Montreux for much of that time) could...

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Jerrald Ranta (essay date fall 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ranta, Jerrald. “Time in Bellow's Seize the Day.Essays in Literature 23, no. 2 (fall 1995): 300-15.

[In the following essay, Ranta addresses the roles of Gregorian and Jewish calendar time in the novella Seize the Day.]

The ongoing critical study of time and history in Saul Bellow's works has largely neglected Seize the Day, as can be seen in Judie Newman's major study of history in Bellow's works, which mentions Seize the Day only briefly.1 Accordingly, this study will examine selected time-referents in the novella, and because time-referents can also be cultural-referents, the discussion also addresses the roles of both...

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Ethan Goffman (essay date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Goffman, Ethan. “Between Guilt and Affluence: The Jewish Gaze and the Black Thief in Mr. Sammler's Planet.Contemporary Literature 38, no. 4 (winter 1997): 705-25.

[In the following essay, Goffman explores the significance of the black thief in Mr. Sammler's Planet, maintaining that the thief “is a compact, dramatic version of a recurring Euro-American mythologization: blackness as the primitive, the carnal, the return of the repressed.”]

Representations of blackness as dangerous, primitive, and highly sexualized, deeply implanted in European and American society, inescapably infiltrate Jewish American literature. Perhaps the most...

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James W. Tuttleton (review date June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tuttleton, James W. “An Expert Noticer.” New Criterion 15, no. 10 (June 1997): 80-2.

[In the following review, Tuttleton traces Bellow's literary development and contends that The Actual “is about a great many things that are not as simple as they at first seem.”]

Saul Bellow's most recent publication, The Actual, brings his literary production—in a publishing career now spanning more than half a century—to some eighteen volumes of prose fiction, criticism, travel writing, and reminiscence. In his longevity, at least, he has rivaled William Dean Howells, and it may turn out that Bellow will have done best, for our time, what Howells...

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James Wood (review date 16 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wood, James. “Essences Rising.” New Republic 216, no. 24 (16 June 1997): 41-5.

[In the following favorable review, Wood calls The Actual a slight book, but maintains that it possesses “its own nervous perfection.”]

This novella is a ricochet from a talent that has already hit many targets: it has an interrupted energy. The Actual is slight, without the obvious weight of Bellow's major work. Yet it has its own nervous perfection. Like all his work, it is about our wrestle for the essential amid the piles of our emotional slack. Like several of his stories, it has at its buried center a portrait of a sharp, canny, limited old man, accustomed...

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Alfred Kazin (review date 26 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “Struggles of a Prophet.” New York Review of Books (26 June 1997): 17-18.

[In the following positive review, Kazin delineates the central thematic concerns in The Actual.]

Saul Bellow will be eighty-two this summer. Not long ago, he told Playboy, he had been near death after partaking in the Caribbean of a fish that turned out to be toxic. But here he is [in The Actual], sharp as ever when he writes about low doings in Chicago and then adds his now customary outrage at the piggishness and mediocrity of American democracy.

Forty-four years ago Bellow's breezy young character Augie March noted, “I quit thinking...

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Philip Hensher (review date 9 August 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hensher, Philip. “Riches in a Little Room.” Spectator (9 August 1997): 28-9.

[In the following review, Hensher deems The Actual a brief and amusing novella.]

A curious sort of volume, this; readable from end to end in not much more than half an hour, a novella [The Actual] which is probably a half or a third as long as some of Chekhov's short stories, it nevertheless contains levels of feeling and implication which seem to belong to a much longer and more spacious book. Its leisurely manner, its casual way with its characters and themes suggest a novel with plenty of time to waste, and the brevity of the book comes as an abrupt surprise. It...

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Karl Miller (review date 22 August 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Miller, Karl. “Jay Wustrin's Remains.” Times Literary Supplement (22 August 1997): 23.

[In the following review, Miller discusses the characters in The Actual as typical Bellovian characters and views Bellow as a lyrical and romantic author.]

A very astute, very old Jewish trillionaire is counselled here [in The Actual] by an astute Jew, no longer young, no longer poor, who has resumed relations with a first, never forgotten love. For Harry Trellman, a businessman, an importer, Amy Wustrin is “the actual”. “Other women were apparitions” for this narrator. “She, and only she, was no apparition.” This is the centre of things in Saul...

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Marvin J. LaHood (review date winter 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: LaHood, Marvin J. Review of The Actual, by Saul Bellow. World Literature Today 72, no. 1 (winter 1998): 132.

[In the following review, LaHood offers a laudatory assessment of The Actual.]

