Saul Bellow was born on July 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, two years after his parents emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia. Abraham Bellow failed in a long series of jobs and financial ventures — a bakery, a group of shops, and sackmaking for the Canadian government during World War I. The Bellows eventually immigrated to Chicago during the depression years. These years were recaptured in The Adventures of Augie March, which won Bellow a National Book Award in 1954. On Division Street, where they lived in Chicago, could be found a literal "melting pot" of racial groups. While in high school, young Saul and his friends formed the Russian Literary Society, and he began his lifelong interest in writing.
Bellow's career is distinguished by his continuing quest for sanity in a world filled with madness. As a novelist, scholar, and professor, Bellow has received much public recognition for his achievements. He has been a respected member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and has been awarded a Ford Foundation grant and a Friends of Literature Award. For a time, he also served on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Saul Bellow's success is typical of the rise of the Jewish immigrant to intellectual status in America. He entered the University of Chicago in 1933 and later graduated with honors in anthropology and sociology from Northwestern University in 1937. Since then he has held a number of teaching positions. He was a faculty member of Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College in Chicago and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In addition, he was a Guggenheim Fellow at both Bradford College of Yale University and at the University of Minnesota; he was a visiting lecturer at New York University and a Creative Writing Fellow at Princeton University. His entire background has not been academic, however; he has been a member of the maritime service and has also traveled widely in Europe.
There is no denying Bellow's stature as one of America's most intellectual novelists, and there is much justification for calling him one of our most important contemporary novelists. Herzog, which won Bellow his second National Book Award, is one of the most complex stylistic novels in American literature. It is also a massive effort to examine many of the theories about human nature which plague the contemporary thinker.
Since his first short story, "Two Morning Monologues," appeared in Partisan Review (May-June 1941), Saul Bellow has written prolifically. His most important essays concern the problems of being an individual, assailed by physical, psychological, and intellectual distractions in a materialistic and technological society. The novelist, Bellow feels, must attempt to resolve distractions and must deal with the confusion of facts, ideas, and emotions of everyday reality.
Bellow's first two novels, The Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947), are tightly written existential studies of alienated figures incapable of establishing a meaningful identity in the midst of urban distractions. The Adventures of Augie March (1953) and Henderson the Rain King (l959) — the latter, his most under-rated novel — are more loosely constructed, but are still concerned with a man's quest for values. Seize the Day (1956) contains again the taut style of the earlier pieces and has been called Bellow's most literary work. Herzog brings the Bellow hero to the brink of old age, a predicament dealt with more specifically in Mr. Sammler's Planet, winner of a 1970 National Book Award. Except for Henderson, all of Bellow's heroes in these novels are Jewish, and all attempt to comprehend European, Jewish, and American traditions and values. Furthermore, each of the novels has ended with the hero being painfully aware of his own limited sources of sanity and resisting ideas that only partially explain the human predicament. Herzog is no exception; he is a very typical Bellow hero.
For the novel Humboldt's Gift (1975), Bellow was awarded the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for literature, He followed this successful novel with The Dean's December (1982), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), The Actual (1997), and Ravelstein (2000). Saul Bellow died on April 5, 2005, at the age of 89.