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MonkeyNotes-Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Saul Bellow is one of the most distinguished American novelists of the latter half of the twentieth century. Born of Russian immigrant parents in Lachive, Quebec on July 10, 1915, he grew up in Montreal. He was a bright child and learned Hebrew, Yiddish, French, and English. When he was nine, his family moved from Montreal to Chicago, a city that he loved. He first attended college at the University of Chicago. After two years, Bellow shifted to Northwestern University and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in 1937. Four months after enrolling as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, he gave up formal education forever.

During the next decade he participated in a variety of jobs, working with the WPA writer's project, serving in the editorial department of Encyclopedia Britannica, teaching at Pestalozzi - Froebel Teacher's College, and participating in the Merchant Marines. Most importantly, he published two novels, both with autobiographical overtones. Dangling Man (1944), in the form of a journal, concerns a young person from Chicago waiting to be drafted into military service. The Victim (1947), a more ambitious work, describes the frustrations of a New Yorker seeking to discover and preserve his own identity against the background of domestic and religious conflicts. Neither of these two novels was judged to be exceptional by critics.


After the Second World War, Bellow joined the University of Minnesota in the English Department. He spent a year in Paris and Rome as a Guggenheim fellow. He taught briefly at New York University, Princeton University, and Bard College. Above all, however he concentrated on writing fiction. With the publication of The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Bellow won his first National Book Award. It is the story of a young Chicago Jew growing up absurd. In 1956, he wrote Seize The Day. It is a tightly written description of one day in the life of a middle-aged New Yorker facing major domestic crises. Some critics feel that Bellow has never surpassed this novella.

In Henderson the Rain King (1959), Bellow returns to a more free-flowing style as he describes an American millionaire's search for understanding of the human condition. His next novel, Herzog (1964), won him a second national Book Award and an international reputation. Doubtlessly based on personal sources, it portrays Moses Herzog, a middle-aged University professor, who battles with his faithless wife Madeline, his friend Valentine Gersbach, and his own alienated self.

In 1962, Bellow became a professor at the University of Chicago, but he continued to write plays and fiction. The Last Analysis had a brief run on Broadway in 1964. Six new short stories (1968) and his sixth novel, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1969), furthered Bellow's reputation.

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