The Long, Unhappy Life of Saul Bellow

By Epstein, Joseph | New Criterion, December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Long, Unhappy Life of Saul Bellow


Epstein, Joseph, New Criterion


... one has to have a less than admirable character to be a fiction writer.

--Saul Bellow

The most penetrating literary criticism I know of the novelist Saul Bellow was made in my presence by my dear friend Edward Shils one afternoon in his apartment in Hyde Park. Edward had been reading, in manuscript, a portion of James Atlas's biography of Bellow. He put down Atlas's pages, and, with his fondess for extended metaphors, said to me: "You know, Joseph, Mr. Atlas will only grasp the true nature of Saul Bellow when he understands that our friend Saul, had he been allowed to sit for two hours in the lap of the Queen of England, would, when told by the Queen that she must now attend to her official duties, though she much enjoyed their visit, freshly emerge from the Queen's lap with two observations: first, that the Queen had no understanding whatsoever of the condition of the modern artist, and, second, that she was an anti-Semite."

Edward and Saul went back a ways. In 1962, two years before the publication of Herzog, Edward arranged for Saul to be made a member of the faculty of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. That same year Saul wrote to his friend John Berryman, "I love Edward Shils." Edward had contributed much to the composition of Mr. Sammler's Planet, chiefly to the cosmopolite character of Arthur Sammler, or so people who have seen the novel in manuscript have told me. When Edward told Saul that he did not require many friends, Saul wrote back, "you have a friend in me, I assure you."

Saul, with whom I used to play racquetball, introduced me to Edward in 1972. By that time their relationship had already begun to fray. These men were two of the greatest put-down artists in the country, and, of course, they regularly practiced their art, if still behind the other's back, upon each other. For a spell, I was an amused recipient of this slightly toxic banter. Of a Wednesday morning I might get a call from Saul, asking what I had been doing. When I mentioned having dinner the night before with Edward, who was something of a gourmand, Saul asked, "Ah, does he still have a leather palate?" Half an hour later, Edward would telephone, and, after I told him I had just spoken with Saul, remark: "Have you ever noticed that Saul is the kind of Jew [Edward was himself Jewish] who wears his hat in the house, and when he wants to talk seriously seats himself in a kitchen chair turned backwards to do so?" When Saul stayed at Monk's House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's country retreat in East Sussex, and complained in a letter about the heating and other arrangements, Edward said: "Why did he go there in the first place? But that's our Saul; houses, women, if it's for nothing, he takes it."

Saul felt Edward did not treat him as an equal, and thought he was sitting in judgment on him and finding him wanting. He was, I fear, right about the latter. Edward thought little of Saul's choices of female company and was less than admiring of his taste for low-life. He thought him a lazy teacher, who didn't get anywhere near the most out of his graduate students and in later years he did what he could to foil Saul's attempts to get jobs on the Committee on Social Thought for his former lady friends. "I refuse to allow him to use the Committee," Edward told me, "as a rest home for his old nafkes." In the 1980s, he mocked Saul's forays into the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner. "If there's a bad idea out there--Trotskyism, Reichism, Steinerism--leave it to our friend Saul to swallow it."

Things grew worse between them. I had ceased to see Saul, for reasons that shall be made plain presently. Edward, who was five years older than Saul but looked much younger, began to refer to him as "the old gentleman." Edward once showed me a note Saul had written him describing him as "wicked," a word choice that caused him to chuckle. Then, in his early eighties, Edward was struck by cancer. After two long bouts with chemotherapy, nothing more could be done. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Long, Unhappy Life of Saul Bellow
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.