Bellow, at forty-nine, is at the pinnacle of American lettersrich, famous, critically acclaimed. The expected trajectory is one of decline: volume 1, rise; volume 2, fall. Bellow never fell, producing in the latter half of his life some of his greatest fiction (Mr. Sammler's Planet, Humboldt's Gift), winning two more National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize. At eighty, he wrote his last story; at eighty-five, he wrote Ravelstein. In this volume, his life away from the desk, including his love life, is if anything more dramatic than in the first. In the public sphere, he is embroiled in controversy over foreign affairs, race, religion, education, social policy, the state of culture, the fate of the novel.
In this stunning second volume, Zachary Leader shows that Bellow's heroic energy and will were present to the very end of his life. His immense achievement and its cost, to himself and others, continue to be worth the examination of this vivid work of literary scholarship.
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About the Author
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The girl’s name was Anita Goshkin and Bellow met her in Hyde Park in the summer of 1936, before the start of his senior year at Northwestern. By the spring of 1937 they were engaged. Anita had been at the University of Chicago only a year, having transferred from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as a junior (shortly after the death of her father, which suggests the move may have been motivated by family or financial considerations). The “grimy” sociology books she carried at their first meeting were for a summer course at the university. She was six months older than Bellow, born on December 12, 1914, and like him lived on the North Side, in Ravenswood, a modest suburb of small courtyard apartment buildings. Bellow told his son Greg that he’d had his eye on Anita for some time, before gathering the courage to speak to her. Her cousin and childhood playmate, Beebee Schenk (later de Regniers), was a friend of Bellow’s, and may have told him to look out for her.1 On their first date, they went swimming in Lake Michigan off the Point, a Hyde Park landmark. In Herzog, Bellow fictionalizes the moment they met. Moses sees Daisy, who will become his first wife, under the El at 51st Street. Pretty and fresh in appearance, with large “slant green” eyes, she wears a simple seersucker dress and small white shoes. Her “golden but lustreless” hair is held in place by a barrette and her legs are bare. Moses sees the square-cut neck of her dress as expressive of character: “stability, symmetry, order, containment were Daisy’s strength.” Her “laundered purity” also strikes him, as does her coolness and regular features, those of “a conventional Jewish woman.” As Moses stands behind her on the El platform, a “fragrance of summer apples” rises from her bare neck and shoulders (pp. 542–43).2
This fragrance is also expressive, for Daisy is a country girl of sorts, raised near Zanesville, Ohio. Anita came from a similar background, in Lafayette, Indiana, not exactly the country, but not Chicago either. Her parents, like Bellow’s, were Russian immigrants. Her father, Morris, arrived from the Crimea after the pogroms of 1905, settling in Lafayette for the same reason the Bellows settled first in Lachine then in Chicago: because he had relatives there. He worked as a milkman, then opened an ice cream parlor. What Greg Bellow remembers hearing of his maternal grandfather is that he was “quiet, kind and gentle.” It was Sonia, Morris’s wife, a forceful, opinionated, modern woman, a suffragette in Russia, who ruled the roost, encouraging her daughters to be independent and insisting that they go to college.3
Like Bellow, Anita was the only member of her family to be born in the New World. A late arrival, she was much doted on. She had two brothers, Jack (also known as J.J.) and Max, seventeen and ten years older, and two sisters, Catherine and Ida, sixteen and fourteen years older. The sisters became librarians, earned higher degrees in library science, traveled in Europe, were lovers of high culture, and never married. When they retired, they moved to New York, living together in an apartment close to Lincoln Center, to be near the ballet. Of the brothers, Jack, the eldest, had an affair in college with a non-Jewish girl. When she got pregnant, he married her. According to Greg, Anita’s mother was so scandalized by these events, “that, basically, she forced Jack to divorce . . . and move back in.” Jack’s son, Jack Jr., was raised out of state by his mother and on rare visits to Lafayette “was kept on the back porch, incommunicado.” When the Goshkins moved to Chicago and the son visited, his father “checked into a hotel.” Anita’s other brother, Max, a machinist, also lived at home, well into his forties.
Anita was political at college. When Greg was a student at Chicago, “with great pride” she pointed out to him the spot in the lobby of the Social Sciences building where she had once sold a hundred copies of Soapbox in an hour. She attended political meetings and regularly spoke at them. She went to Gary, Indiana, to organize steelworkers, was arrested, and spent a night in jail, along with Bellow’s friend Oscar Tarcov. Her interest in politics was practical; she had little patience for theoretical or doctrinal dispute. The two-year MA program she entered in March 1937 in Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration involved fieldwork at the Michael Reese Hospital, one of the oldest and largest teaching hospitals in Chicago. There Anita met Bruno Bettelheim, who later remarked to Greg on his mother’s beauty. Anita finished the first year of the course but not the second, which required that she write a dissertation. She could not write, or thought she could not write, a conclusion she’d been led to as an undergraduate. “My father told me he wrote most of her term papers,” Greg recalls. After abandoning her MA in 1939 she got a job at the Chicago Relief Administration giving out welfare checks. By this date she and Bellow had been married over a year.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
1 Fame and Politics in the 1960s 3
2 "All My Ladies Seem Furious" 51
3 Bad Behavior 105
4 A Better Man 156
5 Distraction/Divorce/Anthroposophy 200
6 The "Chicago Book" and The Dean's December 251
7 Nadir 305
8 Janis Freedman/Allan Bloom/Politics 354
9 To Seventy-Five 412
10 Papuans and Zulus 478
11 Intensive Care 528
12 Ravelstein 571
13 Love and Strife 603
A Note on Sources 651