Saul Bellow can write. He has a Nobel Prize (1976) to show for it. He is also the only novelist to win three National Book Awards—for The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). Add to these laurels a Pulitzer Prize for Humboldt's Gift (1975) and the National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters (1990), and he is probably America's most decorated author. Would...

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Faye Kuzma (essay date summer 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kuzma, Faye. “The Demonic Hegemonic: Exploitative Voices in Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak.Critique 39, no. 4 (summer 1998): 306-23.

[In the following essay, Kuzma views More Die of Heartbreak as a text shaped by nihilism and the discourse of fashionable cynicism.]

Saul Bellow's novel More Die of Heartbreak opens with the observation of its narrator Kenneth Trachtenberg that his maternal uncle Benn Crader is obsessed with a cartoon by Charles Addams, author of Monster Rally. The cartoon depicts a couple in a cemetery. The man, Gomez, asks: “Are you unhappy darling?” and the woman, a witch named Morticia, replies:...

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Martin Corner (essay date spring 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Corner, Martin. “The Novel and Public Truth: Saul Bellow's The Dean's December.Studies in American Fiction 28, no. 1 (spring 2000): 113-28.

[In the following essay, Corner traces Bellow's progression from examining “individual consciousness to public truth” in The Dean's December.]

Can the novel, at the end of the twentieth century, still speak public truth? This is a question that has haunted Saul Bellow's fiction since Joseph, in Dangling Man, could find no connection between his private experience and the historic realities of war. But it is more than an issue for a single writer. The conscious problem of our culture since Bellow's...

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Penelope Fitzgerald (review date 15 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fitzgerald, Penelope. “When I Am Old and Gay and Full of Sleep.” Spectator (15 April 2000): 43-4.

[In the following review, Fitzgerald proclaims Ravelstein a novel about friendship.]

Old age, on the whole, is not a time to be recommended, but very old novelists are allowed to write about what they like and at the age of 85 Saul Bellow [in Ravelstein] is interested in illnesses and their recent treatment and patients who are ‘blindly recovery-bent, who have the deep and special greed of the sick when they have decided not to die’. If they have things left to do, that will be a way of keeping themselves alive.


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Jonathan Yardley (review date 9-15 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Yardley, Jonathan. “Bellow's Gift.” Washington Post Book World 30, no. 15 (9-15 April 2000): 1-2.

[In the following review, Yardley contends that Ravelstein is less of a novel than a portrait of Bellow's friendship with the writer Allan Bloom.]

It is by now common knowledge in literary and publishing circles that Saul Bellow's new book [Ravelstein], though it has the form of a novel, is in fact a memoir of his intellectual sparring partner and intimate friend Allan Bloom, who died several years ago at the age of 62. Bloom, who achieved notoriety and wealth late in life with the publication of The Closing of the American Mind, was in...

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Jonathan Levi (review date 23 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “Tabletalk.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (23 April 2000): 16.

[In the following review, Levi discusses the insights and revelations found in Ravelstein.]

Ever since the publication of the Inferno, in which Dante betrayed his beloved teacher Brunetto Latini to an unsuspecting public by casting him among the Sodomites, outing your dead friends (especially those with tenure) has become a literary genre unto itself.

Saul Bellow (whose current colleagues include Dante translator Robert Pinsky) is the latest practitioner with the appearance of his twelfth novel. Ravelstein, a roman-à-clef about his...

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Christopher Hitchens (review date 27 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher. “The Egg-Head's Egger-On.” London Review of Books (27 April 2000): 21-3.

[In the following review, Hitchens provides a thematic analysis of Ravelstein and calls the book “a novelistic and realistic memoir” of the late author Allan Bloom.]

Novelists can be lucky in their editors, in their friends, in their mentors and even in their pupils. Sometimes they are generous or sentimental enough to fictionalise the relationship. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell gave his friendless, dowdy and self-pitying protagonist Comstock one true pal: the editor and patron Ravelston, proprietor of the small yet reliable...

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Louis Menand (review date 25 May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Menand, Louis. “Bloom's Gift.” New York Review of Books (25 May 2000): 17-18.

[In the following review, Menand argues that Ravelstein is a novel not only about friendship and mortality, but also focuses on the male heterosexual ego.]

Saul Bellow and Allan Bloom were friends. They taught together at the University of Chicago, and Bellow wrote the foreword to Bloom's phenomenal best seller, The Closing of the American Mind, which came out in 1987. In spite of its popularity, The Closing of the American Mind was a quirky book. Many writers tried to imitate its success as a diatribe against American higher education, but very few tried to...

