Saul Bellow: Chronology

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Taken From Bellow: Novels 1956-1964

From birth to Herzog (1964)

This timeline, if one may be interested, gives a more detailed account of his early life and academic trials up to the point of writing the work Herzog, which is the focus of my project.

1915       Born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec, on June 10, fourth child of Abram Bellows and Lescha Gordin, Russian-Jewish immigrants from St. Petersburg (The family name was changed from “Belo” on arriving in Canada in 1913. Abram Bellows was an importer of dry goods, baker, and junk-dealer. One sister, Zelda, nine years older than Bellow, and two brothers Movscha, seven years older, and Samuel, four years older, were born in Russia.)

1918       Family moves to Saint Dominique Street, in a poor area of Montreal. (Bellow will later write: “The Jewish slums of Montreal during my childhood, just after the First World War, were not too far removed from the ghettos of Poland and Russia. Life in such places was anything but ordinary.”) Parents speak Russian and Yiddish; their children speak English and Yiddish at home; French is spoken on the street. Bellow later claims the Armistice parade as one of his earliest memories.

1923       Falls ill with peritonitis and pneumonia, and spends six months in Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, where he reads, and is deeply affected by, the New Testament Gospels. Father becomes a bootlegger helping to smuggle liquor into the United States.

1924       Father goes to Chicago to work for cousin’s bakery. In July, the rest of family is smuggled across the border to join him. They live on the east side of Humboldt Park. Bellow takes up violin. Attends Lafayette School and Columbus Elementary School. His main source for booksis the Budlong branch of Chicago Public Library on North Avenue.

1930       Graduates from Sabin Junior High School. Enters Tuley High School, where he befriends Isaac Rosenfeld, Oscar Tarcov, and Sam Freifeld, all aspiring writers.

1931       Family moves to a more prosperous area of Chicago on the west side of Humboldt Park.

1933       Graduates from Tuley in January. Mother dies of breast cancer in February. Moves out of home in fall, and takes room in a boarding house near the University of Chicago, where he is now enrolled along with his classmate Isaac Rosenfeld.

1934       Father remarries; he is now the successful owner of the Carroll Coal Company

1935       During the winter the driver of one of the Carroll Company’s trucks is killed. Without insurance, father is forced to pay costs, and can no longer afford $100-per-quarter fees of University of Chicago. Bellow is forced to leave university and returns home; in fall transfers to Northwester University, where he takes dual major in English and anthropology, the latter under Melville J. Herskovits.

1936       First published piece, “Pets of the North Shore,” a whimsical sketch about dogs and their owners, appears in The Daily Northwestern. Literary editor of university paper rejects one of his short stories. Wins third prize in ‘Campus in Print: story competition; story appears under a newly adopted name, Saul Bellow: “I wanted to break with everybody, even my own family, so I chose the other name, which was a legitimate name, and belonged to me.”

1937       Becomes associate editor of The Beacon, a monthly journal, to which he contributes many pieces. Receives B.A. from Northwestern with honors in anthropology and sociology; goes on to graduate fellowship in Department of Sociology and Anthropology at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where Isaac Rosenfeld is a Ph.D candidate. Works on a thesis on culture of French Canadians, but is soon discouraged (“Every time I worked on my thesis, it turned out to be a story”). Leaves before the end of the year.

1938       Return to Chicago, where he marries Anita Goshkin. Works in his brother Maurice’s coalyard, but is fired for absenteeism. Takes a part-time job in the fall teaching anthropology and English composition at Pestalozzi-Freobel Teachers College on South Michigan Avenue. His assigned reading list (which he will substantially retain through decades of teaching) includes Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Dreiser, and Flaubert. Works on the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration; his job is to compile sketches of contemporary American authors.

1940       Travels to Mexico in summer; reads Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico and Stendhal. Arrives in Mexico City on August 21, to find that Trotsky had been assassinated the day before; views body at morgue. Stories rejected by The Saturday Evening Post and The Kenyon Review.

