Bellow: A Biography
Masterly, original, Bellow: A Biography is an extraordinary achievement, the brilliant and long-awaited biography of the Nobel Prize-winning author of Herzog, The Adventures of Augie March, and other bestsellers. National Book Award nominee James Atlas here gives the first definitive account of Bellow's turbulent personal and professional life, as it unfolded against the background of twentieth-century events--the Depression, World War II, the upheavals of the sixties--and amid all the complexities of the Jewish-immigrant experience in America, which generated a vibrant new literature.
Saul Bellow's parents fled Russia in 1913 and settled with relatives in Canada, where Saul was born. Bellow's boyhood in Quebec and Chicago, marked by his family's transient existence and struggle for economic survival (his father was a bootlegger for a time), provided inspiration for many of the memorable characters and scenes that animate his fiction. It was in Chicago that Bellow came into his own, discovering his unique voice and encountering many of the women, as well as the writers and intellectuals, who were to populate his novels and his life. Atlas draws upon Bellow's vast correspondence with Ralph Ellison, Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Robert Penn Warren, John Cheever, and many other luminaries in this rich and revealing account of one writer's experience of America's twentieth-century intellectual and literary history.
As talented as he is enigmatic, Bellow has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award (three times), and, in 1976, the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his eighties, he published a new novel, Ravelstein, and, with his fifth wife, celebrated the birth of his fourth child.
Detailing Bellow's volatile marriages and numerous tempestuous relationships with women, prominent intellectuals, publishers, and friends, Bellow: A Biography is a magnificent chronicle of the life of one of the premier writers in the English language.
shock herself. Sometimes it strikes me funny, and when I laugh no one hears. I can whoop my head off out here; it startles only the coyotes. The cabin, at the edge of a Paiute Indian reservation forty miles outside of Reno, overlooked Pyramid Lake and was surrounded by mountains. Electricity came from a generator: a Model A Ford engine. The only means of communication was a lone telephone booth out on the highway. For company, Bellow relied on his landlady, Peggy Marsh, a hard-drinking
still not a whole family. He is the only connecting link between his three sons, and his family life will always be a bit incomplete. There were other subtle signs of discord. Bellow was mired in “a Gobi desert of papers,” he complained to his lawyer, Marshall Holleb, early in the summer. Susan, writing to Margaret Shafer, alluded lightly to “the usual storm of our domestic life.” But she tried not to dwell on the arguments that broke out with increasing frequency; they were part of marriage.
complained about the lack of funds: “This rich university has been caught in the squeeze. Deans now nag you about secretarial pennies and send out memos about the urgent need to increase enrollment. A sort of Bowery twilight has dropped over us.” Classes in the committee were intimate; Bellow’s English-novel seminar, taught with David Grene, had only five students one year. Bellow didn’t need a large audience to inspire him; he was “inventive, eloquent and discursive,” recalled Semon Strobos, a
he confessed, invoking his short story about a vindictive, unforgiving sister. “In spite of a massive effort to remain adolescent, I am approaching my 61st year—I’ve always loved you. And there are no more decades to burn. We ought to try again to have a conversation. I promise to be sensible.” Bellow’s outburst was characteristic. He vacillated between sentimentality and spite. His good deeds were legion: He arranged for his old friend Edith Tarcov to edit the Viking Portable Bellow; he visited
is probably the best of Leo Strauss’s pupils and tends, unfortunately, to be a bit of a fanatic on all the important questions discussed by Strauss. At the same time, I have become informed that he has become a little more polished in his manners and a bit easier to get on with.” Bellow was lukewarm about Bloom’s candidacy at first—probably because David Grene, fearing a rival classicist in the department, opposed it.§ But the committee desperately needed new blood; the ship was going down, as