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Saul Bellow

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Saul Bellow is considered to be a highly influential twentieth century Canadian-born American author and historian. His key works include Mr. Sammler’s Planet, The Adventures of Augie March and Seize the Day. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his literary contributions.

Bellow was born on June 10, 1915 with the birth name Solomon Bellows. His parents had emigrated from Saint Petersburg, Russia to Lachine, Quebec. Respiratory infection caused long-term illness when he was a child. Despite the fact that it kept him from active childhood it helped him become self-reliant and a voracious reader. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired him to become a writer. His mother was strictly religious and desired her son to become a Jewish leader or a violinist. However, he defied his Jewish upbringing and his parents’ wishes as he immersed himself in writing at a young age.

He received Bachelor of Arts Honors in anthropology and sociology from Northwestern University.  Although he first intended to study literature, the anti-Jewish environment at the English department kept him from opting for the subject. Bellow’s literary style was somewhat influenced by his knowledge of anthropology. He became a member of the Works Progress Administration Writer’s Project, in 1930’s. He then offered his services as a merchant marine with the advent of World War II.

The experience of war inspired him to write his first novel Dangling Man in 1944. The novel was in the form of journal entries that chronicles the life of a young unemployed man, Joseph, living in Chicago. Highlighting his relationship with his friends and family and his stressful life. The only thing that he looked forward to was to be conscripted in army. Though the novel was criticized for lacking a definite plotline, it is praised for focusing on the American generation brought up during the Great Depression period.

Subsequently, Bellow earned a Guggenheim Fellowship and with that he moved and settled in Paris for a while. There he wrote one of his chief literary works, titled The Adventures of Augie March, in 1953. It was a picaresque novel and illustrating the adventures of the eponymous character. Critics are of the view that it had a number of literary elements in common with Don Quixote, a seventeenth century Spanish classic. The first paragraph of the novel is considered to be the most famous and quoted opening lines. In a colloquial language yet philosophical style the book chronicled the escapade, exploits and his aspiration. The novel brought Bellow in the limelight as a recognized novelist.

On his return to Chicago, he experimented with different writing styles and ended up producing a bestseller in 1964. Hezrog was a deemed a cerebral novel, concerned with the thoughts and working of a mind rather than feeling. In this novel, the author explored the life of a troubled college professor who has a proclivity to write letters to family, friends, colleague and dead people with no intention of sending them. The success of the novel led him to further explore the realm of mental instability and its correlation with genius, as he penned Humboldt’s Gift in 1975. The central character, Von Humboldt Fleisher, was inspired by the highly volatile acquaintance of Bellow, poet Delmore Schwartz.

Saul Bellow’s literary genius helped him win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1976) and National Book Award for Fiction 3 times. He died in April 2005 in Massachusetts.

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