Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Literary Allusions in Saul Bellow's Letters

Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Literary Allusions in Saul Bellow's Letters

Article excerpt

Saul Bellow was the most coruscating stylist, the most brilliant intellect, the most compassionate and great-souled writer in modern American literature. He belonged with the incisive, self-revealing letter writers: Byron, Keats, Woolf, Lawrence, Beckett and Lowell. His voices, varying theatrically with each correspondent, were deferential, caustic, high-minded, jokey, intimate, outrageous, sexy, gallant, satiric, passionate, brutal, seductive and heimlich. The exiguous annotations of Benjamin Taylor, the editor of these Letters (NY: Viking, 2010), do not do justice to Bellow, an unusually learned and highly allusive writer. He has not noted about fifty allusions--many of them from the Bible and Shakespeare--which enhance the meaning as well as the pleasure of reading the letters.

57: envious Casca- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 3.2.179 (1599)

124: whose baby after all is A. West?- Anthony West was the illegitimate son of H.G. Wells and Rebecca West

127: non serviam- Latin: I will not serve. Attributed to Satan when rejecting God

153: Children of Light- Luke 16:8

153: You Know Me, Al- stories by Ring Lardner (1916)

194: Feste Burg- A mighty fortress is our God. Hymn by Martin Luther (1529)

202: Consider the lilies of the field- Matthew 6:28

220: Hippocleides on the banquet table- According to Herodotus, he stood on his head, kicked his legs in the air, lost his prospective bride and said, "I don't care."

220: None but the brave deserves the fair- John Dryden, "Alexander's Feast" (1697)

227: whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth- Hebrews 12:6

233 and 268: A cold coming we had of it- T.S. Eliot, "The Journey of the Magi" (1927)

275: time's winged chariot- Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress" (1681)

300 and 485- my hasting days fly on with full career- John Milton, "How Soon Hath Time" (1631)

305: Prince Myshkin- hero of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868)

343: what Orwell said about Henry Miller- George Orwell, "Inside the Whale" (1940)

348: woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!- Luke 6:26

348: light out for the territory- Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (1884)

364: stone walls do not a prison make- Richard Lovelace, "To Althea, from Prison" (1649)

373: I am a worm, and no man- Psalms 22:6

381: restless ecstasy- Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3. …

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