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John Leonard (review date 29 May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Leonard, John. “A Closing of the American Kind.” Nation 270, no. 21 (29 May 2000): 25-30.

[In the following review, Leonard contends that it is the differences—not only the friendship—between Saul Bellow and Allan Bloom that animate Ravelstein.]

You will recall that when Augie March went to Mexico, he hooked up with an eagle, which he called Caligula. (He also ran into Leon Trotsky, navigating “by the great stars.” In this, Augie was luckier than his creator, Saul Bellow, who had an appointment in 1940 to see Trotsky on the very morning of his murder and ended up in Coyoacán looking at a corpse: “A cone of bloody bandages was on his head. His...

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Adam Feldman (review date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Feldman, Adam. “Soulmate in Bloom.” Gay & Lesbian Review 7, no. 4 (fall 2000): 46-7.

[In the following favorable review of Ravelstein, Feldman examines Bellow's friendship with Allan Bloom, asserting that evidence presented in the novel could potentially lead readers to conclude “that Bloom was the love of Bellow's life.”]

In his last book, Love and Friendship, Allan Bloom (better known for his best-selling opus, The Closing of the American Mind) wrote this about “intimate friendship”:

Although this overwhelming experience seems akin to the love affairs that are so frequent and so...

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Adam Phillips (review date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Phillips, Adam. “Bellow and Ravelstein.Raritan 20, no. 2 (fall 2000): 1-10.

[In the following review, Phillips asserts that Ravelstein is not a biography, but rather “a fiction about biography.”]

In Diana Trilling's memoir The Beginning of the Journey she tells a story about Saul Bellow to illustrate the effect that Lionel Trilling had on people. Lionel, she writes,

always retained a certain air of unassailability. There were people whom this seemed to disturb. In middle life, he lectured at the University of Chicago, and Saul Bellow, who taught there and with whom he had become pleasantly...

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Rita D. Jacobs (review date autumn 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jacobs, Rita D. Review of Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow. World Literature Today 74, no. 4 (autumn 2000): 813.

[In the following review, Jacobs maintains that Ravelstein “is a minor exercise, albeit with an occasional flourish of mastery.”]

The art of the novel often involves transporting the reader into a hitherto unknown world, no matter how familiar the terrain may seem. And even when the novel closely mirrors reality, as graceful a novelist as Saul Bellow has usually been able to transport readers beyond the known. In fact, although there have long been attempts to identify characters in Bellow's novels with “real” people such as Delmore...

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Igor Webb (essay date spring 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Webb, Igor. “The Demands of a Soul.” Partisan Review 68, no. 2 (spring 2001): 324-28.

[In the following essay, Webb investigates Bellow's invoking of John Maynard Keynes in Ravelstein.]

Ravelstein is a celebrated professor [in Ravelstein] of political philosophy—a character based, so it has been said everywhere, on Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind. I'd better say right away that I know precious little about Saul Bellow's personal life, that I've never met Allan Bloom, and that anyway I do not have the stomach to believe that you can simply translate any life into fiction. The connections and disconnections between...

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Bharat Tandon (review date 21 April 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tandon, Bharat. “Boswell on Gatsby.” Times Literary Supplement (21 April 2001): 21.

[In the following unfavorable review, Tandon asserts that Ravelstein does not live up to its potential and that the book fails to captivate readers.]

When is a choice not a choice? This is a question which Saul Bellow's fiction has pursued with dedication and ferocity for over half a century. As early as Dangling Man (1944), his perception of the ironies of enforced leisure in a time of military purposefulness—“the derangement of days, the levelling of occasions”—made that novel so much more than the demotic Chicago Camus it could easily have been. And...

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Diana Hendry (review date 8 December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hendry, Diana. “The Crowded Wilderness Within.” Spectator 287, no. 9044 (8 December 2001): 57-8.

[In the following review, Hendry traces Bellow's favorite themes in the tales of Collected Stories.]

With Bellow nearing 90, there has to be ‘A Collected’, though personally I'd prefer three slim paperbacks. Apart from the frivolous thought that this volume [Collected Stories] is too heavy to take on the train and requires strong knees in bed, Bellow is such a brilliant writer that small helpings are sufficient. A feast like this has you reaching for the metaphorical Rennies.

It's to do with the fact that Bellow gives the reader meat...

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Stephen Amidon (review date 10 December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Amidon, Stephen. “Seize the Day.” New Statesman (10 December 2001): 49-50.

