Saul Bellow's Herzog

Saul Bellow's Herzog

Saul Bellow's Herzog

Saul Bellow's Herzog

Synopsis

A collection of seven critical essays on the Bellow novel, arranged in chronological order of their original publication.

Excerpt

By general critical agreement, Saul Bellow is the strongest American novelist of his generation, presumably with Norman Mailer as his nearest rival. What makes this canonical judgment a touch problematic is that the indisputable achievement does not appear to reside in any single book. Bellow’s principal works are: The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, Humboldt’s Gift, and in a briefer compass, Seize the Day. The earlier novels, Dangling Man and The Victim, seem now to be period pieces, while Henderson the Rain King and Mr. Sammler’s Planet share the curious quality of not being quite worthy of two figures so memorable as Henderson and Mr. Sammler. The Dean’s December is a drab book, its dreariness unredeemed by Bellow’s nearly absent comic genius.

Herzog, still possessing the exuberance of Augie March, while anticipating the tragicomic sophistication of Humboldt’s Gift, as of now seems to be Bellow’s best and most representative novel. And yet its central figure remains a wavering representation, compared to some of the subsidiary male characters, and its women seem the wish-fulfillments, negative as well as positive, of Herzog and his creator. This seems true of almost all of Bellow’s fiction: a Dickensian gusto animates a fabulous array of secondary and minor personalities, while at the center a colorful but shadowy consciousness is hedged in by women who do not persuade us, though evidently once they persuaded him.

In some sense, the canonical status of Bellow is already assured, even if the indubitable book is still to come. Bellow’s strengths may not have come together to form a masterwork, but he is hardly the first novelist of real eminence whose books may be weaker as aggregates than in their . . .

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