Bellow, Saul

born June 10, 1915, Lachine, near Montreal, Que., Can.
died April 5, 2005, Brookline, Mass., U.S.

Canadian-born U.S. novelist.

Born to an immigrant Russian Jewish family, he was fluent in Yiddish from childhood. His family moved to Chicago when he was nine; he grew up and attended college there and, after some years in New York, returned to teach in Chicago. His works, which make him representative of the Jewish American writers whose works became central to American literature after World War II, deal with the modern urban dweller, disaffected by society but not destroyed in spirit; his originality lay partly in his combination of cultural sophistication and street wisdom. His works include The Adventures of Augie March (1953, National Book Award), Seize the Day (1956), Henderson the Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964, National Book Award), Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970, National Book Award), Humboldt's Gift (1975, Pulitzer Prize), The Dean's December (1982), and Ravelstein (2000). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.

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▪ 2006
Solomon Bellows 
      American novelist (b. June 10, 1915, Lachine, near Montreal, Que.—d. April 5, 2005, Brookline, Mass.), wrote picaresque, often comic tales of thoughtful, modern urbanites and was a leading exponent of Jewish-American literature after World War II. Despite the cerebral worldliness of his characters, Bellow imbued his novels with a levelheaded realism and a fine sense of place. The setting, for example, for The Adventures of Augie March, his first major work, was a street-level view of Chicago. Bellow had relocated to Chicago with his family as a child and frequently featured the city as the locale for his works. He attended the University of Chicago, Northwestern University (B.S., 1937), Evanston, Ill., and the University of Wisconsin, before enlisting in the Merchant Marine in World War II. His first novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947), led to a Guggenheim fellowship and a tour of Europe, particularly to Paris, which enlarged his reputation and readership. (Later, in 1968, France honoured him as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.) Augie March, published in 1953, was a best seller and won a National Book Award. Bellow again received the award for Herzog (1964) and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Humboldt's Gift (1975). In 1976 he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition to novels, Bellow wrote plays, criticism, and nonfiction. He was a longtime professor at various universities, notably the University of Chicago, where he was a member of the Committee on Social Thought. One of his final works, Ravelstein (2000), presented a fictionalized account of Allan Bloom, a Chicago colleague. Bellow had written the foreword to Bloom's landmark treatise, The Closing of the American Mind (1987).

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▪ American author
born June 10, 1915, Lachine, near Montreal, Quebec, Canada
died April 5, 2005, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.

      American novelist whose characterizations of modern urban man, disaffected by society but not destroyed in spirit, earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Brought up in a Jewish household and fluent in Yiddish—which influenced his energetic English style—he was representative of the Jewish American writers whose works became central to American literature after World War II.

      Bellow's parents emigrated in 1913 from Russia to Montreal. When he was nine they moved to Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University (B.S., 1937) and afterward combined writing with a teaching career at various universities, including the University of Minnesota, Princeton University, New York University, Bard College, the University of Chicago, and Boston University.

      Bellow won a reputation among a small group of readers with his first two novels, Dangling Man (1944), a story in diary form of a man waiting to be inducted into the army, and The Victim (1947), a subtle study of the relationship between a Jew and a Gentile, each of whom becomes the other's victim. The Adventures of Augie March (1953) brought wider acclaim and won the National Book Award (1954). It is a picaresque story of a poor Jewish youth from Chicago, his progress—sometimes highly comic—through the world of the 20th century, and his attempts to make sense of it. In this novel Bellow employed for the first time a loose, breezy style in conscious revolt against the preoccupation of writers of that time with perfection of form.

      Henderson the Rain King (1959) continued the picaresque approach in its tale of an eccentric American millionaire on a quest in Africa. Seize the Day (1956), a novella, is a unique treatment of a failure in a society where the only success is success. He also wrote a volume of short stories, Mosby's Memoirs (1968), and To Jerusalem and Back (1976) about a trip to Israel.

      In his later novels and novellas—Herzog (1964; National Book Award, 1965), Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970; National Book Award, 1971), Humboldt's Gift (1975; Pulitzer Prize, 1976), The Dean's December (1982), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), and The Actual (1997)—Bellow arrived at his most characteristic vein. The heroes of these works are often Jewish intellectuals whose interior monologues range from the sublime to the absurd. At the same time, their surrounding world, peopled by energetic and incorrigible realists, acts as a corrective to their intellectual speculations. It is this combination of cultural sophistication and the wisdom of the streets that constitutes Bellow's greatest originality. In Ravelstein (2000) he presented a fictional version of the life of teacher and philosopher Allan Bloom (Bloom, Allan).

Additional Reading
Bellow's life and works are discussed in Robert R. Dutton, Saul Bellow, rev. ed. (1982); and Ruth Miller, Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination (1991), by a friend. Critical studies include Daniel Fuchs, Saul Bellow: Vision and Revision (1984); Ellen Pifer, Saul Bellow Against the Grain (1990); Peter Hyland, Saul Bellow (1992); and Marianne M. Friedrich, Character and Narration in the Short Fiction of Saul Bellow (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

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