[In the following review, Amidon identifies the unifying themes of the works in Collected Stories as the role of memory and the process of Jewish assimilation into American society.]

There seems to be a bit of mischief going on in the title of Saul Bellow's new book [Collected Stories]. It is not, you will notice, The Collected Stories—there are a number of novellas and short stories missing from this otherwise generous book, ranging from such classics as Seize the Day to the less well-known “A Father-to-Be” and “The Gonzaga Manuscripts”. Why,...

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Gloria L. Cronin (essay date 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cronin, Gloria L. “Those Dreadful Mothers.” In A Room of His Own: In Search of the Feminine in the Novels of Saul Bellow, pp. 37-49. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Cronin asserts that there is a feminine presence in Bellow's novels.]

If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.

—William Faulkner, Lion in the Garden

The androcentric text, by its very nature, is rarely able to see the feminine. In Bellow's middle to later novels in particular, however, even his...

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Morris Dickstein (review date 18 January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dickstein, Morris. “Spectacles of Personality.” Times Literary Supplement (18 January 2002): 29.

[In the following favorable reviews, Dickstein provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of the works in Collected Stories.]

Just as we have had an American E. M. Forster who, as first interpreted by Lionel Trilling, was more timeless and universal, less grounded in his social origins than the British version, there now seems to be a British Saul Bellow who bears small resemblance to the American original. While critics at home have concentrated on Bellow's material—the offbeat Jewish characters, the Roman candle of deep thoughts, the often bitter jeremiads...

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John L. Brown (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brown, John L. Review of Collected Stories, by Saul Bellow. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 149-50.

[In the following mixed review, Brown outlines what he sees as strengths and weaknesses of the works in Collected Stories.]

The collection [Collected Stories] contains thirteen stories originally published in various magazines (The New Yorker, Partisan Review) between 1951 and 1992. The volume title's reference to “stories” is somewhat misleading, since several selections such as “Him with His Foot in His Mouth” (1985) are more the length of nouvelles than of short stories. One critic comments ironically...

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David K. Nichols (essay date winter 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nichols, David K. “On Bellow's Ravelstein.Perspectives on Political Science 32, no. 1 (winter 2003): 14-21.

[In the following essay, Nichols deems Ravelstein a book about ideas, contending that “the biggest mistake that reviewers make is their failure to appreciate both the political and intellectual weight” of the novel.]

Saul Bellow has written Ravelstein as a tribute to Allan Bloom, who died in 1992, a teacher and philosopher most famous for his 1987 critique of education in The Closing of the American Mind. However, the inevitable speculation about the correspondence between Bloom the man and Ravelstein the character,...

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Michael Davis (essay date winter 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, Michael. “Unraveling Ravelstein: Saul Bellow's Comic Tragedy.” Perspectives on Political Science 32, no. 1 (winter 2003): 26-31.

[In the following essay, Davis discusses Ravelstein as a comic tragedy.]

Ravelstein begins with the word “odd”; it introduces a reflection on the amusing character of the benefactors of mankind. If this beginning is, as advertised, a “clever or wicked footnote” (2), its clever wickedness surely must consist in making us think of Abe Ravelstein as an exemplar of this oddity.1 A page later the narrator of the novel, Chick, says of the man he is memorializing, “Ravelstein was one of...

(The entire section is 5401 words.)

Algis Valiunas (essay date September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Valiunas, Algis. “Bellow's Progress.” Commentary 116, no. 2 (September 2003): 51-5.

[In the following essay, Valiunas traces Bellow's development as an author through his first three novels—Dangling Man, The Victim, and The Adventures of Augie March—placing Augie March within the context of mid-twentieth-century American culture.]

On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Adventures of Augie March, the Library of America has made Saul Bellow the first living novelist to be admitted to its literary pantheon. The anniversary volume includes not only that breakthrough 1953 work but the two lesser known novels that...

(The entire section is 4003 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Aharoni, Ada. “Is Saul Bellow's Fiction Radical?” Studies in American Jewish Literature 14 (1995): 72-9.

Considers the radical aspect of Bellow's fiction.

Allen, Brooke. “The Adventures of Saul Bellow.” Hudson Review 54, no. 1 (spring 2001): 77-87.

Provides an overview of Bellow's life and work.

Borklund, Elmer. “How It Adds Up for Saul Bellow.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 3 (summer 1997): 436-39.

Surveys critical reaction to Bellow's oeuvre.

Corner, Martin. “Moving Outwards: Consciousness, Discourse and Attention in Saul...

(The entire section is 366 words.)