The Dean?s December (revised)
I didn?t read Saul Bellow until I was in my late ?20s, when I picked up ?Henderson the Rain King? and fell in love. Since then he has become my favorite writer of any style and from any era. He was both funny and profound, innovative and traditional, high and low, earthy and intellectual, all that stuff. You can read Michiko Kakutani's basic appreciation here, and then tool around the Times site for related pieces. There are several.
Bellow did two teaching stints at the University of Minnesota. He was an assistant professor from 1946 through ?48 and came back to teach English and Humanities classes on and off from ?57 through ?60. Alas, not many of Bellow's U of M colleagues are still alive, but I did talk today with George Kliger, who started at the University in 1953. ?I was just a lowly T.A. at the time and [Bellow] didn?t hobnob much with T.A.s, but of course he would be around,? says Kliger, who is now the directing coordinator of the U?s much-depleted Humanities program. ?There were several major figures at the school back then. It was wonderful, a golden age. The University of Minnesota was one of the top 10 schools in the country at the time, and of course now it isn?t," adds Kliger. In addition to Berryman and Bellow, the University's Humanities and English departments employed several notables during the '40s and '50s, including Robert Penn Warren, Joseph Warren Beach, Ralph Gilbert Ross, Isaac Rosenfeld, and others. Historian and sociologist Benjamin Nelson also taught at the U in the '50s.
Bellow went through a divorce (Sondra, his second wife) during his late-'50s stay in Minnesota. The separation invovled infidelity, as separations often will, and was later dramatized in Bellow's great '64 novel, "Herzog." The "Herzog" character Valentine Gersbach, who cuckolds the novel's hero, was modeled after Jack Ludwig, Bellow's friend and a colleague at the U. As a condition of returning to the U in 57, Bellow insisted that the school also hire Ludwig.
UPDATE: I wrote this the above hastily on Thursday, and made several factual errors, since corrected by consulting James Atlas's authoritative biography. The mistakes were generally repeated from articles found in reputable papers; another came from an interview. I apologize for the errors. A similar short but somewhat more formal version of the above will run in next Wednesday's CP.
Here's a Chicago Tribune piece on Bellow.
A Slate dialogue from a few years back.
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