1941       Partisan Review(May-June) publishes short story “Two Morning Monologues.” Works on a novel entitled “The Very Dark Trees”; after being rejected by several publishers, it is accepted by William Roth of the Colt Press for $150.

1942       Visits New York, where Isaac Rosenfeld is studying at NYU. Meets Alfred Kazin;spends time with poet Delmore Schwartz. Draft board defers him until end of term at Pestalozzi Teachers College; in June defers him again until mid-July. William Roth, now enlisted, cancels publication of “The Very Dark Trees,” sending Bellow consolatory $50. Bellow burns manuscript.

1943       Applies unsuccessfully for a Guggenheim fellowship. During summer, rejected job at Time by Whittaker Chamber, editor of the magazine’s books and arts pages. Works as editor on Encyclopedia Brittanica’s “Syntopicon,” a two-volume supplement to the “Great Books of the Western World”  project. “Notes of a Dangling Man” appears in Partisan Review (September-October).

1945       Volunteers in April for the Merchant Marine, and is assigned to the Atlantic district headquarters in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Moves to New York in September. Lives on Pineapple Street, Brooklyn Heights, writing book reviews and reading for publishers; works on novel The Victim.

1946       A second Guggenheim application is rejected. In the fall, becomes assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; meets Robert Penn Warren, who is at work on All the King’s Men.

1947       Travels to Europe in July, visiting Paris, Madrid, and Granada. Writes “Spanish Letter” for Partisan Review. Returns to Minneapolis in September. The Victim is published in November by Vanguard Press and sells 2,257 copies.

1948-1949            Receives Guggenheim fellowship after third application. With the foundation’s $2,500 and a $3,500 advance for his next novel from his new publisher, Viking, travels in the fall to Paris, where he will live for the next two years. Meets Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Albert Camus at the home of his Chicago friend Harold Kaplan. Other Paris friends include Herbert Gold, Mary McCarthy, Lionel Abel, and William Phillips. Works on a third novel, “The Crab and the Butterfly,” about two invalids in a Chicago hospital. Abandons novel in progress in October 1949 and begins The Adventures of Augie March. (Writes later: “”The book just came to me. All I had to do was be there with buckets to catch it.”) “From the Life of Augie March” appears in November Partisan Review. Visits London in December;meets Cyril Connolly, Henry Green and Stephen Spender.

1950       In summer, gives lectures at Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. Visits Venice, Florence, and Rome, where he works for six weeks on Augie March in the Borghese Gardens. Meets Alberto Moravia and Ignazio Silone. Returns to New York in October; takes a modest apartment in Forest Hills, Queens.

1951       Becomes interested in sexual and emotional therapy of Wilhelm Reich. Begins Reichian therapy with Dr. Chester Raphael; spends hours sitting in “orgone box,” supposed to concentrate “orgone energy.” Hired as part-time assistant professor at NYU. Applies unsuccessfully for a renewal of Guggenheim fellowship; borrows $500 from Viking. Commentary publishes his story “Looking for Mr. Green.” Departs for Salzburg Seminar in December, stopping enroute in Paris. Reads passages of Augie March to his Salzburg students.

1952       Returns to New York in mid-February. Travels west to lecture at universities of Washington and Oregon. Spends time with Theodore Roethke and Dylan Thomas in Seattle. A dramatization of The Victim opens off-Broadway in May. Receives a $1,000 grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Spends summer at Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. Translates Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Gimpel the Fool” from the Yiddish (Singer’s first appearance in English). In fall, takes creative-writing job at Princeton as Delmore Schwartz’s Simpson. Meets Sondra Tschacbasov. Suffers severe case of pneumonia in December. An excerpt from Augie March appears in The New Yorker.

1953       In September, takes one-year job at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. At Bard, befriends Keith Botsford an dJack Ludwig. His temporary landlord is Chanler Chapman, later a model for the hero of Henderson the Rain King. The Adventurs of Augie March is published in September. Gives interview to New York Times. IN December, receives royalty check for $2,000. Takes temporary apartment on Riverside Drive in New York, where he spends weekends.

