Saul Bellow was a celebrated Canadian-born American writer and novelist. Here we see short biographical notes on Saul Bellow.
Saul Bellow was a celebrated Canadian-born American writer and novelist. He was brought up in a Jewish household, and grew up to become a representative figure for Jewish-American writers, whose works were critical to American literature post the World War II. Saul Bellow authored novels, short stories, non-fiction works and plays in his lifelong career in academics. As part of his teaching profession, he used to travel extensively, and taught at renowned institutions like the Yale University, Princeton University, Boston University and Bard College among others. Critics opined that Saul Bellow’s literary works were distinguished by the portrayal of the contemporary urban man who was discontented with the society, but not broken in spirit. His works won him prestigious awards like the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize for Literature and the National Book Award. He is the only writer to have won the National Book Award for Fiction thrice. He was regarded by many as the backbone of American literature in the 20th century. Several biographies have been written about him, both before and after his demise.
Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows to Lescha and Abraham Bellows on 10th June 1915 at Lachine, Quebec, Canada. He had a brother Maurice. As a child, he was extremely fond of reading, and learnt Hebrew at the age of four. He decided to pursue writing as a career, after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. His mother was highly orthodox and wished to make him a violinist or a rabbi. However, he resisted the idea and followed his interest in writing. His mother died when he was 17. He shifted to Chicago with family when he was nine. He attended the Tuley High School and later enrolled the University of Chicago. He then got transferred to Northwestern University and graduated with honours in Anthropology and Sociology. While at Chicago, he also pursued Anthroposophical studies from the Anthroposophical Society of Chicago.
He began his career in the 1930s at the Works Progress Administration, Chicago. He was part of the Writer’s Project along with other writers like Nelson Algren and Richard Wright. With the onset of World War II, he served in the United States Merchant Marine. It was during this time that he finished writing his debut novel “Dangling Man”, featuring a man waiting to be selected to serve in the army during the World War II. It was published in 1944. Between 1941 and 1946, he taught intellectual history at the University of Minnesota. In 1948, he was presented with the Guggenheim Fellowship, and this allowed him to travel to Paris. While at Paris, he commenced work on his book “The Adventures of Augie March” and this was published in 1953. Saul Bellow taught creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras in 1961. The following year, he returned to Chicago and joined the University of Chicago as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought. The Committee on Social Thought was formed with the objective of allowing teachers to engage with brilliant students through various approaches and learning methodologies. Saul Bellow taught here for 30 years. In 1964, he finished writing his bestselling novel “Herzog”, featuring a professor who writes letters to students and friends, but never posts them. The novel was commercially successful and listed among the 100 best novels in the English language since ‘the beginning of time’ by TIME magazine. It also won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. In 1970, his novel “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” was published, and went on to win the National Book Award for Fiction the following year. In the book, the titular character observes how opulence and leisure have led to increased human suffering. He released his novel “Humboldt’s Gift” in 1975, and the book explored the dynamic relationship of art and authority in materialist America. The book was perceived as a narration about the growing commoditization of culture. His works most often dwelt on the unsettling nature of modern civilization. A majority of his books featured Jewish characters that stood against the negative elements in the society. His books had a lot of admiration for America and its vibrancy, but they were also much influenced by Jewish life. In 1977, he received the honour of being selected for the Jefferson Lecture by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is the US Federal government’s highest honour for achievement in the field of Humanities. The title for his lecture was ‘The Writer and His Country Look Each Other Over’. Between late 1981 and early 1982, he took up the post of visiting Lansdowne scholar, at the University of Victoria along with holding the position of ‘Writer-in-residence’. Saul Bellow used to take up teaching assignments even during his old age, and he shifted to Brookline in Massachusetts in 1993, to take up teaching at the Boston University. He spent the rest of his life in Massachusetts.
Bellow wrote several plays, the most important of which is probably The Last Analysis. First performed in 1964, it tells the story of a comedian who has fallen from grace, and thus resembles, in its narrative trajectory and vision of flawed humanity, much of Bellow’s other work. Bellow likewise tried his hand at literary criticism, publishing pieces in The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The New Leader, and other journals. In a notable break from fiction-writing, he served as a war correspondent during the 1967 Six-Day War, employed by Newsday.
Saul Bellow was known to have multiple romantic affairs in his lifetime. He had married five times, of which four marriages ended in a divorce. Saul Bellow married Anita Goshkin in 1937 and the couple had a son named Greg Bellow, who grew up to become a psychotherapist. In 1956, they parted ways. His son Greg Bellow published the book “Saul Bellow’s Heart: A Son’s Memoir” in 2013. In 1956, he married Alexandra (Sondra) Tschacbasov and had a son named Adam. The couple divorced in 1959. In 2003, his son Adam published the book titled “In Praise of Nepotism”. He married Susan Glassman in 1961. The marriage lasted for only three years and they separated in 1964. In 1974, he married mathematician Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea. However, the couple divorced in 1985. He married Janis Freedman in 1989. They had a daughter, Rosie in 1999. Saul Bellow died on 5 April 2005 at Massachusetts, USA. He was 89 years old at the time.
The author’s works speak to the disorienting nature of modern civilization, and the countervailing ability of humans to overcome their frailty and achieve greatness. Bellow saw many flaws in modern civilization, and its ability to foster madness, materialism and misleading knowledge. Principal characters in Bellow’s fiction have heroic potential, and many times they stand in contrast to the negative forces of society. Often these characters are Jewish and have a sense of alienation or otherness.
Jewish life and identity is a major theme in Bellow’s work, although he bristled at being called a “Jewish writer.” Bellow’s work also shows a great appreciation of America, and a fascination with the uniqueness and vibrancy of the American experience.
Bellow’s work abounds in references and quotes from the likes of Marcel Proust and Henry James, but he offsets these high-culture references with jokes. Bellow interspersed autobiographical elements into his fiction, and many of his principal characters were said to bear a resemblance to him.
Saul Bellow won the National Book Award for Fiction thrice. He won the award in 1954 for “The Adventures of Augie March”, in 1965 for “Herzog” and in 1971 for ‘Mr. Sammler’s Planet’. In 1976, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for his work “Humboldt’s Gift”. He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. In 1980, he was awarded the O. Henry award. He was recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1988. In 1989, he received the ‘Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award’ as well as the ‘PEN/Malamud Award’. He was awarded the lifetime ‘Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters’ by National Book Foundation in 1990.
Bellow’s humanism is not confined to the ordinary level oi stressing merely the workaday ideals of grace and dignity, politeness, and sympathy with the suffering living beings. His world view anticipates a humanism which has a spiritual complexion, for according to his perception a human being cannot attain true stature as a human being until he looks within himself, unlocks the imprisoned self, overcomes the temptation of holding on to the self, achieves a sense of freedom, and knows the nature and purpose of his existence. He stands tor a positive, humanistic approach to life and stands as testimony to humanism.
His Inspirational Quotes: