A leading literary critic’s innovative study of how the Nobel Prize–winning author turned life into art.
Saul Bellow was the most lauded American writer of the twentieth century—the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and the only novelist to be awarded the National Book Award in Fiction three times. Preeminently a novelist of personality in all its wrinkles, its glories and shortcomings, Bellow filled his work with vibrant, garrulous, particular people—people who are somehow exceptionally alive on the page.
In Bellow’s People, literary historian and critic David Mikics explores Bellow’s life and work through the real-life relationships and friendships that Bellow transmuted into the genius of his art. Mikics covers ten of the extraordinary people who mattered most to Bellow, such as his irascible older brother, Morrie, a key inspiration for The Adventures of Augie March; the writer Delmore Schwartz and the philosopher Allan Bloom, who were the originals for the protagonists of Humboldt’s Gift and Ravelstein; the novelist Ralph Ellison, with whom he shared a house every summer in the late 1950s, when Ellison was coming off the mammoth success of Invisible Man and Bellow was trying to write Herzog; and Bellow’s wife, Sondra Tschacbasov, and his best friend, Jack Ludwig, whose love affair Bellow fictionalized in Herzog.
A perfect introduction to Bellow’s life and work, Bellow’s People is an incisive critical study of the novelist and a memorable account of a vibrant and tempestuous circle of midcentury American intellectuals.
In this novel approach to author Saul Bellow's work, Mikics (Slow Reading in a Hurried Age) centers his study of influence and literary criticism around some of the key figures in the Nobel laureate's life. The story begins with Morrie Bellow, Saul's volatile older brother and father figure. Morrie effectively abandons Saul, but Saul cannot resist trying to make sense of his brother through fiction. Mikics illuminates Bellow's sometimes misunderstood relationship with Ralph Ellison and uses textual examples to show how each writer encouraged and influenced the other. Likewise, Bellow's transformation of poet Delmore Schwartz into the character Von Humboldt Fleisher of Humboldt's Gift relies on Schwartz's writing as much as his forceful personality. Bellow used aspects of his close friend Edward Shils in his works, most prominently in Mr. Sammler's Planet, but perhaps the clearest case of a character stepping from reality into fiction is Allen Bloom becoming the eponymous protagonist of Ravelstein. In this final novel, Bellow "ennobled Bloom," and Mikics shows how Bellow turned Bloom's combination of high-culture ideas and rumpled, professorial attitudes into one of the most memorable literary characters of the past 50 years. Mikics's larger thesis is that Bellow's writing exalts personality, and the sheer variety and depth of the real personalities he studies in this book deftly support that framework.