1954       Wins National Book Award for Adventures of Augie March. Writes “How I Wrote Augie March’s Story” in New York Times in January: “The book was writing itself very rapidly. I was coming to be strangely independent of place. Chicago itself had grown exotic to me.” Separates from Anita Goshkin. Leaves Bard in June; spends summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where friends include Mary McCarthy, Harry Levin, and Alfred Kazin. Applies foranother grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Works on “Memoirs of a Bootlegger’s Son,” a fictional portrait of Bellow’s family in Montreal, portions of which will later be incorporated into Herzog.

1955       Father dies of an aneurysm in May. The Guggenheim Foundation grants him a second fellowship. IN August visits small towns in Illinois for Holiday travel piece. Spends next eight months in Reno, Nevada, while waiting for divorce.

1956       Marries Sondra Tschacbasov in Reno in February. Works on novel Henderson the Rain King. Visited in April by Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Finishes novella Seize the Day, which appears in the summer issue of Partisan Review. In July, childhood friend Isaac Rosenfeld dies of heart attack in Chicago, aged 38. Buys house in Tivoli, New York, with the help of $8,000 legacy from father. Spends the fall at Yaddo, where he becomes friends with John Cheever. Seize the Day is published in November.

1957       Second son, Adam, is born in January. Takes temporary appointment for the spring semester at the University of Minnesota, where he spends time with John Berryman; in Bellow’s absence, Ralph Ellison moves into Tivoli house. Meets 23-year-old Philip Roth in Chicago. Spends the fall in Chicago, teaching at Northwestern. In “The University as Villain,” published in The Nation in November, accuses English departments of being full of “discouraged people who stand dully upon a brilliant plane, in charge of masterpieces but not themselves inspired.”

1958       Finishes early draft of Henderson the Rain King in March. Dictates the novel’s revisions for six weeks to secretary in Tivoli house. In fall, returns to teach at University of Minnesota. Enters therapy with a clinical psychologist.

1959       Henderson the Rain King is published in February. Receives $16,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Returns to Tivoli for summer. Works on play The Last Analysis. Separates from Sondra Tschacbasov in November. Stays briefly at Yaddo and then in Herbert Gold’s New York apartment before going to Europe for a lecture tour of Poland and Yugoslavia at the invitation of the State Department.

1960       The Noble Savage, a journal co-edited by Bellow, Jack Ludwig, and Keith Botsford, appears in Februaru (five numbers will be published); contributors include Harold Rosenberg, Ralph Ellison, and John Berryman. In March, visits Italy, Israel, and England. Returns from Europe in March; enters therapy with sexologist Dr. Albert Ellis. Spends summer at Tivoli. Divorce becomes final in June. In “The Sealed Treasure,” essay published in the July TLS, argues against moden Flaubertian aestheticism and its “disappointment with its human material,” in favor of an American novel that might more optimistically search for the “sealed treasure” of ordinary life.

1961       Teaches spring term at the University of Puerto Rico. Marries Susan Glassman in November. Spends fall at the University of Chicago, where he has temporary teaching appointment.

1962       Works steadily on novel Herzog. Made honorary Doctor of Letters, Northwestern University. Attends White House dinner for Andre Malraux in May. An excerpt from The Last Analysis appears in the summer issue of Partisan Review. Accepts five-year appointment as professor at the Committee on Social Thought of the University of Chicago for thirty years.) John Stein beck, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, inscribes copy of Nobel lecture to Bellow: “You’re next.”

1963       Old school friend Oscar Tarcov dies, aged 48. Made honorary Doctor of Letters, Bard College. “Some Notes on Recent American Fiction” is published in Encounter in November.

1964       Third son, Daniel, born in March. Spends July and August on Martha’s Vineyard, finishing Herzog and The Last Analysis. Herzog is published in September, and reaches top of the best-seller list in October. The Last Analysis opens on Broadway the same month; closes within a month. Donates manuscripts of Augie March and Henderson the Rain King to University of Chicago. Pat Covici, Viking editor and dedicatee of Herzog, dies of a heart attack in October.

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