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Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec on June 10, 1915. Nina Steers, a journalist who once interviewed Bellow, said that his birth date was the only piece of information of which she could be sure. Bellow, known for turning down interviewers, always kept his personal life very private. Nevertheless, the curious have been able to uncover a few facts over the years.
Bellow was born of poor, Russian-Jewish parents. He grew up immersed in the Old Testament and learned Hebrew and Yiddish. His mother wanted her children to be Talmudic scholars. Bellow's father was a businessman, a bootlegger, and an importer. He wanted his children to take advantage of the new world of economic opportunities before them by becoming professionals. Bellow bestowed all of his own early circumstances to his fictional creation, Moses Herzog. Much has been written about the autobiographical aspect of the novel, and some critics say that Bellow put a lot of himself into Herzog.
In 1924, Bellow moved to Chicago to attend high school and college. The urban landscape, which later appeared in his writing, began to infiltrate his consciousness. After attending the University of Chicago for two years, he transferred to Northwestern University where he majored in Anthropology. After finishing his undergraduate studies, Bellow decided to continue graduate studies in the field of Anthropology. He went to the University of Wisconsin, but dropped out in order to get married. It was then that he decided to write. He got a job composing short biographies of Midwestern writers and later took an editorial position at The Encyclopedia Britannica. His first success as a writer of fiction came in 1941, with the publication of his short story "Two Morning Monologues" in the Partisan Review.
Bellow came of age during the Depression and lived through World War II, serving shortly in the Merchant Marine. He saw the wartime economic boom of the forties and fifties, the Cold War, the anti-Semitism of the thirties and forties, the Civil Rights movement, the end of segregation, and the seemingly endless Vietnam War. The fictional Herzog, who reaches his mid-forties in the 1960s, has lived through precisely the same events. Herzog lives against the backdrop of the Cold War.
During the course of his life, Bellow married three times, had children, and taught at numerous universities, including the University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton, Bard, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Chicago. He was been the recipient of National Book Awards, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Litteraire International, the Jewish Heritage Award, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he received in 1976. He died at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts in 2005, at the age of 89.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Herzog!