Herzog – Saul Bellow (1964)

Herzog is a 1964 novel by Saul Bellow, composed in large part of letters from the protagonist Moses E. Herzog. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the Prix International. In 2005, Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels in the English language since Time’s founding in 1923. Herzog is set in 1964 in the United States, and is about the midlife crisis of a Jewish man named Moses E. Herzog. At the age of forty-seven, he is just emerging from his second divorce, this one particularly acrimonious. He has two children, one by each wife, who are growing up without him. His career as a writer and an academic has floundered. He is in a relationship with a vibrant woman, Ramona, but finds himself running away from commitment. Herzog’s second marriage, to the demanding, manipulative Madeleine, has recently ended in a humiliating fashion. … Herzog spends much of his time mentally writing letters he never sends. These letters are aimed at friends, family members, and famous figures. The recipients may be dead, and Herzog has often never met them. The one common thread is that Herzog is always expressing disappointment, either his own in the failings of others or their words, or apologizing for the way he has disappointed others. The novel opens with Herzog in his house in Ludeyville, a town in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. He is contemplating returning to New York to see Ramona, but instead flees to Martha’s Vineyard to visit some friends. … ‘People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas’, Bellow once wrote. ‘We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.’ Herzog is such a person. In fact, he considers his addiction to ideas to be his greatest virtue. … The story is told entirely from Herzog’s point of view. Of the hero’s pervasive consciousness, Irving Howe wrote: ‘We are made captive in the world of Herzog… the consciousness of the character forms the enclosing medium of the novel.’ In typical Bellow style, the descriptions of characters’ emotions and physical features are rich in wit and energy. Herzog’s relationships are the central theme of the novel, not just with women and friends, but also society and himself. Herzog’s own thoughts and thought processes are laid bare in the letters he writes. …”
NY Times: The Way Up From Rock Bottom (Sep. 20, 1964)
[PDF] Saturday Evening Post – Herzog Visits Chicago, by Saul Bellow

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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